I’ve Got Some Bad News About Your Display Ads

Are Your Display Ads REALLY Doing Anything?

I’ve Got Some Bad News About Your Display Ads

If you’ve ever looked into running display ads, also known as those annoying banners on almost every website that everybody wishes would just go away, then you probably know that they can get quite expensive.

Whether you’re using a CPC or CPM bidding model, display ads have a tendency of reaching a wide audience and quickly exhausting your budget, though there’s no way to guarantee that they’ll do anything useful for your brand.

As someone who’s worked on the agency side and witnessed first hand just how expensive display advertising is, I’ve always suspected that there are more effective ways to increase a brand’s presence online.

Not only do display ads rack up costly clicks and impressions in the blink of an eye, but from my own experience as a consumer, I’ve always suspected that these types of ads are often ignored anyway. (For example, I know that the last time I watched a YouTube video, at least 15 different ads were served, yet I can’t tell you a single thing about any of them.)

Turns out my suspicions were correct.

Brain Scans And Banner Ads

In his 2008 book, Buyology, advertising and branding expert Martin Lindstrom discusses a number of studies he performed using fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or in layman’s terms, brain scanning technology) to understand whether or not different forms of advertising actually have an impact on consumers’ buying habits. (Side note: if you’re like me and love learning about how psychology and advertising intertwine, then I recommend you check out this book!)

While Buyology describes an extensive amount of research and case studies, I want to emphasize something Lindstrom mentioned that can be applied directly to display campaigns.

Lindstrom references a study that brain-scanning company Neuroco performed for 20th Century Fox, in which test subjects’ electrical brain activity and eye movement were measured while playing a video game. Within the game, ads were placed on billboards, buses, and bus stops, and the results? None of the ads got any attention. As Lindstrom states, “The researchers found that all the visual saturation resulted only in glazed eyes, not higher sales” (p. 142).

This study confirms a suspicion I’ve had for years now (and I’m sure I’m not alone): most of the time, your display ads are being ignored.

Now, I’d like to point out that Lindstrom himself was not discussing Internet display ads, but I believe that the behavior he observed does translate to digital ad campaigns.

I’ll elaborate: to start, your audience is visiting a site because they’re interested in its content, and they probably don’t appreciate being bombarded with distracting ads.

Are You Being Tuned Out?

But there’s another reason why your display ads aren’t as effective as you’d hoped, and Lindstrom touched on this in his book as well: people are being “visually overstimulated” and, as a result, they’re starting to tune advertisers out.

This is a concept that’s long been discussed by marketing experts, yet often goes ignored. The fact is, as an advertiser, you need to do more to capture your audience’s attention than simply putting yourself in front of them.

That’s not to say that every display campaign is destined to fail; rather, my goal here is to emphasize just how crucial it is to have a strategic plan and a realistic goal for every dollar you spend on ads. Even more importantly, I can’t stress enough that advertising should never be viewed as a way to fix a failing business, but that’s a topic I can discuss in an entirely separate post.

Here’s my challenge to you: if you’re currently running display ads and you have a suspicion they’re not working, take a close look at your campaign’s performance. Perhaps your audience, like Lindstrom’s test subjects, are simply tuning out your ads, and your budget would be better spent on a different marketing channel entirely.

Share this post if you enjoyed it, and join my emailing list today to keep up with all of my latest updates!

What Do You Think?