Display Advertising or Branded Content? What to invest in

April 18, 2021

Online Advertising, more specifically display advertising, is becoming cheaper. Does this mean you should invest in display advertising? It depends.

Banner Blindness

The aim of display advertising is that of standing out. It has the sole scope of telling the audience, “Hey, look at this product or service” while interrupting or, in the best of cases, placed next to the content you are consuming.

This type of advertising works particularly well if you are trying to obtain brand awareness, given that a relevant part of it is served on the Google Ad Network. Meaning it can appear on any website, video or media content that allows Google to display its advertisements, which makes up 90% of the total internet audience.

When your ad appears at the right time to a potential customer and provides them with the solution they were looking for, the chance they will click on your banner and generate a conversion is high, even if they had never heard your brand before.

On the flip side, due to the steady increase of display advertising over the past 3+ years, users are developing strategies that permit them not to be overwhelmed by colourful animated banners. Banner blindness can be either a user’s subconscious behaviour who doesn’t register it when exposed to the banner. Which means they will not remember seeing it unless it is incredibly relevant to an issue they are facing. Or it can be an active step they achieve through ad blockers. According to the World Economic Forum, almost half of consumers skip advertising altogether whenever possible and almost ¾ make an effort not to expose themselves to it.

While display advertisement has the job of standing out, branded content, on the other hand, has the job of blending in.

Branded content and audience values

Branded content, which when done well doesn't even seem an advertisement, speaks to the values of the audience it is talking to.

At first glance, branded content doesn’t even look like advertising, so regulations now obliges to clearly state branded content should be accompanied by the text “Ad” not to confuse viewers.

To appeal to the customers, brands are now creating advertising strategies where they place themselves in closer alignment with the values and identities of their target audience. The most prominent and evident example of this is the Super Bowl ads, which no longer showcase the product themselves, but values and aspirations. A similar approach has been adopted in social platforms where brands get in touch and pay influencers who they believe better incorporate the brand’s values and have them reflect aspirational identities to market the product or services.

Just like display advertising, branded content also has a flip side. Here, three things might happen:

  • A brand could decide to adopt branded content (we are not talking influencer association at this point) when they don’t have values that closely connect with an audience or even if there’s a mismatch between the two—making the investment pointless. An example would be the Pepsi advertisement with Kendal Jenner.

  • While an influencer might align perfectly with a particular brand, they might not have a large enough audience, making it extremely hard to establish the impact of the branded content investment. 
  • Another issue is that influencers are people, and, just like for any one of us, their reputation can tarnish due to an ill-timed post or a misinterpreted content.

So, what should you invest in?

It depends on what your end goal is and what type of brand you are trying to promote.

In general, if you wish to create brand awareness, display advertising is the way to go. Moreover, if you believe you don’t have values that would be easy for the audience to identify with, this type of advertising might be the way to go. From a purely economic standpoint, display advertising is cheaper, so you might also consider this.

Suppose your brand can be associated with solid values and identities that can be represented well through video (whether through an influencer or a traditional ad). In that case, you might want to consider branded content. Yes, your product might not feature prominently in the ad space itself, but the bond your audience will feel to your brand will be powerful and identifying with a brand is an asset. You might want to consider if your audience can be easily found on social media. When they identify with your brand, they might feel like sharing the ad with their online networks as a form of self-representation, which generates free ad coverage. But this wouldn’t work if your potential audience makes no to little use of social media.

Photo by Maximilian Bruck on Unsplash

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Alessia Cappello

Alessia eases brands, agencies and publishers measure their online advertising effectiveness. She is a digital marketing and advertising enthusiast by day. Passionate about the intersection between technology, art & culture by night.

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