Tips to Creating Compelling Online Display Ads

by Trevor Waddington, Principal, Truth Tree

Far too often, as I page through magazines or online periodicals, I see the same type of passive, emotionless messaging and imagery in digital ads. Then, when the ad doesn’t get you emails and phone messages, you call off the campaign because the vehicle doesn’t work. Yes, certainly, the vehicle is important, but what’s most important is the structure and content of your ad.

Here are 5 tips you can use right now to increase the effectiveness of your online display ads.

1. Cut out the address, phone, and website. The objective of an online ad is to get the user to CLICK IT!!! There’s nothing compelling about contact information unless it’s wildly unique, e.g., 1800-TOP-SCHL. What is important is the landing page. I strongly suggest creating a dedicated landing page for prospective parents that gives them some quick information and let’s them know exactly what to do to take action (sign up for an open house, apply, etc.).

2. Be BOLD! This is a trap we all fall in and I’m not one to throw stones. Too often, when I was working in schools, I kowtowed to the masses and bore-a-fied an ad because my original design was “too edgy”. If your ad is going to be somewhere with other independent schools marketing an open house, do something unique and different. Want some specific ideas? Hit reply and we’ll brainstorm together.

3. Sell your unique benefits, not your features. I’m willing to wager there’s 3-5% of what you do that is uniquely “you”. Meaning that no other school can tout what you have, do, or provide. Make that the focus of your ad, but take it a step further. Instead of talking about the features, explain the benefits of that feature to the audience. When no other ad can tout what your school can do, the likelihood is much higher that the viewer will want their student swimming in your Blue Ocean.

4. Not the same old photo. As the old adage goes, a picture tells a thousand words. You certainly are not going to fit 1,000 words in a 6×4” space, but you can certainly show a photo. Here’s where a great photographer and/or videographer comes in. While photos shot on an iPhone are okay for social media, if your first impression is a fuzzy, poorly aligned photo, chances are the viewer is going to equate that photo with your brand’s value.

5. Call to action. You can always go with a solid “Click Now” or “Sign Up Today,” but today’s parents and students are more savvy than that and frankly, expect more from their favorite brands. I like to use words such as “start,” “first,” and “limited.” You’ve given them a reason to feel compelled to want to take the next step. Now, make them feel unique and special if they click your ad.

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