Google Display ads have evolved: What’s next for display?

After 15 years of the classic image ad, here are three new ways to drive growth.

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sample display ad

Do you remember that? It’s the infamous “punch the monkey” ad, and it’s one of the earliest examples of display advertising. Back then, the marketing industry tried anything to get messages on the web and in front of consumers — all of them.

For some, display ads still retain some of that “blast your story everywhere and see what happens” reputation. But I think that view is misplaced. Though today’s internet is complex and vast in ways we never anticipated over a decade ago, we now have the insights and technology needed to be helpful in ways consumers expect.

Consider this: people navigated to more than 185 million active websites in December 2018 alone. And while 88 percent of consumers favor brands that provide helpful information along the journey to purchase, only 47 percent of brands customize and show information that meets those expectations. This is where display ads can close the gap — to not only drive awareness but meaningful engagement.

We’ve come a long way from that ubiquitous monkey ad. Today I want to share three key ways you can take what we’ve learned over the past 15 years at Google to drive growth for your business right now.

1. Scale with automation

Generic banner ads are a thing of the past: 54 percent of consumers expect brands to tailor mobile information for them based on their previous behavior, such as website visits or purchases.

This means delivering helpful, relevant ads that make sense at the moment, like offering yoga gear to a fitness aficionado researching her next yoga retreat. But if you’ve got hundreds or even thousands of customer segments or a large inventory, how do you free up time to build better ad experiences at scale?

Thanks to machine learning, you can count on automation to help. For example, Google’s Smart Display campaigns continuously optimize your audience settings, bids, and creative assets, making sure the right message reaches your most interested customers at the right time — helping you drive more conversions. In fact, on average, advertisers who use Smart Display campaigns have seen 20 percent more conversions at the same cost-per-acquisition (CPA) when compared to their other display campaigns.

2. Invest time in great creative

The performance and efficiency you’ll see using automation bring me to an important point — help from technology doesn’t mean boring ad campaigns. In fact, it means the opposite. With less time spent on flipping switches and levers for campaign and ad workflows, you’re free to focus on what’s most important for your business: inspiring your customers to action.

When people have a negative brand experience on mobile, they are 62 percent less likely to purchase from that brand in the future than if they have a positive experience. That means it’s critical to land your message right at every customer touch point along her path to purchase.

I believe it’s absolutely possible to do this the right way with help from automation. That’s why we introduced responsive display ads (RDA) last year to help you more effectively deliver relevant, actionable ads at scale using multiple creative assets. This ad format delivers relevant, valuable ads across millions of sites and apps at scale using your creative assets.

Rakuten Travel, the largest online travel brand in Japan, turned to RDAs to save time in managing its campaigns and ad workflows. With more time to focus on building rich and diverse assets and setting the right performance goals, the brand saw a 3X increase in sales compared to standard image ads alone.


3. Keep trying new things

Big bets like RDA are a great way to help you drive growth. Fostering innovative ad solutions like RDA is one of the best parts of my job – and I’m excited by other great ideas the team has been working on.

One new ad format we’re exploring is Conversational Display Ads, running in a limited Beta via Display & Video 360 on Google Marketing Platform. Announced just this past October by Area 120 (Google’s internal incubator for experimental projects), this format gives people a chance to instantly get answers to their questions about a brand or product as they browse their favorite sites. This helps marketers build inspiring, interactive moments right into the ad experience. When I see this format, I’m blown away by how far we’ve come.


Barilla, a leading global brand in pasta and ready-to-use sauces, worked with media partner Valassis Digital in 2018 to drive the discussion with customers about recipe ideas, unique offers and more using the new format. As a result, the brand saw increased online engagement, with conversational display ads delivering an average interaction time of 1 minute.

This is just one of many exciting new formats we’re working on at Google to help you build amazing, assistive ad experiences that inspire customers to engage with your brand.

Take another look at display ads

Google Display ads have come a long way in 15 years. Thanks to machine learning, we now have the technology to meet today’s consumer needs with helpful ads at scale. We’re continuing to invest and innovate in the space. So if you haven’t lately, check how your display campaigns are doing. Are they leveraging the full benefits technology has to offer?

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Brad Bender
Brad is responsible for global product management of Google’s display and video advertising business across the network and ad platforms. He is a frequent guest speaker at industry events and conferences globally and has been cited in Ad Age, Business Week, and The Wall Street Journal, among many other publications. In 2012 he was named a “40 under 40” leader by Crain’s New York Business. Prior to joining Google, Brad held multiple leadership positions at DoubleClick in both the U.S. and Europe. Brad graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University. He currently lives in Palo Alto with his wife, twin daughters and their dog.

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