Studies from New York University, the University of Chicago and the University of Wisconsin show that display advertising increases site visits and consumer purchasing behavior. If you have a consistent brand message, then display advertising will increase your visibility, drive more visitors to your site, and help you generate more revenue.
This is not just academic theory; display advertising efforts here at Instapage produce results. After significantly increasing the budget of banner ad campaigns on the Google Display Network, we saw a sustained 20% lift in new subscriptions compared to the preceding weeks.
The image below shows a huge jump in our total unique new paying accounts per week:
The benefits of display advertising seem straightforward: Demonstrate value to the right people through a unique message and nice-looking pictures so that they give you money. The idea is quite simple but the execution is not easy. The difficulty lies in creating effective display ads that users will engage with and remember.
The Instapage post-click landing page platform makes advertising more effective post-click, so we want to use today’s article to help you improve your pre-click ad engagement in three key areas: Viewer attitude toward the advertisement and brand, the tone of the ad, and the features of the ad image.
User response to image ads
Internet users stereotypically regard online ads as disruptive or annoying. A study in the Journal of Advertising Research counters that high quality advertising can deliver utility to Internet users. User attitudes indicate that ads that address a pressing need of the ad viewer or deliver entertaining messages create positive attitudes. The study states that entertainment “exhibited almost four times more strength of influence on favorable consumer attitudes” than the second strongest predictor, informativeness. Additional research supports this, indicating that when “offered the chance to be entertained, consumers were 27 percent more likely to click an ad than when offered a cheap product.”
Other factors influencing viewer attitudes include “peer influence,” “self-brand congruity,” “privacy concerns,” and “invasiveness.” Posts with an informal tone that reinforce compatibility between the brand and the viewer’s identity can provide benefits. When crafting your ad creative, think about the value your product delivers, but also consider the value that the ad itself delivers.
Relevant and helpful information that demonstrates your brand value will help performance, but emotional appeal improves user engagement as well. A study focusing on user responses to social media advertising finds that users “react more favorably to a persuasive message… if it has a greater emotional appeal.” Users that view an informative or persuasive ad with emotional appeal are more likely to associate with a brand positively and spread the message to friends.
An additional study on Facebook posts found that emotional content receives nearly twice as many likes as content lacking emotion. The study recommends using emotional appeal in ads while avoiding “hard sell” or explicitly commercial statements. It also suggests that B2B Facebook posts are more effective if they include corporate brand names. Instapage finds this to be true because our highest engagement post on Facebook in recent months mentions AirBnB in the title:
Even with entertaining, emotional, or informative ads; some folks will still find them disruptive. Ad viewers are likely to avoid sources of negative experiences — like your ad disrupting a viewer browsing her Facebook feed.
A research paper exploring advertising and user behavior offers insight that may help you create a positive ad experience. The paper shows that personalized content is the most effective way to avoid a disturbing experience for users. Providing utility through personalized content “significantly decreases consumer reactance against” the messaging. Additionally, when users find utility in your ads, this offsets the costs of disruption.
Advertisement tone considerations
The previous section explored relevance as a method to engage users through ads, but what kind of relevance should you be providing?
Empirical results showed that “ad-to-consumer relevance and brand-to-consumer relevance were significant predictors of ad creativity while ad-to-brand relevance had a negative correlation.” Your ad and brand need to be relevant to viewers but your ad does not necessarily need to be relevant to your brand. This opens up a lot of room for ad creativity.
The same paper also states that “creative ads increase motivation to process the ad and improve the attitude toward the ad, and that the positive effect transfers to the brand.” Several dimensions determine creativity, including divergence, originality, flexibility, synthesis, elaboration, and artistic value. Divergence is one of the leading factors and is associated with “elements that are novel, different or unusual.”
Additional research shows that elaboration is a strong predictor of ad success. The article was written in Europe, and it states that a “euro invested in a highly creative ad campaign had, on average, nearly double the sales impact of a euro spent on a non-creative campaign.” It also revealed these key findings:
- Elaboration had the most powerful impact on sales of all the dimensions in creativity.
- Combining elaboration with originality had almost double the impact on sales of baseline.
- The combination of artistic value and originality showed an 89% improvement.
The same research indicates that ad agencies use elaboration far less than originality and artistic value. This information provides a competitive advantage to those that use elaboration. Therefore, you have the opportunity to create unique, successful campaigns with elaborative advertising.
Create elaborative ads, and you will stand out in a positive light. One point to consider is that out-of-the-ordinary or silly approaches to ad messaging are less preferred with functional products that have clear consumer goals like cleaning.
In contrast, products that are easily understood and tied to a viewer’s personal preferences like taste or style find greater benefits from an unorthodox approach than products that require explanation. Furthermore, you may see a higher initial engagement with humorous posts, but users will be much more prone to bounce off your site if they’re not sure why they got there.
For example, the post below received high engagement on Facebook but did not really set expectations for users:
The bottom line is this: You must truly understand how your audience perceives your product or service. Only then can you design your ads for the highest engagement possible.
Visual elements of your ad
You know your audience, your product, and have an engaging tone for your ad. Now how should the ad be designed?
Facebook recommends that ads focus on one subject, use high quality images, and include your brand in a natural, authentic way. Those may seem like good recommendations, but they’re fairly general and obvious. Fortunately, we have research to share that provides much more specificity! The first paper is a collaboration from Yahoo! and Oregon State University that recommends the following tips for ads.
Ad elements that achieve a higher CTR:
- Creatives with higher gray level contrast
- Small number of salient components, with all components close to the center of the creative and the major component consistent with the rule of third
- Creatives with good color harmony (those with small deviation from color harmony models)
- Average lightness across whole image and the largest segment of the image
Ad elements that lower CTR:
- Cluttered creatives (those with large number of connected components)
- Creatives with large number of characters cause textual clutter
- Too many different hues, in both the whole image and the largest component in the image
Another paper from the same two organizations gives insight into the effect sizes that different image features have on CTR:
The research offers the following insights:
- CTR increases nearly linearly with the minimum brightness of the ads.
- Ads with a large background image receive fewer clicks than small background image ads.
- Ads with larger number of interest points have lower CTR than ads with fewer interest points.
- Image ads with more pixels of a dominant color (simpler) generate more clicks.
- There is a negative correlation between CTR and the number of characters in an image.
- There is a negative correlation between CTR and the number of faces in the image.
In summary, the two studies indicate that your image needs to be high quality, have a clear focus and be understandable at a glance. Take the visual standards for image elements and use them as a starting point to which you can craft your tone, information, and emotional appeal.
Once you achieve better ad engagement, what’s next?
After you create successful ads, you will want to maintain engagement as viewers click through. Once you do that, you can expand on the messaging, tone, and information in your ad with a fully customizable post-click landing page with Instapage, the post-click landing page solution to optimize your ad spend.