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    on November 18, 2021 Digital Marketing

    The status of display ads: Are they worth the money?

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    With so many ways of connecting with consumers, it can be hard to determine what marketing channels are truly worth your time and money. 

    Traditional marketing channels are having their fair share of consumer response troubles — even display ads, a standard tool for promoting brand content. 

    So, how can you cut through the noise and make the best use of your marketing efforts? 

    We enlisted the help of Jerry Han, Chief Marketing Officer at PrizeRebel, a free-to-use site that allows user to collect points that can redeemed for prizes, and Charles Demarkles, founder of Demarkles Digital, a full-service digital marketing agency, to offer their expert insight on the status of display advertising. Together, we’ll discuss the issue of ad overload, the impact social media has on advertising today and what you can look forward to in the future. 

    Types of displays ads

    Before you can figure out if display ads will be worth the dollars spent, it's helpful to look at the different display ad types. Han is here to help.

    Display ad types: 

    • Traditional display ads: These ads are typically located on websites. They have a standard format, including images, text and a call to action. 
    • Retargeting ads: Ads that are specifically shown to visitors who have visited a website and later abandoned it. These ads make an attempt to convince consumers to take an action that they expressed prior interest in, such as making an online purchase. These ads often come with small discounts to further entice the action. 
    • Timeline-based social ads: They attempt to blend in with the content that you consume on social media on a day-to-day basis. For better or worse, these are the ads which are ignored the most by consumers. This is because users can simply scroll by. Scrolling is a quick and easy activity that removes the ad from the user's screen without any hassle. 

    “Users will rarely consume ads unless they have to — for example, ads that must be viewed before the rest of a video is played. In the case of social ads, there is no reason for users to pay attention, so most of the time, they simply won't,” Han said. “This is why advertisers have had to get creative in the way that they put forth their ad copy. Not only are they competing with other advertisers, but they're also competing with their audience's attention span.”

    Display ads are trending poorly

    While the basic fundamentals of marketing have surely proven themselves to garner great results in the past, all of them haven't been as successful in recent years. Han says display ads have a less-than-stellar status in the world of marketing today. 

    “Display ads are seeing a downward trend as of late. Even though they're highly visual and pretty effective at capturing attention through eye-catching imagery, they tend to have a lower click-through rate compared to search ads,” said Han. “This tends to have a domino effect, subsequently lowering conversion rates and reducing the flow of leads entering the sales funnel.” 

    Why is this important? Han says it means that your sales and marketing teams won't always have enough actionable insights to optimize the campaign. 

    Similar to the issue of consumer inundation, the struggles facing traditional digital advertising resulted from consumers growing annoyed with increased ad viewing. Now, consumers and marketers are left to deal with the frustrating consequences. 

    “The human brain simply no longer has the capacity to pay attention to the sheer quantity of ads that consumers are so often exposed to. As a result of these aggressive attention-seeking adjustments, consumers are intuitively filtering and ignoring ads, even if placed in increasingly blatant locations on the user's device,” said Han. “Consider how many times you've ignored a website's cookie notification even though it takes up the entire bottom portion of the screen. That same phenomenon is going on at a much grander scale in advertising.”

    For those interested in naming the mental strain caused by an overabundance of display ads, Han calls it “ad overload.” 

    “While display ads were highly effective in former years, 'ad overload' has meant that users are actively avoiding display ads because of the intrusive medium they're presented in. Many users now have ad-blocking tools, whereas others will simply ignore these kinds of ads altogether,” said Han. 

    Ad overload isn’t solely caused by brands who are fighting to get their content in front of paying customers. New viral platforms are also a factor in today’s digital ad downfall.

    “Ad overload can be widely attributed to the growing number of content streams available on the internet. Between videos on YouTube, Reels on Instagram and now further potential for ad placement in the Metaverse, marketers have a wealth of options at their disposal,” said Han. “The sheer ubiquity of advertising in multiple branches of media has had a clear domino effect, leading to more and more outrageous advertising to overcome the consumer's tendency to filter out ad content.” 

    What is working: Social media

    According to Han, when ads are trending poorly, it means that they're being replaced by superior alternatives. The most topical type of advertisement at the moment, he says, is the video-based social display ad, which is a unique form of advertisement that has found a way to disguise itself as authentic non-paid content. 

    Why do they work so well? Because they don’t look like traditional advertising.

    “Because these ads don't look like ads, they don't get processed by the same filter in our brains that tunes out other forms of advertising content,” said Han. “Instead, the advertisement bypasses the filter altogether, and we might view the ad in its entirety before even realizing it was promotional content.”

    You’ve seen these types of ads before. Hidden in plain sight, they use trending music, clever visuals and viral hashtags, all in an effort to get consumers to pay attention to the content in front of them. 

    “Because these ads work well and harmonize with the modern user's browsing habits, like viewing short-form video content on platforms like TikTok and Reels, they're seeing more use year over year. This is why they're trending upward and will continue to do so,” said Han.

