What makes an effective online ad?

1280-khan-academy-coding-codeacademyI have been involved in producing quite a few online campaigns in my time. (Probably more more than I care to remember.) Over that period I have seen how the perception of digital advertising has changed. I remember how we used to be in awe of rich media and over over-the-page ads (OTPs) when they first came out a decade ago. Now they are usually an annoyance. Traditional display ads (your standard banners, island ads, towers, etc) have been the mainstay of online advertising for some time now, but in recent years the debate has raged over their effectiveness. Click-thru rates have declined year on year as people develop “banner-blindness” as their Internet use has increased.

Online Display Advertising Click-Through Rates

More recently the debate has swung towards media planning and placement. Goggle’s increasing sophistication with highly targeted adverting has accelerated this shift in perception. The argument is that online advertising has become more targeted (and therefore relevant), resulting in people being more likely to respond. It is a logical argument, and one that I agree with, however I think there is more to it. We can’t just put it down to poor media placement.

Measurement is a problem. There is an insistence that online advertising be measured in clicks. Some even question if click-measurement can be accurate. For some campaigns – usually those which are very retail/acquisition focused, clicks are a vital measurement of success.  However online ads can perform a very strong branding exercise too – without people clicking-through. Just because people don’t click on the ads, doesn’t mean that they have not seen them. Assuming the creative is ‘effective’, then these people are likely to still have experienced a positive brand message which may influence a future product purchase.

recent article in Advertising age highlights that it is the quality of the creative that affects online advertising effectiveness the most. Poor design & copywriting, no logos, and no clear call to action is obviously going to impact on response rates.

So to sum up, here are my things that will ensure effective online ads

1) Great media buys
This is critical. The media must be well targeted, and and in a format that is right for the ads subject matter.

2) Great creative
This goes without saying. The creative must have cut-thru. It must have clear branding, a simple message, and a clear call to action.

3) Get your measurement metrics right.
It not always about the clicks. Ensure the campaign objectives are identified upfront, and consider branding, reach, and frequency as a success metric over clicks.

I’m keen to hear what you think constitutes an effective online ad so post a comment and tell me.


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