Advertising has been an embedded feature of our world for many decades now, providing brands with the opportunity to introduce new products to consumers and giving consumers a chance to discover new products. But over the years, advertising has evolved considerably. Today’s advertisers have access to an abundance of different platforms, analytics tools, and potential approaches to use to get their target market’s attention, and consumers oftentimes encounter advertising where they least expect it—or don’t even notice when they’re being advertised to.
One of the most interesting areas of development in this field has been with display ads. In just a couple of decades, display ads have gone from being a straightforward way to advertise on the internet to one of the most sophisticated and “smartest” forms of advertising in the world.
So how did display ads get “smart,” and how could they get smarter from here?
Let’s start with a briefer on display advertising. Display advertising refers to targeted advertisements that are used to promote a product, service, or brand; these ads are distributed across a wide network of different “publisher” websites, usually making an appearance in the headers, in sidebars, and in other locations. Display ads can come in many forms; you’ve likely seen a mix of text-based ads, images, and videos as you’ve browsed the web. Additionally, display ads come in different shapes and sizes; you’ve likely encountered some dominating ads that practically take over the rest of the page, and you’ve likely missed some innocuous ads that were hard to notice.
There are many different display advertising “networks” that advertisers can leverage to promote their brand. Google’s Display Network is one of the largest, reaching 90 percent of all internet users across millions of different websites and blogs. With a set budget and the right advertising material, you can easily put together a campaign from scratch and start advertising. Most display advertising partners will charge you based on the number of clicks your ad generates, with a set “cost per click” (CPC) based on your industry, your competition, and your targets.
The quality and accessibility of display ads have increased dramatically since their inception. In other words, display ads have gotten “smart.” But what factors have led to these developments, and what kinds of developments could we see in the future?
Why have display ads become more sophisticated? We can consider these push factors as influencing their development:
One of the biggest ways display ads have gotten “smarter” is with their ability to target different types of audiences. Any marketer can tell you the secret to an effective campaign is learning to target the right people; if you choose the right target demographics for your messaging, and capture their attention with a well-placed, well-written message, you’ll stand a good chance of converting them.
Over the years, display ads have gotten much better at targeting the right types of people. Sophisticated display ad networks (like Google AdWords) offer you the ability to choose target consumers based on demographic factors, like age, gender, level of income, level of education, and dozens of other factors. But beyond that, you can make your audience even more specific with things like:
Display ads have also advanced significantly in the realm of data analytics. Advertisers can now log into a dashboard to monitor and analyze how their ads have performed in the recent past. How many ads have been served? How many impressions are they getting? How many clicks are they getting? How are those visitors behaving once they reach your website? How much did you pay for this traffic? Are those users converting? You can also conduct an AB test with different variations of your ad to compare their performance; which features are most likely to attract the right people to your site?
Online advertising used to be a complex endeavor, but these days, signing up for a display advertising account and starting your first campaign is easy. Major display ad networks want to attract advertisers of all shapes and sizes—including mega-corporations who want to reach millions of people and small-time bloggers who just want their first stream of local traffic. Accordingly, they’ve designed platforms and products that can be easily understood—even if you’ve never run an advertising campaign in the past.
Display ads have always been affordable, except in highly competitive markets, but innovations in the industry have made it even more approachable for advertisers to set their budgets, understand their spending, and ultimately make better purchasing decisions.
For example, in some platforms, you can set a firm budget of how much you want to spend in a given period of time. You might set a budget of $1,000 per week; if you do this, the platform can automatically optimize displays to help you get the most out of this budget.
Thanks in part to their constant competition, platforms like Google, Amazon, and Facebook are constantly refining and improving their display advertising networks. In the coming years, we’ll likely see display ads with even more sophisticated targeting, lower costs, and lower barriers to entry—all with smarter and more advanced analytics platforms to measure your results. We may even see altogether new forms of advertising emerge.