    Another reason these ads are performing well is they tend to have a more genuine feel, which makes for more successful efforts in connecting with consumers. 

    “The best approach is to make your advertisements feel like the authentic content that your users would typically consume. This is why advertisers on TikTok are seeing so much success — their ads are presented like regular TikTok videos, so they're far less likely to be ignored. By the time people realize they're watching an ad, they've already finished watching it,” said Han. 

    Other experts also agree with the decision to transfer your advertising practices over to social media. 

    “I think [using social media to promote your business] is a really good way to go about the problem," said Demarkles. "Obviously, you’re still going to be spending a couple dollars versus the organic way, but at the end of the day when you consider that most people during the day go and scroll through Instagram or TikTok and thinking about reaching someone in that instance and not making it look like an ad, figuring out how to do that is going to be one of the better challenges for people to overcome in the next year or so."

    Demarkles says that while these ads are sure to bring your brand much success, you should be careful not to make your customers feel tricked by your tactics.

    “There were all these problems in the last couple years with people saying that consumers weren’t able to readily identify an ad from result pages," he said. "So, before that becomes a problem with sponsored socials, because I’m sure that’ll be the next thing that people will be upset about, getting ahead of that for when that does come up will be a big leg up for companies because people will say ‘oh well, I already like this brand’s stuff.' "

    Relating your ads back to one another can help solve this potential problem. 

    “It’s kind of like this with most things in digital — no one wants an advertisement. For whatever reason, it’s kind of like a stigma so you have to find a way to show something of value. When you take some of the aspects from your sponsored social media ad, [like showing the deliciousness of your steak] and putting it on your traditional ad, it doesn’t come off as aggressive and there’s still some value because you’re saying ‘hey, we showed this on our socials and if you go to our website, you can learn everything.’ If you’re doing that it’s a little less invasive," said Demarkles.

    When dealing with social media sponsored ads, you must also factor in what audience will benefit most from looking at your marketing content.

    “Most of these social companies have their own ecosystem. Figuring out [how] to have a valuable presence in each of those ecosystems is important and also figuring out which social channel should target what,” Demarkles added. “When you think about it, a lot of social channels are different in what their uses are in practicality. Something that’s good on LinkedIn might be good for Twitter, but it probably won’t work on Instagram. You have to figure out what your total brand message is going to be.”

    How to get the most bang for your digital ad bucks

    Paid social display ads are more relied upon than ever before, but CPM rates are high, and it's hard to properly assess effectiveness. It's safe to say marketers have a lot to think about when it comes to shelling out cash for these ads. Let's make sense of some of those thoughts.  

    “When you’re looking at the cost for something like [a display ad], one of the biggest things you want to consider is 'what is the ad going to be about?' " said Demarkles. “Let’s say that an ad is going to cost you five bucks but you’re trying to sell something that’s only worth 25 cents. Well, at that point you know that you need to sell X amount of units [to make a profit].”

    Knowing how much your ad will cost is only one piece of the puzzle. You also need to know who you're marketing your products towards.

    “When you’re thinking about those four or five primary types of display ads, you have to think about which one of those is most appropriate for the campaign that you’re looking to do,” said Han. “For instance, with certain types of products you want to be using those interactive ads, or if you’re selling the best steak out there, you want to make sure that that’s an ad where people can practically smell the food when they’re looking at it.”

    Remembering the basic fundamentals of digital advertising is also key in marketing your brand to consumers. The first step, Demarkles says, is remaining true to what your customers want from their initial experience with your site.

    “A big thing that a lot of people tend to miss the mark on when they’re doing their paid search and display is that landing page experience," he said. "That landing page is always going to help you get a better bid so making sure that you have people set on not just a very well-thought-out landing page, but also to be put into a decent conversion funnel is really going to be optimizing yourself for success."

    Relying on display ads to drive consumer response doesn’t have to break the bank. In fact, some ads cost even less than others. 

    “One thing that people don’t think to do, and it tends to be cheaper in my experience, is using the display ads as a means of retargeting,” said Demarkles. “For the most part with retargeting there was already some intent — no one goes to your site for no reason, whether they went to your site just to learn something versus to buy a product, that’s something you’ll have to figure out for yourself based on what that landing page experience is and looking at your analytics too to get some general ideas.”

    The most important thing when it comes to spending your marketing dollars wisely and preventing a poor conversion rate is remembering to refer back to the needs of your audience.

    “You have to figure out who your audience is and what they might be looking for and, if you can’t figure that out, [discovering] where the most optimal place to put it is,” said Demarkles. 

    Display ads may be trending poorly as of late, but that doesn’t mean their value is nonexistent. Remaining true to the needs of your audience and finding new, innovative ways to serve them will greatly benefit your brand.


    Lindsay Keener

    Lindsay Keener is a brand journalist for Quikly. She covers stories that help to inform and educate consumer-facing marketers.