Social display mutations work for advertisers

Content Takeover Display Advertising

Banner blindness and the lack of viewability are certainly problematic on the Web. Social media is another animal. Display advertising on social seems to be immune to some of its failures on websites.

Let’s acknowledge that there’s some murkiness about the definition of display, although everyone agrees that the term comprises much more than the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) standard, rectangular formats. In the IAB’s Internet Advertising Report, it defines display as banner ads, digital video, rich media and sponsorship. In the report, it also breaks out “mobile other.”

Digital advertising continued to grow across devices and channels for the first half of 2015, according to the IAB. Meanwhile, social media revenues increased 51 percent from the first half of 2014 – but the IAB doesn’t break down different forms of social advertising. It’s not alone. So, advertisers, agencies and organizations may not all be talking about the same beast when they discuss social display.

Rough beast


Social media display is clearly undergoing a rapid evolution, with tons of experimentation. It’s chimeric, combining the DNA of traditional display advertising with unique properties of the various social platforms in which it’s incubating.

The experts we talked to agree that display advertising includes photos, graphics and infographics, and video. Stefan Sideris, Amobee’s director of global social media operations, says, “Display is the visualization of an ad unit that is put in front of a user based on some sort of targeting.”

Peter Minnium, chief executiive of Ipsos Connect, says digital advertising got stalled until 2012. What finally created a revolution, he says, was device proliferation, an explosion in bandwidth and major marketers getting online with netwoks such as Facebook.

Today, social platforms can host ads aimed at every part of the purchase funnel: concept, content and commerce ads.

“What we see with social media advertising is not a new or different form. It represents digital advertising just finding its natural place. … We are now moving from the unnatural form of a static banner at the side of the page to its natural form: into the users’ stream,” says Minnium. 

Social display on steroids

A renaissance of display is also being fueled by the increase in consumers’ mobile usage. There’s a strong shift to mobile advertising, which now represents 30 percent of all internet advertising.

Put social media with its high engagement and compulsive scrolling together with mobile, and you have display ads on steroids. That is probably why Facebook and Twitter combined will represent 34 percent of U.S. digital display ad revenues by 2017, according to eMarketer.

Erin E. Sagin, PPC evangelist and community manager at Wordstream, says, “One of the coolest things about social is, you have people perpetually scrolling, so there is ample opportunity for people to see your ad and get in front of them.”

The various social media platforms have also created unique display formats that exploit the ways users interact with their services, Sideris says. Take Twitter, for example. He’s seen big differences in engagement between Twitter’s original Promoted Posts and those that include media.

“Advertisers have seen the appetite for more visualization that has occurred since Twitter first started. Video has become a primary focus for content creators and for the social platforms themselves,” he says.

Facebook is another platform that’s mutating the display ad, with its Carousel and 360 video formats, he notes.

Improved targeting – and retargeting – is another reason display is working well on social. While websites allow advertisers to retarget, Sagin says, there’s extra flexibility in how advertisers can find prospects and existing customers.


Wordstream is seeing its clients move more ad dollars into social display, according to Sagin. But, of course, different formats and platforms can best be used for different goals, from prospecting to encouraging repeat purchases. Wordstream’s clients use AdWords and search to fill the top part of the funnel. 

“With Facebook, the play is taking the people you already know and getting in front of them for remarketing. Remarketing on AdWords can also be effective, but we are encouraging more people to do more on Facebook. You can get more creative with your ad copy, because you know so much about this audience,” says Sagin. 

Just don’t interrupt

Even though the growth numbers speak for themselves, there’s a fine line between native and interruptive when it comes to display on social.

Sagin says, “With social, you need to remember that people are spending time on that social site to engage with friends – not actively looking to purchase. You want your ads to fit in. If it fits in, and feels like something a friend would be sharing, you are more likely to read it.”

Sideris agrees, saying, “The user experience as it relates to ads is a function of really great context and really great content.”

Meanwhile, look for even more evolution in social media display. Who knows what kinds of interesting and effective mutations we may see next.

Article and homepage images via Flickr.

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