What is display advertising? A beginner’s guide

The most successful advertising campaigns connect with customers through multiple channels, and display ads remain an integral component of any integrated marketing plan.

What are display ads?

Display advertisements are online ads that combine copy and visual elements with a call to action (CTA) message that links to a landing page. You typically see display ads along the top or sides of a website—or sometimes, in the middle of the content you’re reading. Display ads are visually appealing, cost-effective, and a measurable way for a brand to reach their marketing goals. That’s why display advertising is key to any modern media mix.

Display advertising has evolved into a channel that offers reach, scale, and performance, through targeted placements, diverse ad formats, creative, and measurement. But to make the most of your display ads, it’s helpful to understand what makes them different from other digital advertising solutions.

What’s the difference between display ads and banner ads?

Display ads fall under the umbrella of digital advertising. Some people use the terms “banner ads” and “display ads” interchangeably when considering display marketing. These days, however, most people consider banner ads a size of display ads—perhaps because in the early days of display advertising, it was common for a display ad to be a banner across the top of a website. Now, banner ads are more commonly called leaderboard ads.

What are common display ad sizes?

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) sets the standard for display ad sizes. The most common display ad sizes are:

  • Medium rectangle: 300 x 250 px
  • Leaderboard: 728 x 90 px
  • Wide skyscraper: 160 x 600 px
  • Large rectangle: 300 x 600 px
  • Mobile leaderboard: 320 x 50 – 640 x 100 pixels @2X (required)

How does display advertising work?

Display advertising can seem complex, which is why we’ve broken down how to create a display advertising campaign from start to finish in six steps.

Begin with defining your audience

1. Begin with defining your audience

Start with defining where and to whom you want your ads displayed. This is an extremely important step in the campaign creation process. You can define your audience based on a variety of inputs, including demographics and shopping signals, to refine where your ads will populate. With remarketing, you can even serve ads to audiences who have already viewed your products. Choosing the right audience helps ensure you’re showing your ads to the most relevant audience for your brand.

2. Select your campaign goals and settings

Next, define the goals for the campaign. Choose the key performance indicator (KPI) that best represents the business outcome that you are looking to drive, such as reach or return on ad spend (ROAS), and define the budget for the campaign. You can also configure additional settings, such as pacing, supply sources, device types, pre-bid traffic filtering, and more at this point.


3. Create attention-grabbing copy and design for your display ad

This is where a brand’s creativity shows through, as copy and design come together to clearly and concisely communicate the key benefits of your product or unique value proposition of your brand. Read more about creative display ads.



4. Size display ads to spec

A single piece of creative is sized for all of the display ad formats a brand has selected. Ads will look slightly different depending on whether they are for mobile or desktop. Larger display ads might feature body copy under the headline, whereas the body copy might need to be omitted in smaller ads.


5. Traffic display ads in time

All sizes of the display ads are “trafficked” (or sent as a final, to-spec file) to the media according to the dates detailed in your media plan.



6. Monitor the metrics of your display ads

Pay close attention to how campaign settings and creative elements, including the headline, visuals, and CTAs, may be impacting the success of your digital advertising campaign. Think about how you might change these to improve your campaign metrics such as acquisition, ROAS, click-through rate (CTR).



7. Note learnings for future display ad campaigns

Optimize any display ad campaign by taking note of what worked and what didn’t for next time. Spending time analyzing the insights gleaned from a campaign can save you time, money, and effort with future campaigns.

When considering KPIs, the things you can control are the products you advertise, and your creative, which includes both copy and visual elements. Creative is important for determining how your ad performs, as are audiences and bidding. If you want to optimize, change one of those three things: creative, audiences, or bids.

Benefits of display advertising

Display advertising offers many benefits, but the most important are that it is measurable, is cost-effective, complements other channels, and is flexible and accessible.

  • Measurable:
  • Depending on which CTA you use, you can measure the success of a display ad campaign against a plethora of marketing metrics. For example, you could choose a call to action such as “experience the brand” ad measure clicks on the display ad itself and corresponding cost per click (CPC). Other relevant metrics for measuring the success of this CTA include impressions, conversion rates, return on ad spend (ROAS), and much more.

    And you can determine if the ad resonated with your intended audience, and understand what inspired shopping actions. For example, you can see which audiences purchased from your brand.

