Featured Image

Understanding online display ads

4 min read

Online display ads have been around since the early 90's. Since then the internet has evolved dramatically. In the early years, online display ads were a guaranteed way to drive traffic to your product or website. Today however, online display ads face challenges such as overcoming "banner ad blindness," and competing with search engine marketing (SEM) and native advertising. Though they may not have the same impact as they once did, online display ads are still an integral part of an integrated marketing campaign.

Types of online display ads

There are several different types of online display ads. Below are examples and a brief description of each format.

Rich media ads

Rich media online display ad example
Click to see example.

A rich media ad typically contains either images and/or video and encourages user interaction. Key distinctions of a rich media ad:

  • The file size is over 40k
  • It has multiple click-through options/areas
  • Includes multiple levels of content (i.e. polls, twitter feed, video, etc.)
  • Requires counter or timer tracking
  • Uses HTML5 or multiple SWFs for functionality (i.e. expanding, peel back, floating, etc.)

Rich media ads are a great way to engage users and measure multiple actions such as closings, openings, click-throughs, and repeat plays. However, they do present a few challenges. The biggest drawback to rich media ads is that if they use Flash, they are not viewable on mobile devices. Another drawback is that the some users don't appreciate the intrusiveness of the ads.

Animated ads

Adding animation to an online display ad can greatly increase engagement with your audience. Keep in mind that simply having animation does not guarantee an up-tick in response. Your animation should work with and draw attention to your call-to-action. With that said, there are three types of animated online display ads: Flash, HTML5 or animated GIFs.


Flash online display ad
Click to see example.

Flash ads use images and video to create animated features which are then exported as an SWF video file. Unlike rich media ads, the animation is contained to the dimensions of the display ad and allow only one click-through action. File size restrictions for Flash display ads are usually capped at 40k. While Flash ads offer smooth animation and encourage engagement, they are not supported on mobile devices or any browser with Flash disabled.


HTML5 online display ad
Click to see example.

HTML5 ads are creeping up more often in online advertising campaigns. HTML5 ads are generally either programmed ads that rely on JQuery or Javascript to create animation, and then served through an iframe, or they use the video tag to play video ads. The benefits of a HTML5 online display ad include:

  • Multiple areas for user interaction (i.e. multiple links, slide show)
  • Smaller file size
  • Supported on mobile devices

Though still new to the online marketing arena, HTML5 ads show a lot of potential for marketers.

Animated GIFs

PG&E animated GIF online display ad

Animated GIF ads have seen a resurgence in the last few years. With Flash not being supported on mobile phones, animated GIFs have stepped in to fill that void. For most ad campaigns, the extent of animation used can be handled by an animated GIF. Since the file size for most online display ads is 40k, keep in mind these things when creating an animated GIF:

  • Use gradients sparingly
  • The less colors in your design, the smaller the file size
  • Allow 3-5 seconds for frames with pertinent information
  • Keep animations simple

Static ads

Static online display ad example
Static online display ads are just what they sound like: they have no animation. While not as glamorous as rich media or animated ads, static banner ads rely on the content and call-to-action to deliver success. Because the ads need no animation, things like gradients and multiple colors impact file size less.

Which online display ad is right for you?

As you can see, there are several options available for online display ads. Each option has its pros and cons. As with every marketing campaign, it is important to do your research and know your audience. Does your product warrant the robust use of a rich media ad? Is most of your audience using mobile devices to view web content? Is the purpose of the ad to provide awareness or to engage your customer. And most importantly: what is your budget? Knowing the answers to these questions will help determine the online display ad format that is right for you.

Tagged: Display ads · Marketing

No Comments.

Leave a replyReply to


Let's connect.

© Justin Herren 2023 | Creative Strategist & Art Director