How to Use Display Advertising

by | Aug 19, 2019 | Education

Display Feature Image

To those who don’t work with display advertising on a frequent basis, it can seem like the “boring” channel.

But this couldn’t be further from the truth. As we’ll learn with Corey, one of LumenAd’s account managers, Display can be thought of as one of the last true frontiers in digital advertising — where, with creativity and a little know-how, you might just strike gold. 

What It Is

What Display is 

 Display advertising is advertising that appears as banners (or similar formats) on websites, apps or social media. Usually display ads appear as text and an image in a banner, but they can be interstitials, rich media, and more (IAB even added guidelines for augmented and virtual reality). 

Display is one of the first forms of online advertising. The first banner display appeared on HotWired for AT&T in 1994 (source):

Original Display Ad from 1994

This process was facilitated by real people negotiating terms with each other. As technology advanced and real-time bidding came to the fore, advertisers were able to place ads programmatically with DSPs and the ad tech ecosystem.

We’ve come a long way, but the core principles of Display stay the same. It’s best to treat Display ads like you would billboards with the added benefit of clicks. That is, a mainly awareness-focused initiative with a dash of engagement and conversion capabilities.

This has lead the industry to think of display as a numbers game. You need a ton of impressions to drive clicks. But that doesn’t have to be the case. 

Display has a huge potential for creativity. There are countless third-party vendors trying to do cool things with Display. It’s one of the few remaining places where true innovation is still commonplace. When compared to the walled gardens of Paid Social and others, it’s the wild west.  

Let’s dive into where Display fits in the funnel, what its strengths are and what to watch out for. 

Funnel Fit - Display

Display’s funnel fit:


Display’s best funnel fit is top-funnel awareness initiatives. In general, Display does not drive very many clicks, especially when compared to Paid Search and other lower-funnel strategies.

Corey says, “A general Display benchmark is 0.08% – 0.10% Click-through rate (CTR). For reference, we regularly see over 1% on social channels.”

As mentioned above, for awareness initiatives, treat Display like you would a billboard. Corey goes on to say, “Display is the most cost effective way to get your message in front of people. It has the most inventory, the largest variation, and, in my opinion, the best targeting options.”

Retargeting: When Display Moves Down Funnel

When you use retargeting, also called remarketing, Display moves down the funnel to become an engagement or conversion initiative. It reminds the audience of who you are and what you offer.

That said, Corey warns, “Never use display alone with conversion objective. Using Display in tandem with Paid Search is better.” We’ll get into how Display, Paid Search and other channels work together a little later.

Strengths - Display

Display’s strengths:

Efficient & Effective

Display sometimes gets a reputation as the “not cool” part of advertising. But the fact is, as Corey says, “it’s generally the most efficient and most cost effective of all channels.” This is mainly thanks to the lift mentioned above as well as the sheer opportunity it presents.


Walled gardens do not have as much control over Display as they do over other channels. This allows for an incredible amount of innovation to flourish. One example of this is targeting a trade conference. You can target the building itself with certain date ranges to target a very specific and engaged audience.

Of course, CPMs will be high, but it gets results. As Corey put it, “Display’s capabilities speak for themselves once you see the results.”

Watch Out For - Display

 Best practices & things to watch out for


All campaigns rely on good creative. Here are a few general rules Corey has for Display creative: 

  • Keep messaging concise. It should take 1.5 seconds to read your message at most.
  • Use bright colors to catch the eye.
  • If possible, use an image of a person. People like seeing people.
  • Always have a clear, strong call to action.

Banner Blindness

While it is an issue, banner blindness is not a new one. People have been ignoring ads since ads first began. 

According to Nielsen Norman Group, banner blindness “describes people’s tendency to ignore page elements that they perceive (correctly or incorrectly) to be ads.” Their 2018 report is an interesting read we recommend you take time for.

Corey says, “The best way to get people to ignore your campaign is to keep the same creative.” Creative fatigue is real, so he recommends swapping creative every three months at least, even if it’s just changing colors (but preferably more than that).



Generally, you don’t want to go too low or too high when it comes to viewability. A 90% viewability rate might sound nice at first, but the reality is much of that is probably fraud. Corey says the sweet spot he likes to see is 60-80%, sometimes lower.

Fraud & Brand Safety

Viewability and fraud are the two big guardrails for Display. You need to ensure people are seeing your ads (viewability) while making sure they’re actually people. 

As mentioned above, a high viewability can make your campaign prone to fraud and make it very difficult to understand what is actually happening. 

Without a verification vendor like IAS and MOAT (both of which are LumenAd partners), it’s near impossible to run a worthwhile Display campaign. We’re nerds about this stuff, so if you’d like more info, get in touch.


Device Spread

Because there is much more inventory on mobile, your device spread will likely skew mobile. Accidental clicks are much more common in mobile inventory, so try to keep mobile breakout roughly around 60-70%. 

Filtering these accidental clicks is where technology like LumenAd’s engaged sessions come in handy.


Rule of Seven

Sometimes it’s hard to quantify the value of awareness initiatives like Display. If they aren’t driving clicks, what are the ads doing?

This is where digital advertising’s double-edged sword comes into play. Because digital advertising is so measurable, some find it hard to justify strategies that don’t drive direct, demonstrable results. 

Corey says, “I’m an evangelist of the Rule of Seven, where the user needs to see your ad seven times before taking action. It’s important to monitor frequency numbers and ensure you’re achieving this without overwhelming or annoying your audience. So, it might take three, four or five months to follow the Rule of Seven and drive a conversion.”

Just because it takes time doesn’t mean that Display doesn’t work. It will drive ROI. This issue raises the point that Display performance cannot be viewed and measured in a silo. You need a holistic view of how it works with other channels to understand its impact. 

Other Channels - Display

Cross-channel lift: how display works with other channels

As an awareness channel, Display excels at lifting other channels. Search volume will increase, which will impact paid search, social media awareness and engagement usually increases, and more. All of this is measured in a lift study, which we can walk you through.   

In general, Display is like the teammate that pulls off the amazing alley-oop pass for other channels to slam into the basket. Paid Search is often the channel best suited to slamming it in.

Success - Display

Measuring success with Display

As Shane, our VP of Client Services recently said, “When you plan media in different silos, you execute in those silos, you optimize in those silos and you report back in those silos.”

Display works best when not siloed. So, there is no one measure of success for Display to hang your hat on. It varies campaign to campaign.  

If you rely on this one metric to tell if you’re successful, you’re never going to get the full scope of your campaigns. We usually use one KPI and a handful of leading indicators. 

For instance, if viewability is your goal, you generally want to look for high reach and low frequency. If CPC is your goal, look for high frequency and don’t worry as much about reach. But again, it depends on your campaign, your media mix and how you’re leveraging other channels.

To get a holistic view of every channel, how they work together and how to improve performance, you need a platform like LumenAd. One that’s designed from the ground up to help media, ad ops, data and analytics team to better leverage each channel. 

With this holistic view, you can breathe new life in your Display campaigns and fulfill its potential as an innovative awareness engine plowing full-steam ahead. 

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