Display advertising: shoot the executioner, not the channel

Display advertising has got itself a bit of a bad name in some quarters since the first banner appeared 25 years ago. As ever with a reputation, some of this is deserved, some is not.

However, the point that many who enjoy briefing against the channel often miss can be summed up in a simple question. If display advertising is not a hugely effective channel, why is it continuing to grow to the point where it is about to surpass paid search as the digital channel with the highest level of investment?

The answer is that the issues many commentators may have with display ads are not really down to the channel but rather how the channel is sometimes used. The three big issues surrounding display are not about the format but actually more about the execution.

Poor practice lets display down

First of all, we have the scandal of adverts being displayed next to inappropriate material which has raised brand safety concerns. These are, of course, completely understandable because no brand wants to spend good money on advertising that can only cause it embarrassment.

There is also a lot of concern around transparency. Advertisers are never quite sure how much of their bill is for media and how much on agency charges, and what’s been spent on data and tech. There’s also the issue of viewability and fraud.

Thirdly, there is the quality issue around display advertising. It is no secret that banners do not always get the full creative attention they deserve and far too much of what we see are retargeted spots that are frustrating, they simply feel too ‘spammy’.

The common factor here is, of course, that all of these issues are addressable. The problem with display advertising is in its execution, not the channel itself.

Complicated needs sophisticated

As display prepares to overtake PPC, those involved in the channel need to step up to the proverbial plate because it’s a far more complex medium. With search, there’s only really two types of adverts and they’re triggered by what a person has typed in.

With display, there are far more players involved in placing an advert in front of a person who you need to know as much as possible about, without the enormous hint of them typing what they’re shopping for in a search box. There is also a myriad combination of static and rich media units to buy, including digital outdoor, video and audio, as well as desktop and mobile.

It’s a hugely complex media landscape and to do display well you need to start with detailed knowledge about the client and their current customers as well as new customer groups they are hoping to attract. Then you need compelling creative and great adtech. You need both sides to work together effectively on a strategy that not only ensures you are delivering to the brief by buying effectively but also efficiently, to ensure budget is stretched as far as it can.

To know if campaigns are successful, skilled display practitioners will set KPIs and implement measurement technology that more accurately demonstrates the channel’s contribution to the customer journey, rather than rely only on post-click analytics.

What display delivers

Display advertising should be treated as a sophisticated channel that is able to reach consumers throughout the customer journey. With the right team and strategy in place, and a client and agency agreeing on an effective KPI that looks beyond post-click, there is just one final piece that display needs – complete transparency. Advertisers have every right to expect an agency to provide an itemised run down of where their budget has gone and any rebates earned need to be put back in the campaign pot, not pocketed by the agency.

If the channel can get this right, it has every chance of putting the days where it was seen as a little murky behind it and show why it is so popular with advertisers. Get it right and display can answer critics with its position as the channel where advertisers are putting most of their budget to both stay familiar with customers and reach out to new prospects.

Damien Bennett is director of strategy at Incubeta

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