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5 Display Ads that I came across today: an honest critique

Published: March 2, 2017

Author: Kelly Whelan

It’s amazing how many websites we visit every day. Equally as amazing is how many ads we’re exposed to per day. With so much noise, how do companies cut through the clutter and create an effective online ad?
Now I will be honest: scrolling through a ton of ads online makes me no more an expert on their effectiveness than scrolling through pictures of food on Pinterest makes me a chef. So to understand digital ad strategy, I turned to one our experts here at 3Q, Display Account Manager Luis Valles, to get some answers on what’s good and bad about the ads that follow me throughout the internet.
First things first. What makes a good display ad? Here are a few of Luis’ best practices:

  • The ad needs to catch the viewer’s eye right away. There’s a rule in online advertising: the ad’s image will do 80% of the work in terms of catching attention whereas the text will only do 20%. Having a strong image is really important.
  • Animations or video typically perform better than static images because they are able to stand out.
  • Your ad shouldn’t be too wordy and can’t be overly complex.
  • Make sure your ad has a clear CTA.
  • The look and feel of your ad needs to match that of the landing page your users will be directed to. Otherwise they may feel like they’ve been misdirected.

All right, now that we’ve got a base understanding, here are the ads we’ll be looking at today:

#1.  An Allstate ad (Mashable.com)

My thoughts:
I turned to a Mashable article to try and understand why my phone dies so quickly and I noticed this Allstate ad. I have Geico and I’m pretty happy with it, so I wasn’t inclined to look further. This ad doesn’t seem relevant to me, however it is definitely eye-catching.
The ad:

The landing page:

Overall this is a good ad. In terms of placement, it’s hard to say whether a top banner will perform better than one along the side. It just depends on how long a user will be there before scrolling down. But this seems to be a good place for this ad.
The ad is static. If it had movement it would likely have a higher response rate because it would be a bit more eye-catching, but overall the ad is simple in a good way and maintains the same look and feel as the landing page. As I mentioned above, it’s important to have an obvious connection between the ad and landing page, which this ad achieves. Also, there are minimal barriers for the user to complete the requested action once they arrive on the landing page, which is good.
Had you been searching for insurance, it would make sense for this ad to show up. It’s interesting that they targeted you. My guess is that they are using 3rd-party demographic data. Improving their targeting practices will save them money overall.

#2. An Amazon Audible ad (iwastesomuchtime.com)

My thoughts: This ad popped up while I was scrolling through iwastesomuchtime.com – my favorite way to waste time during off work hours (in case my boss is reading this). Unfortunately for me, I already used my Audible free trial and downloads on a road trip over the summer, so this ad isn’t as relevant for me.
The ad:

The landing page:

I find this ad to a bit confusing. The color scheme and text are totally different from the Audible logo on the landing page. When I create ads, I like to keep these elements consistent to avoid confusing the user. In terms of placement, this is in a good spot. Iwastesomuchtime.com is set up to drive the viewer towards the bottom of the page where the ad is located, so even at the bottom of the page it should get good visibility.
As for audience targeting, it doesn’t make sense that you’d receive this ad. As you can see from the landing page, Amazon knows that your free trial has already been used. The content of the message isn’t applicable to you and should be altered to something that encourages you to subscribe.

#3: A Houston Chronicle ad (The Houston Chronicle site)

When I got to this page, my attention was immediately drawn to the Lulus ad. I then become curious about what Lulus (a clothing company) would want me to subscribe to for “as low as $1.00/week”. When I clicked the ad, I was actually directed to a Houston Chronicle subscription page. Bait and switch.
The ad:

The landing page:

This is an interesting ad. It’s unusual to see two ads in the header area (which is typically reserved for one). However it’s clear that the Houston Chronicle set it up this way. This is sneaky placement in my opinion. The ad doesn’t mention what you are subscribing to or give you much information at all which causes confusion for the user. Overall this isn’t the best ad.

#4: A Lulus ad (Houston Chronicle site)

I chose to feature Lulus again because this ad really stood out to me. Lulus ads have been following me since I bought a dress on their site for a wedding I will be in later this year. In my opinion, this is quite a nice ad. I like the large, clear image of the clothing. However I would be much more interested were this not the exact dress I purchased for the wedding. On the upside, now I know it’s on sale. Maybe they’ll discount me the difference?
The ad:

The landing page:

The ad itself is nice. The image is the main focus which is good and using a discount is a great incentive to click, especially for targeted users who have already shopped on the site. However, there is no CTA on the ad, which should always be included.
From a targeting standpoint, because we know this dress was already purchased by the user in question, this is an ineffective impression. Retargeting is great when a user puts something in their cart but doesn’t complete the purchase. However there should be an exclusion list to ensure that once an item is purchased, the buyer doesn’t see it again. With a few changes, this ad could be very impactful.

#5. An Adbeat ad (Washington Post)

I came across this ad while reading a story about puppies found in an avalanche. I’ll reserve my opinions and turn it over to the expert.
The ad:

The landing page:

This ad is all over the place. It is very wordy and the different parts of it compete with each other for attention. There isn’t one central draw. It also feels very outdated. The top bar on the ad has a totally different look and feel than the rest of the ad.
On the other hand, the landing page feels very different. It is clean and newer and has a central point of focus. I’d improve upon this ad by making it more consistent with the landing page, which is a lot cleaner.
So there you have it. This was certainly a learning experience for me. If I had to pick a central takeaway, I’d say that it’s harder to get a display ad right than I realized. Selecting the right CTA, creating the right look, and targeting the right buyers (while excluding the wrong ones) takes experience and a critical eye. Luckily for me, when it comes to putting money down on the table for ads, Luis sits just a few desks away, so I can continue to learn from the master.
How strong is your display advertising game? If you’d like to see how 3Q Digital can help your company take display advertising to the next level, our display experts would love to hear from you. Contact us today.
As a bonus for reading, here’s a close up of one of the super fluffy puppies from the Washington Post article referenced above. Enjoy! 🙂

Extra points if you know what kind of dog this is. Drop it into the comments below!

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