How to use images effectively in digital ad campaigns

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When it comes to grabbing people’s attention with digital advertising, both space and attention spans tend to be in short supply. Simplicity and clarity are absolutely crucial.

Our eyes are bombarded with content of all shapes and sizes – both welcome and unwelcome – and increasingly brands are turning to the highly personalised, targeted options offered by the likes of Google and Facebook. But carefully placed display ads aren’t going away anytime soon.

If you’re tasked with designing an online ad campaign for a brand, read on for our five top tips to nail the client’s KPIs with engaging and effective digital ads that really work…

01. Know your ad formats

Glue London’s award-winning digital ad campaign for Mini made smart use of the skyscraper format

First up, it’s important to consider the format, or formats, you’re working with. In the UK, one of the most popular ad sizes is the MPU – which, depending on who you ask, stands for mid-page unit or multi-purpose unit, and measures 300×250 pixels. These are called Med Rec, MREC or Medium Rectangle ads in the US.

Also very commonly seen are leaderboard ads, which measure 728×90 pixels, and usually sit prominently at the top of a web page – ensuring maximum visibility. Tall and thin skyscraper ads, which measure 160×600 pixels, are generally placed down the side of a page.

There are many other formats, including buttons, billboards, banners and more invasive ads such as pop-ups – which could come up against blockers at the user’s end.

According to Google, wider ad sizes generally outperform their taller counterparts – partly because of their usual placement, but also because reading from left to right rather than vertically is more familiar and comfortable.

There are many ways to think creatively within the restrictions of any of these formats. Glue London’s 2007 launch campaign for the new Mini is a great example: its smart use of a close-cropped image and mirrored text on a simple skyscraper ad helped win it a D&AD Graphite Pencil.

02. Pick a single message

Virgin’s #FlauntIt campaign uses its trademark cheeky tone, and its association with red, to convey brand values without cluttering the image

Another crucial rule of thumb when it comes to digital ad campaigns is to keep the message brutally simple. Packing in too much information makes an already cramped format look cluttered, messy and confusing.

Multiple layers of messaging can be added using animation or video, and this can be effective sometimes, but it’s not always the best solution. Even if you do end up adding more dynamic features, start with an idea that works when pared back to a simple static ad. It’ll help you to clarify the concept.

Pick the one thing that the ad needs to communicate. Is it general brand building, driving traffic, selling a particular product, or promoting an event, for instance? Sometimes, in defining this message, you may need to strip out elements of standard brand messaging – a complex logo or long tagline may need to be sacrificed here.

This is where distinctive brand voice, or other recognisable brand assets – colours, style of art direction, a typeface – could need to work hard to associate the ad with the brand through visual shorthand, rather than spelling it out.

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