Why Your Ad Campaigns Aren’t Working & How to Fix Them (Part 2): Effective Ad Design
Is your website underperforming for your advertisers? Are they pulling dollars from you to run more with your competitors or to spend on inbound marketing and programmatic ads?
In my previous article, we talked about how your biggest ad challenges aren’t necessarily because of you. They’re often due to a misalignment in the advertiser’s campaign goals, the creative they supply, and the metrics used to evaluate success of the campaign. I showed you how to fix this through clear communication with the advertiser before, during, and after the campaign.
But I often find that advertisers and agencies don’t actually know how to make good creative for branding and direct response campaigns. They can get caught up in the “pretty” of ad campaigns at the expense of ad effectiveness.
It’s unfortunate that we need to educate advertisers on the best practices for ad creative. However, if done properly, doing so can give you a strategic advantage and consultative role that other publishers and marketing agencies don’t have.
Below are some tips you can share with your advertisers to help them create more effective ads.
Direct Response Best Practices
Most advertisers and agencies have no problem creating a branding campaign. Where I see the biggest problems are direct response campaign. A direct response creative should:
- Clearly address an audience need or want.
- Have a strong incentive (a reason for someone to click).
- Create a sense of urgency (time, quantity, or other limitation).
- Have a strong call-to-action (actually tells the viewer what to do).
The creative shouldn’t assume that the viewer knows anything about the company, the product, the message, or the desired action. You have only a second or two to get a person’s attention, show the value of clicking, and entice them to click.
It’s often best to also avoid weak calls-to-action like “Learn More.” Instead use strong action phrases like “Download for Free” … and remember, buttons work! They draw attention to the call-to-action and make it obvious what the viewer should do.
Keep the Design Simple
Whether branding or direct response, the most effective ads are usually simple, uncluttered, and easy-to-read. Here are some keys:
- Use large fonts. Keep your text 14 point or larger if possible.
- Text-based ads often outperform image or animation-heavy ads.
- But don’t use too much text and don’t cram a ton of tiny text on the ad.
- Avoid italics and hard-to-read fonts. Bold, sans-serif fonts usually work best.
And please, don’t put a website URL, email, or phone number on the ad creative. Think about it. Will someone actually stop browsing a website to write down a URL or email address? Will they pick up the phone instead of clicking the ad?
Don’t waste valuable ad real estate on info people won’t use.
Use Animation Wisely
When someone sees an ad online, they glance at it, determine if it’s interesting, and then respond to it or move on. They won’t sit through a “mini-move” animated ad. Well-designed, non-animated PNG or JPG ads usually out-perform fancy animations.
If the ad must use animation, here are some tips to keep it effective:
- Use a subtle background animation to draw attention without distracting from the message, incentive, or call-to-action.
- Always keep the primary message, incentive, or call-to-action visible and in the same place on the ad throughout the entire animation. Don’t wait until the end of the animation to show them and certainly don’t animate them off the creative.
- If animation is necessary to get fit what needs to be said, then you’re saying too much. Cut back to the bare essentials.
Examples of Good and Bad Ad Creative
Using the criteria above, let’s take a look at several ads and analyze what they’re doing well or not doing well, and if they are branding or direct response creative.
Amazon Web Services does a great job with this direct response ad. Clear viewer need, strong incentive, and good CTA with a button to click. Limited text in large fonts, brand is clearly visible, and key info isn’t animated on and off for the viewer.
A branding ad trying to redefine customer perception of Crocs. Good visuals, brand, and message association with minimal text. But it will not generate many clicks. No incentive, and the green right arrow is a very weak CTA with no reason to click.
Good direct response ad by Men’s Health. Clear brand, strong message and incentive, good reinforcing visual and large fonts. The “Learn How” CTA isn’t as strong as it could be, but it’s still very clear what the user should do and why they should do it.
Another good branding ad for message association and brand favorability. Strong logo and message with large fonts and visual that reinforces the message. But there is no incentive or CTA at all so this ad will not generate many clicks.
This ad from Mike’s Camera is not as effective as it could be. It’s cluttered and uses too much text. Instead, tout the sale with a strong incentive and CTA. Get people to a well-designed landing page where they can learn more or get a coupon.
Kerridge does a good job putting their brand front and center, but the ad has too much text. They had to use small fonts to fit it all. There are too many messages on one ad. And there is no need to put the email address and phone number on the ad.
This is the last frame of a 6-second animated ad from AT&T. The incentive and call-to-action don’t even appear until the last frame of the animation. By the time the incentive and CTA appear, the viewer has already moved on to something else on the page.
What Should You Do Now?
Use this article — along with my previous one — and talk with your sales and ad trafficking team. Together, go through the ads running on your own website to see how they stack up with these best practices.
Then, don’t be afraid to talk with your advertisers about their creative. You can share my articles to start a discussion. Because they’re written by me, a third-party consultant, you don’t have to worry as much about an adverse reaction from the advertiser. Help them be successful with their ad creative and they’ll be happier with the campaign on your site and spend more money with you.
I also recommend that you share this with the people creating your house ads. Make sure that you apply these best practices yourself. Not only will it make your house ads more effective, but it also shows your advertisers that you practice what you preach.
Finally, stay tuned for the next and final article in this series. We’re going to address how you, the publisher, can best design your website, email newsletters, and ad programs to improve results for your advertisers.
Eric Shanfelt is the founding partner of Nearview Media, a consulting firm that helps publishers with their digital revenue, audience and platform development. Eric is a 25-year digital media veteran and has been the Chief Digital Officer for several large publishing companies. You can reach Eric at firstname.lastname@example.org.