Here’s What Type of Ad to Put Where, Based on Years of Research

The recent surge of research around creative variables like ad shape, format and video puts online creative into the hot seat, and size, it seems, doesn’t necessarily matter. We’ve been groomed to judge online display ads based on aesthetics alone as opposed to trying to match the physical elements with performance to see patterns. This has shown certain assets can positively impact campaign results, but it often overlooks one critical factor — the online environment.

Historically, we create ads in an assortment of shapes and sizes and stick them everywhere, only to find ourselves surprised when the same creative generates a range of results across many environments. It’s relatively obvious, actually: Surely the impact of a piece of creative that works effectively in one in environment will differ — sometimes radically — when placed in another.

That’s largely due to the consumer experience and level of activity found in each location. It may seem obvious that a portal homepage would differ to a social media site, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. As consumers spend more and more time online, the environment in which they find themselves matters more and more to them — and not matching the right creative against the right environment can be toxic. As they say, looks will only get you so far; for advertising, it’s location, location, location.

Since the first display ad 15 years ago, a variety of environments have become amenable to online advertising. Take the mega sports homepage portal ESPN, or the opening to news sites like New York Times and Forbes where users skim headlines for few seconds before clicking on various links. Then, contrast destination pages found within these homepages, where the user explores athlete stats or reads specific news articles. Although homepages have mass reach, they also have short attention spans compared to destination pages, which are more likely to retain re users for extended periods of time as the absorb information and content.

Next, consider price-comparison pages versus web mail, let alone desktop messenger ads and entertainment content. Each of these online destinations creates different experiences for audiences, and if we seek to drive better results, today’s online creative should be carefully mapped out to fit the area surrounding it.

We’re wasting data from ineffective advertising if we’re not using it to determine how to improve creative concepts against the actual consumer data shown in the various environments. We see the same mistakes repeatedly, such as expecting users to click away when writing emails or hiding enticing content behind static images on fast-paced homepages. Here’s what we know:

For example, homepages typically call for high impact creative that can distract users very quickly before they move-on to another destination. Recent examples include the Chanel No5 ad or Fedex Paper Crumble.

However, destination pages require something more subtle and less intrusive that can be afforded by time, such as the Virgin Bets, often catching people who are rolling through to navigate, provided the pay-off is fun and rewarding like Ikea’s Set the Table.

In web mail, users continually refresh the page while checking emails and habitually return. Here, they’re unlikely to click away, but may be distracted to play with an ad while they chat with others online or prepare to type an email. An ad that rewards data capture like Snickers Mr. T is a great example for a web mail environment.

Also, in communication environments, marketers should use the ability to re-target users and sequence messages, which is much of what contributed to the success of Levi’s Moonbathing campaign. Sharing content with someone that users are chatting with, like in the case of the Universal Pictures’ Bruno ad is a great way of exploiting desktop messenger or facilitating social media.

If reading reviews or looking for information, affording the search within an ad itself drives people closer to the information they’re looking for and can enhance their brand experience as seen in Travelocity.

With budgets under threat, assuming all creative is equal and underestimating the environmental nuances will deliver catastrophic results and could start to destroy the digital atmosphere and threaten agencies just as global warming has melted the ice caps. Credibility comes from environmental awareness and developing a strategy for change. By learning how consumers respond across environments, marketers may consider spending less time looking at format innovation and more time looking at campaigns holistically.

This article appeared on AdAge.