The idea that an ad should “look nice” might seem like a glaringly obvious given, but it’s amazing how low the bar is set sometimes. For online ads to thrive and survive (and deliver on an advertiser’s KPI), their visual design must play an active part in contributing to the positive user-experience of the Internet.

In early days of online advertising, as every crevice of the Internet filled up, we collectively learned a very shallow visual language of online advertising through a dialogue of blinking banners and pesky pop-ups. As a result, our cultural psyche settled on the idea that it’s perfectly normal for an ad to be intrusive and disruptive to the user experience – essentially that it was OK to look like garbage.  But today, with evolved consumer advertising perceptions – driven much by influencer marketing and social platforms – intrusive and disruptive is a recipe for failure. 

Good creative design doesn’t have to be expensive or complex, but a bad design is always a loss. A poorly executed ad inevitably contributes to the larger cultural perception that ads are annoying, ugly, and need blocking. Ugly ads harms brand identity (for both an advertisers and publisher) and are ineffective – a hundred-thousand impressions are meaningless if they’re a hundred-thousand ignored impressions. 

It’s difficult for anyone to say where the middle ground exists between cost, effectiveness, and design. Maybe it’s taking a more organic, friend-next-door approach, such as Influencer marketing. Maybe it’s targeted, programmatic ads that know better than to try to sell retirement communities to college students. Regardless of the means to the end, I can offer some thoughts and simple guidelines on what I feel would help make ad creative better – and deliver on its potential and promise.

  1. Clear messaging. Click-bait titles are out, along with exclamation points and fear mongering; people learn to tune that sort of thing out instantly. It’s all over when the Ad Blocker is in their head.
  2. Clean design. Use your knowledge of negative space, color, and visual balance, and take a few moments to pick out a clean, legible font.
  3. High resolution: Whenever possible, use HTML5 text, the highest resolution images you can get, and never settle for “good enough”.
  4. Non-disruptive: Resist the urge to force interaction on the consumer – give the consumer a reason to interact with your ad.
  5. (Bonus) When possible, take a multi-platform approach and tie you social marketing tactics with your display and video programs. Check out how Marzetti did so and promoted branded content.



A few simple steps and a little extra care and consideration go a long way. Imagine if every single day, people reacted to ads the way they do during the Super Bowl? I don’t mean multi-million-dollar productions, I just mean that extra little extra touch that turns an ad from an annoyance into an accepted, or even desirable, part of the online experience.