What is the right way to do display advertising?

Regardless of the viewability issue, bot traffic and fraudulent practices, display advertising can be very effective when it’s done right.

Content Takeover Display AdvertisingWhen display advertising first came to market, it left a bad taste in many marketers’ mouths because there weren’t many things worse than paying for banner ads that lacked context and value.

But thanks to technology advances, display advertising today is becoming more relevant, targeted and efficient.

Programmatic and social media have a big impact on display advertising

At its most basic level, display advertising means paid-for banner ads displayed on different websites. But now, display comes in various forms, including pre-roll ads, interstitials, skyscrapers and in-feed ads on social.

Social display ads, in the form of sponsored posts and promoted tweets on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, can be more effective than regular display ads because they look like organic content, making themselves native to users’ experience on that platform.

“Social platforms are attractive to marketers because they command so much of a consumer’s time and attention, and native placements will often generate more clicks than non-native impressions, probably because they initially look like a post from a social connection,” says John Busby, senior vice president of marketing and consumer insights at Marchex.


Over the next couple of years, social media will continue to play a bigger role in display advertising. Digital display ad spend in the U.S. will reach $37.36 billion in 2017, according to eMarketer. At the same time, Facebook and Twitter together will account for 33.7 percent of the overall market, compared to 30.2 percent this year.

Aside from the more native social formats, display advertisers can now gain better results thanks to programmatic. Different from search advertising that targets specific keywords, display advertising can zero in on a marketer’s target audience based on geography, demographic, and behavior. This is an ideal approach to look for people who are engaged in consuming content rather than searching for a product or service.


This year, for the first time, the amount of U.S. display ad spend on programmatic has surpassed that of traditional direct sales, according to eMarketer. The company estimates that by 2017, U.S. programmatic digital display ad spend will reach $26.78 billion, compared to $15.43 billion this year.

In the past, advertisers and their agencies largely had no control over display ads, which allowed fraud and low quality ad placements to creep in. Nowadays advertisers can control display completely, which includes suppression of ads to known users for prospecting and the opposite for retargeting.

“We can control every last detail and campaigns are better for that. This only applies to programmatic and that’s why there’s more trust. But you have to have a trustworthy company running the activity,” explains James Bourner, head of display at Jellyfish.

The right way to do display advertising

In recent few years, display advertising has been under attack due to viewability concerns, bot traffic, ad blocking, and shady practices among agencies. Despite this, display advertising delivers results when it’s done right.

BustedTees is one example of a display advertising campaign that used retargeting to deliver some incredible results. The company wanted to focus on consumers who visited its site but didn’t make a purchase. By dropping cookies on these users’ browsers and serving them relevant BustedTees ads as they surfed the net, the company was able to increase conversions by 195. Each conversion had an average order value of $40 and BustedTees saw a return on investment (ROI) of 390 percent.


Meanwhile, Julian Bakery used a similar technique through Google Display Network to drive conversions by 35 percent and increase impressions by 330 percent.

The right way to do display advertising is to have a solution in place to attribute online, cross-device and offline view-through conversions to the campaign, according to Marchex’s Busby.

“It’s an extra step, but the only step that makes a marketer smarter about a future buy,” he says.

As more display ad dollars will be spent on mobile, it’s increasingly important for display advertisers to take a deterministic approach.

“With 70 to 80 percent of online traffic taking place on mobile devices where cookies are either inefficient or have no value at all, a deterministic approach can help advertisers track consumers across devices by using social log-ins, email address or e-commerce et cetera,” explains Jordan Cohen, chief marketing officer (CMO) at Fluent.

In terms of content formats, successful display advertising is no longer constrained by banners or skyscraper ad units. Advertisers can leverage native formats like sponsored posts in a social network.

But the challenge of using social display is marketers need to figure out whether these engagements truly influence consumer purchases or can be attributed to offline or cross-device purchases.

“This can also cast doubt as to whether engagements are accidental or on the path to purchase. We’ve all gone to our Facebook page, for instance, and realized we’ve liked or favorited things we didn’t intend to,” Marchex’s Busby says.


To sum up

Techniques like native advertising and retargeting are helping display advertising evolve for the better. Now that Facebook Newsfeed and LinkedIn Updates have entered the programmatic fold, they too are complementing the offering.

In order to make display ads effective, marketers should take a deterministic approach if they can, as well as test different formats – including banners – to discover which ad units work best.

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