The Most Engaging Digital Ads... Ever

Advertising is the practice (both scientific and artistic) of planning, designing, writing and analyzing advertisements, the physical or virtual instance when practice becomes purposeful, and when you actually call attention to the products, services and needs being promoted by enterprises. Ideally, they are engaging enough to do their job.


If you're looking to see some examples of engaging digital ads, check out Website Magazine's recent BIG LIST of Digital Ad Formats.

Those that master the practice of advertising are those receiving the biggest reward, an engaging experience that leads to conversions. Increasingly, the sophistication of advertising has developed to a point where much of the decision-making process related to advertising mechanics can be automated, which is valuable, of course, for those looking to reduce costs but there remains a very real and distinct need for business strategists and digital analysts to understand the end result of their choices. For this reason, it is important to periodically examine the advertising that is being served to consumers.

Think of two popular buzzwords of the day: real-time and retargeting. These two words represent powerful technologies, but can cause significant damage (if not outright destruction) to an efficient overall marketing and advertising effort (those that blend digital and non-digital) when they don't know how advertising is really being served. It's one of the reasons advertising auditing has emerged as a useful endeavor.

So what should you look for in understanding what the most engaging ads are? Conversion rates don't always tell the whole story as it's often necessary to explore the relationship between conversion and cost. Using design as a means to understand engagement certainly works well but exploration of design can often be too abstract to extract any real value from. What digital business strategists need to focus on are the principles of engaging ads in a purely business sense.

Perhaps a quick visualization will prove useful. Let's say you recently switch gears at work late on a Friday afternoon because your spouse wants you to pick up something at the local hardware store. You search for a store along your route home and eventually visit the website of a hardware retailer (with a very smart marketing team that understands the value proposition in retargeting).

Several days later when searching for information on another home repair related project, you visit a website not owned by the hardware retailer (our advertiser) but a publisher that's savvy enough to know to use an advertising exchange to generate revenue (and to create content through which advertising can be served) and where our retailer is running an retargeting an ad campaign. Even though it's a week later, the publisher serves a promotion from the advertiser that directly showcases just the product needed to complete the project. Now, that's an engaging ad.

Let's slow down this process and explore the principles of engaging digital advertising in the age of real-time and retargeting.

Served in the Proper Context

Retargeting enables the display of advertising to consumers based on some previous behavior, such as visiting your website. It's not uncommon however that in order to fill the demand for advertiser supply, ads can be shown in the absolutely wrong context. Examine individually served ads periodically to know if the context is right for the consumer experience. In our example above, the hardware advertisers' ad would be less effective if you were searching for information on the stock market and visited an investing website, right? Serving ads in the right context is the first principle of engaging ads.

Served at the Right Time

Consumer behaviors change through the course of the day and each advertiser, in whatever industry they are promoting products, services or "needs," have an optimal moment in which they can serve an ad based on the right channel and traffic patterns at that network and at the right time. Moms shop in the early afternoon, Dads visit hardware retailers on Saturday morning - these might seem like stereotypes (and granted they are somewhat) but advertisers needn't care. The use of data provides an opportunity to act on known behaviors - like which groups purchase or visit and at what time. When you know the answer, you can increase bids in general when they are most likely to buy and reduce bids when they're not. Serving ads at the right time of day, based on the broader demographic group's behavior, is another principle of engaging digital advertising.

Served at the Optimal Point in the Buying Process

Retargeting also provides an opportunity to strike when the virtual "iron is hot" so to speak. Advertisers that understand the buying cycle of their consumers (buys regularly or buys once every year) and have rigid rules in place to ensure that advertising isn't being served to the wrong buyer - or at least the right buyer at the wrong point in their buying process. If the hardware retailer knows that over time that I tend to buy in the spring but never in the late fall, they could adjust their ad campaigns