Tom Potts is head of Profero Performance at Profero, a digital integrated marketing agency. 

About once a month, I go through a cycle of despair about display advertising. Lately, the clouds have started to disperse though. I believe display is on an upswing, thanks to smart technology and thinking. New developments could trigger the long-needed shift towards truly effective digital ads.

Our ability to use technology to measure what I’d call “advertising effect” is improving. Predictive attribution models that can determine which ad placement really drove an online behavior, combined with building brand research outputs into planning metrics, means less money spent chasing misleading last-click/impression conversion metrics. That, I hope, will kick-start an industry-level paradigm shift in display: fewer, larger, richer and more intelligently targeted ads. Better to make 1,000 people reconsider their brand preference than claim to have “converted” 10,000 people who don’t remember seeing our ads, right?

Secondly, we’re getting smarter about what’s put in that space. There’s compelling evidence that a strong idea executed well can drive campaign performance more than any optimization tactic. In addition to better-quality creative in dynamic ads, a positive trend is publishers’ increased willingness to unlock editorial assets and collaborate with agencies to create demonstrably interesting and useful ad formats. I’m not going to call them native ads, but you can if you like.

This approach satisfies because publishers know their audiences, and the ads are designed to appeal to those groups. These pre-proven ads also have potential to be refined into repeatable executions. Finally, publishers want engaged content views and time spent. These ads deliver.

By no means do I advocate handing the creation of branded experience entirely to publishers. It has to be a collaborative process: These units give agencies new tools and spaces to play with and in. We should be able to merge our knowledge of advertisers’ objectives with the levers to motivate a known publisher audience, and create something genuinely worthwhile.

So when my next cycle of despair commences, I won’t dwell on my non-industry friends’ complaints of banner ads: “You work on the Internet. How do I make that annoying box go away so I can see more of my emails?” Rather, I’ll look ahead to when they will say with admiration, “I found something really fascinating online. Is that what you do?”

Image by Martin Gommel via Flickr

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