How I Learned to Stop Hating Display Ads

September 13, 2022

I used to think of display ads as a nuisance, to be tolerated as the price of entry for any given website. Despite my acceptance, I carried a general mistrust. Like a lot of people, it seemed to me that display ads were part of a complex spy network with eyes and ears in all my devices. How did they know I was looking at casual shoes? Why am I seeing ads for mattresses right after that conversation with my friend about her new Tempur-Pedic? And there is NO WAY that THIS ad should be running on my computer. What if someone walks in? Sigh.

Then I got involved with marketing and branding. Since then, I’ve learned things that helped me stop the display ad hate. And while I can’t say that I love them, I now understand that they are effective, targeted, and genuinely designed to be as helpful as possible.

Here’s what I learned:

Your screen has space for rent

The first thing I learned was that many websites have advertising space available on them. Unless a site is massive, it won’t run its own ads in the side panels, since a website already is an advertisement for the product or service on offer.

That valuable real estate is for rent, most often using a third-party company to manage the property. The site owner trusts that the company will deliver ads that are relevant to the interests of the browser. It’s trust that’s well placed.

Complex research happens very quickly

Consider an auction. A caller begins with a rock-bottom price. The assembly of bidders engage in a competition to incrementally raise the price to the point it can be reasonably assumed that the winner got the best possible price for the item, and the other bidders are not interested in going higher. 

The auctioneer calling the prices and speeding up the competition talks fast.

Likewise, the auction that happens for your ad space also happens lightning fast. In a quarter of a second, the space is advertised, checked against existing bids, sold to the highest bidder, and an ad is placed.

You don’t see it happen. You open the page, and an ad is there. You might think they’ve been listening to you, but the truth is more complex, and it’s based on the information you’ve handed in. Meta and Google know a lot about you, including what pages you have recently visited and where you most recently shopped online. If you recently searched for a fitness watch, you would likely see plenty of ads by different companies that sell fitness watches. And you might see a bike helmet from a company that knows they want to sell to fitness-minded people or a weight loss app that wants to catch people who are motivated to improve their health.

Marketers and developers want the ads to be helpful

Ultimately, the goal is more than getting ads in front of eyes. If that was the only goal, marketing would focus on billboards or the Superbowl. Marketing departments pay big dollars for helpful ads. People browsing web pages want to see ads that meet their needs or give them new and useful information. It’s where marketers and the market meet. And it all happens in .25 of a second, as your page is loading.

In most environments the measure of success is the all-important click; to know that the ad led to clicks, and therefore to website visits. However, these metrics can’t tell you if a new member resulted from the investment in these ads. The best ads are the most effective; they are the ads that you can prove had the intended effect of enticing a new member to join your club or purchase a program.

That’s where we come in. Instinctive Insights’ unique tracking capabilities make it possible for our clients to do better than performance metrics like clicks and site visits. Our clients get reporting that actually proves which viewers joined their club, effectively monetizing the investment and proving – or disproving – the return. 

Our processes track and identify, at the household level, a percentage of the overall traffic and in-turn, this enables us to assign attribution and identify which of the tracked visitors joined your club or purchased a program. Instinctive Insights is the only marketing agency to have invested the time, money, and talent to build out such a complex tracking system in this channel.

Display ad marketing is not sinister, it is innovative. It is not harmful but, based on the basic principle that only helpful ads are effective. We elevate the process to focus on what really matters: acquisition cost, number of conversions, and the return on investment. Having these answers is powerful as they guide future investments with intelligence.

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