Disclaimer: you’ll probably be familiar with a lot of elements of this article. If you want to skip to the juiciest bits and see some great digital ad examples, click below. If you’re looking for a cheat sheet to speed up your digital production, look no further than here.
Digital ads are an inescapable reality of our modern world. On the one hand, they are pushing creatives worldwide to break away from tradition and experiment with new media, formats, narratives, and visual elements.
On the other, we’ve never been more exposed to ads, and our minds have never been number to them.
Think about it: we see up to 10,000 ads every day, but how many do we remember, let alone interact with?
Chances are, the ones that stuck with you either had some effective visual, powerful storytelling, relevant message, or just a plain cool layout.
And if you are a marketer sitting with a campaign about to be launched or a designer staring at a brief wondering how to turn it into a stunning ad, you might be wondering:
Before we dive in, let’s take one step back. What is the first goal of a great ad? To capture the attention of your audience.
If you win their attention, if you rise above the ocean of sameness in the ad world, you can make them stick around and see what you are offering.
When creating digital ads, you can pick from an infinite amount of communication and visual elements. What to choose, why, and how, pretty much depends on the purpose of your ad: are you teasing a new product, running seasonal promotions, or promoting your brand?
Your ad mileage may vary based on that.
So, if you are hoping for a digital advertising “golden formula”, you are not gonna find it here. Rather, you’ll get a handy list of key elements you should consider whenever you create a digital ad.
A great headline instantly grabs your attention and communicates the main message of the ad. It should be short, and clear, and touch upon the key needs/pains of your audience.
Take this Oister ad: for non-Danish speakers out there (writer included) the headline says “easy and fast internet with 2 TB of data”.
Focus on the key benefits of your product, on the pains it aims to solve; never on your features. Rank your benefits/pains, and pick the one that makes you stand out either in your industry or in the context of your campaign.
The body text should elaborate on the headline and visuals of an ad, and provide more information about the product or service being advertised. It should be concise, easy to read, and use persuasive language to convince the viewer to take action.
Let’s use this Summer sales ad for Telmore. Did you catch the body? It provides further context to the headline stating information like prices, discount rates, and phone models. Not rocket science, but super effective.
These would be the images you are using to hook your audience. They can range from product images and photographs to illustrations, charts, and logos. As a rule of thumb, visuals will make up the bulk of your ad.
You can use visuals to convey messages that may be hard to express through words, to showcase your brand, or to reinforce a written message.
Let’s take this example from bed retailer/manufacturer Bedre Nætter. The bed looks inviting, perfectly set in a minimal, stylish background. It practically screams at you to sleep in it. Now, would this ad have the same effect, were it not for the visual?
Animation plays a vital role in digital ads as it enables creativity and helps achieve better performance. By incorporating movement, transitions, and effects into digital ads, animation can effectively convey messages that may be difficult to express through words alone.
Additionally, animation can enhance the visual impact of an ad, drawing the viewer's attention to specific elements and guiding their focus towards the call to action. This in turn spurs a higher engagement and conversion rate.
A strong call to action is essential to encourage the viewer to take action after seeing the ad. It should be clear, and concise, and use action-oriented language to prompt the viewer to click, buy, or engage with the product or service.
Always write the CTA from the user's perspective, never from your own.
Typography refers to how you display words to capture someone’s attention and communicate your message.
Typography impacts how your copy looks. Font types can give immediate impressions to your audience, regardless of the message you write. For example:
Lastly, font size immediately establishes a visual hierarchy in the mind of your audience. Looking at the previous Oyster ad, the biggest-sized text is not the headline, but the price. The intent here was to use the price convenience ad as the main hook and to reinforce it with the headline next.
No subject is more important—or thornier—than the choice of colour for your digital ads. Colour, hues, and tones will affect the whole mood of your ads or the whole digital campaign.
You can use different colours to impart a clear visual hierarchy to your ad copy. For example, one red word in a white body text will steer the attention of your reader.
The colour scheme you use will probably be limited by the brand's colours. Just Like Coke will never release an ad using Pepsi’s blue, you must learn the boundaries of your palette, and imagine your ads accordingly.
Taking a look at this Børsen ad, notice how the newspaper chose clean and formal grey/white hues for its background, the elegant metal bronze/gold, and an eye-catching, slightly dissonant bright pink button. Here, colour choice is immediately established:
Does this mean you should never deviate from your brand identity? Of course not! You can—and should—break from your traditional brand colours if you want to stir the right behavioural trigger in your audience. Think about seasonal campaigns: plenty of companies use the colour black for their Black Friday ads, red and green for Christmas, or pink for Valentine's Day.
White space is the space surrounding your elements. Designers must pay attention to leaving too much or too little space between elements. In digital ads, especially dynamic and video ads, designers can gradually fill or empty white space, to steer the eye of the reader to and from certain elements.
In this Mariebo ad, you are drawn first to the headline and call to action. Then, you are prompted to visualise the whole ad for lack of space and pay attention to the photos. Finally, you are redirected to the centre of the ad with a different, more contextualised headline.
Once all the elements of your ad are in place, you need to take a step back and evaluate your work.
Is your ad reading the way you intended it? What is the pattern you are drawing with your eyes? Visual hierarchy in digital ads is key to glueing your audience to their screens.
So, do you break the scroll? How can you communicate the most relevant information in the span of a few seconds, without knowing for certain where your audience is going to look? While static ads must adapt visual hierarchy patterns in a single playfield, with dynamic and video ads, steering your audience attention’s is way easier.
By inserting an animation into the call to action or editing the elements of an ad, you can influence your audience's behaviour way more effectively.
Need an example? Take a look at this ad from Randstad.
By gradually adding elements to your ad, you will be able to tell the message you want to tell, in the way you want.
Is your ad using the right brand colours, logos, and tone of voice? Keeping your digital ads consistent with your brand will help you build recognition and trust. Think of it as a little design seed in your audience's mind: sure, it won’t do much in the short run, but it’ll eventually sprout into memorable associations.
For reference, let’s look back at Oister’s ad: it might not mean much outside of Denmark, but Oister’s purple colour, white and yellow font, CGI purple oyster, and logo are immediately recognisable, regardless of the product advertised.
Finally, a good design might work for an ad, but how do you translate that for many different formats, across different channels? You want to make sure you are not going to lose the effectiveness or beauty of your ad on a different format/channel.
Every day, we are bombarded with thousands of ads. As digital ads creators, our job to break the scroll and win over audiences has never been more challenging. While there is no secret recipe for a great digital ad, by identifying and mastering the key elements of an ad we can elevate our craft and create more wisely.