Skip to content

Display advertising: what, how, why?

When I first jumped into the world of graphic design over thirty years ago the term “Display Advertising” really meant nothing to me, as it probably didn’t to most people.

Computer based design was only in its infancy and limited to what could be achieved on those initial Apple Mac computers and their monochrome screens (yes I’m that old!).

Advertising, as I was introduced to it, was very much about placing as much content into an area as possible and feeding the reader with every conceivable bit of information they would possibly require to make a decision on a purchase. 

Thankfully we have progressed rapidly over the years. Digital design techniques have given birth to "display advertising", online graphic advertising in the form of banners, text, images, video, and audio, that sit within online platforms (like Facebook, Google or your favourite news site). 

Display advertising has become the preferred format of advertising for many, and as a result your target audience is inundated with ads every day. So how can you stick out from the crowd? Well, you can read these 5 tips to get you started. 

First, a little history

The introduction of the first online advert appeared in 1994. The banner format which has now become a standard ‘go to’ for many companies was first created for the American telecoms company At&T and ran for four months with a click rate of 44%, sparking huge success and recognition. This then catapulted the whole concept forward and into the mainframe that is seen as the norm these days.


“Make it simple, but significant” - Don Draper, Mad Men 

Probably not one of the most famous quotes you’ll ever hear but it goes far in summing up a key principle in display advertising - less is more. 

As I’ve already said, traditional advertisements used to be jam packed with information, lines of copy would feature next to “maximalist” images of a product or brand. But with so much competition today, this rarely works online and you’ll struggle to capture your target audience’s attention. Today, display advertising online needs to be simple but captivating. 

Here are a few pointers to get you started: 

Push your brand 

It's vital to be seen online, away from your website. A general rule of thumb is that your logo should take up a minimum of 15% of an adverts area to give you a strong presence instantly. Even if the ad doesn’t always get the desired success it’s likely to boost brand awareness. 

Be sparing with your content 

You may have a lot to say about your service, product or sector, but these ads are not the place to do it. Overloading them with heavy copy can create mixed messaging and turn your audience off. You should aim to get straight to the point and focus only on the necessary. A clear informative header and very brief secondary copy line will create both a strong initial impression and an eagerness to click through. 

Be bold

Imagery is by far the strongest way to catch instant attention. Using a single image and keeping the copy to a minimum is a sure fire way to draw the eye towards your ad. Sometimes there’s a tendency to be overly creative with images but a natural image will carry much more impact than one which has been enhanced in Photoshop. Don’t be too clever with your imagery either, having to overthink the connection with the product may just turn the viewer off. 

Click me 

The main aim is to get a potential customers to progress onto a more indepth page or form, make contact with you and become a customer. Therefore applying a simple ‘instruction’ on the ad is an essential step, even if this seems obvious. 

Including a bold ‘click here’ or ‘apply now’ just ads that final push needed to progress to the desired outcome. As these ads have become the daily norm some designers may have taken it for granted that the lead should know what to do, but multiple studies demonstrate that a strong call-to-action (CTA) improves click through drastically, even in a simple instructive format. 

Move a little

A powerful image and a great typographical understanding will undoubtedly make all the difference in such a heavily populated ad environment, but by introducing some movement, either through gifs, animation or video, your ad will come to life and become more visible. 

And finally...

Online advertising formats are forever changing along with the platforms they sit on, so make sure you’re always refreshing your knowledge. Whether it’s something to sit on your Facebook page or on your website, display advertising will always be a huge driving force in your business, so using them thoughtfully and strategically will only enhance the future of your company.

Like what you read? Keep an eye on our blog for regular insights just like this one. If you’d like to learn more about  design, web development or digital transformation, get in touch 

We’re ready to help you unleash the potential of digital in your organisation.

Subscribe to knowledge