Display ads: Effective design 101

Let’s face it; capturing audience attention isn’t easy. Not only do advertisers compete against each other for consumer attention, but also across formats, channels, and devices. Email, however, presents a unique opportunity that helps advertisers establish connections with audiences at every stage of the funnel with greater ease and impact. However powerful a media channel, email still requires effective display ads to drive success. In the words of Leo Burnett, “The secret of all effective advertising is not the creation of new and tricky words and pictures, but one of putting familiar words and pictures into new relationships.”

In this blog post, you’ll learn about the three components of display ads—messaging, imagery, and branding—and:

  • Why these elements matter
  • How these elements come together to capture attention
  • How to make the most of these components to drive an effective campaign


Your display ads’ messaging includes your ad copy, your call to action (CTA), and landing page. This is the medium by which you’ll communicate your value proposition, what action you’d like your audience to take, and what they can expect if they click on your ad. Avoid the temptation to tell your audiences everything about your product, service, or offering all in one ad unit. You’ll benefit from sticking to a “less is more” approach instead.

A clear CTA aligned with your campaign objective is more likely to drive action than one that isn’t. This small but critical detail can dramatically impact your campaign performance, brand perception, and customer experience.


You may have crafted the perfect ad copy, but there’s only so much we can say with words, especially in a tidy little display ad. As fantastic as your copy might be, consider using imagery, especially if the unit affords you the space to do so. Depending on the type of campaign you’re running and its objective, you’ll want to use either a product image or a lifestyle image.

Product images are great for a campaign intended to drive purchases. It enables you to showcase your products, features, or design. For a campaign focused on driving brand awareness, you may want to consider implementing lifestyle images. These images help create an emotional connection between your audience and your brand, a critical component to driving brand recognition and affinity.

Branding your display ads

Whether we’re talking logos, brand colors, or fonts, establishing and maintaining visual hierarchy is critical to effective design. When it comes to display ads, visual hierarchy is your best friend. With limited space and opportunity to tell your audiences what’s important, you have to show them instead. By adhering to a visual hierarchy, you’ll communicate the order of importance of each element in your design, from ad copy to fine print, while maintaining consistency.

Design like the pros

Want to learn more about how to design effective display ads? Check out our eBook. It’s full of in-depth examples of effective ads from savvy brands like Quip, The Farmer’s Dog, and Gilt Groupe. Download your copy today, and you’ll be a regular Don Draper in no time.