Display Ads Don’t Work Anymore: NOW WHAT


I attended several meetings last week in the Bay Area and met with several companies including Google and Pandora.  I’m always energized after spending time with businesses whose sole focus is on the pursuit of digital and the monetization of those efforts.

During the meetings we spent a lot of time talking about the ever changing consumer behavior as it relates to interacting with advertising.  As we all know, display ads are still a major component of most online efforts but with each passing day the advertisers that pay for those ads are asking for more clarity on the success rate.  Jason Del Rey of AdAge wrote a good article on the subject that talked about click throughs becoming irrelevant as a way to measure the success of digital display ads.  Advertisers are starting to talk more about the interaction with the ad which includes hovering over the ad, listening to audio, playing a game integrated in the ad, or other activities.

I am seeing more and more advertisers asking to have their message put into the context of content on the page.  Check out how SAP ad is relevant to content. Advertisers are also asking how social aspects of the content can be integrated into advertising.  Think Facebook.  In other words, the old way of thinking about display ads as relatively static messaging has to change if we want to continue selling to advertisers.

Buzzfeed’s Jonah Peretti  wrote a good article that talked about the importance of moving beyond display ads.  I particularly took note of this quote:

“Peretti sees display ads as artifacts of an earlier Internet era when people went to portals to find content. That era — and its skyscraper and banner ads — has long passed as readers instead turned to search and, more recently, to social networks to find stories.”

I believe the issue of display ads not working as well as they once did is becoming even more critical when you consider the impact of mobile and tablets. Most publishers are seeing desktop page views flattening out and most growth is coming from smart phones and tablets.  Now think about display ads on a smart phone.  It’s a small screen and many advertiser websites are not optimized for smart phones, creating a bad experience.  The answer?  We often create mobile landing pages for our advertisers.

On the tablet, display takes on a whole new meaning.  Using a tablet is an engaging process; consumers are much more interactive using the device. They spend more time, look at more pages, and click on more ads. They are more likely to click on an ad if it takes advantage of the device’s technology, with interactive and social elements. Most advertisers can’t create interactive ads. They need an agency or the publisher to do that for them. Therefore we create tablet landing pages and build interactive and social elements into ads for our advertisers.

So, what’s a publisher to do? Here are some recommendations:

  1. Create mobile and tablet landing pages for your advertisers
  2. Integrate interactive and social elements into ads
  3. Offer advertisers an immersive experience, giving them a role in the content on the page

There are no easy solutions. For anyone. And after sitting with the Pandora execs, one thing I know is no one has it all figured out.  Pandora is doing a great job in getting an audio advertisement to your music station every 20 minutes.  The ad includes a leave-behind display ad.  However unless you have the phone in your hand or you’re sitting at your desktop you won’t see a display ad unless you need to access the screen itself.

And Pandora’s ads are typical display ads that fill the screen on a smart phone, similar to a static display ad. Pandora has a compelling message and audience reach story.  As they evolve in the space my bet is they come up with even more compelling interactive ads for mobile devices.

Everyone has a chance to be successful in the mobile and tablet space as long as they don’t treat it like desktop.  Pandora is making sure they don’t, and my guess is they will be a big winner in selling digital ads for their service.

Google is also really pushing the envelope in thinking about mobile and tablet, but their real knockout punch is still Search.  They are constantly evolving with more progressive advertising on mobile formats and no longer thinking about it as a display ad.

It is going to take a combination of social, display, integrated messaging and interactive elements to win this battle.  My message here is that even the big guys haven’t figured out the secret sauce as display ages and new formats evolve and progress for all our mobile devices.  Keep trying new things and don’t get caught trying to repurpose old formats.

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