  • Cost-effective
  • Display ad costs vary, but what makes them one of the most cost-effective advertising methods is the flexibility. With some traditional advertising, brands can’t change the visuals, CTA, or message, after an ad begins running. That means that if the ad isn’t effective, the cost per action may be higher. Since display advertising is dynamic, allowing advertisers to change course during a campaign gives brands greater flexibility to optimize campaigns and maximize the efficiency of their budget.

  • Complements other channels
  • Display is complementary to other channels. When you combine it with another channel, like social media, display can boost ROAS or have a halo effect. In fact, according to our research, display can help reduce time-to-sales baseline by 21%.1 In addition, brands who have used a full-funnel strategy intermittently (e.g., on and off), drive 1.8x more ad-attributed sales on average when they take a modified full-funnel approach, and 2x more ad-attributed sales when they take a comprehensive full-funnel approach, compared to when they only use certain display ads.2

  • Flexible and accessible
  • Display ads allow brands to test different copy, visuals, and calls to action in order to achieve the desired results. For example, rather than choosing just one headline and hoping it will work, brands can launch several display ads with the same visuals and CTAs but different headlines in order to gauge which messages resonate best with their intended audiences. If a brand is also doing offline marketing like TV spots or billboards, testing headlines through display advertising is a good way to determine which messages will yield the best results when applied to less-flexible ad formats.

    Display advertising is also one of the most widely used advertising formats today, and programmatic accounts for the majority of display ads used. It can be effective as both a standalone and complementary channel.

Display advertising with Amazon Advertising

Sponsored Display

Sponsored Display is a self-service display advertising solution that helps advertisers increase awareness for their brand and products, engage with customers, and drive purchases to build your on-Amazon business. Our ad creative includes familiar Amazon shopping elements: star rating, product images, and badging, like Prime shipping or discounts. Sponsored Display is retail-aware, which means that ads will not serve if the advertised ASIN is out of stock or not the Featured Offer.

You can use Sponsored Display to reach shoppers who are browsing similar or complementary products and categories on Amazon that are relevant to your products, or use Sponsored Display audiences to access custom-built audiences that enable advertisers to introduce new products, engage new audiences, and remarket with scale.

Sponsored Display works together with other products like Sponsored Products, Sponsored Brands, and Amazon DSP campaigns to grow your business with Amazon.

Amazon DSP

Amazon DSP is a demand-side platform (DSP) that enables advertisers to programmatically buy display, video, and audio ads both on and off Amazon. Advertisers are able to reach audiences on Amazon sites and apps, as well as through Amazon Publisher Services and third-party exchanges. You can use criteria like demographics and shopping signals to build look-alike or custom audiences.

Through Amazon DSP, advertisers can access Amazon Advertising technology such as Sizmek Ad Suite, Amazon Marketing Cloud (beta), and Amazon Publisher Services . Amazon DSP provides audience insights and robust performance analytics before and after campaigns, at no additional cost to our advertisers. Advertisers can view audience overlap reports and audience reach by channel and metrics, like viewability and cost per detail page view, so you can better assess your campaign performance and effectiveness.

6 effective display ad CTA examples

The CTA is a key component of any display ad and should be selected carefully to yield the best results. Sometimes, it makes sense to use a common call to action such as “shop now,” though brands can be creative in their calls to action—just make sure your CTA supports your display ad campaign goals.

Here are six effective display ad CTA examples:

  1. Shop now: Encourage customers to shop for what you’re advertising in the moment.
  2. Learn more: Link to more information about what you’re highlighting for shoppers who may want more information but don’t want to buy right now.
  3. Pre-order now: Allow your customers to get ahead of the game and take action if a product is not yet available for purchase.
  4. See details: Point customers to additional details about the product or offer you’re advertising.
  5. Watch now: Spark customers’ interest right away with this CTA and encourage them to watch your video content.
  6. Subscribe & Save: Link to Subscribe & Save information to enable your customers to sign up for recurring, scheduled deliveries of products that they use frequently.

Display advertising is a measurable, cost-effective, flexible, and accessible form of advertising that works well on its own or in combination with other channels. Amazon Advertising offers a variety of display ad solutions to help you meet your goals.

Interested in kicking off your Amazon Advertising Sponsored Display or Amazon DSP campaign? Get inspired by customer success stories.

1 Amazon internal 2019
2 Amazon Internal 2020 – results based on analysis of more than 50 brands June 2018 and July 2020