How To Fix Your Dumb Banner Ad Mistakes

How To Fix Your Dumb Banner Ad Mistakes

Banner advertising can be a visual feast with the potential to garner clicks and boost your ROI. But they can also be a total failure. Dan Ferguson, chief marketing officer at crowdsourcing design marketplace DesignCrowd, shows us how to avoid the most common banner advertising mistakes.

Dan Ferguson
Posted by Dan Ferguson

One of the fascinating features of banners as a medium is that you can win in this medium with incredibly well observed, timely and personal messages (retargeting) as well as mass audience ‘stop sign’ type page disruption or at the very least – distraction – tactics.

Accordingly there is a broad scope for daring design – albeit within the often narrow physical constraints of whatever format or banner size your message is appearing in – but most digital marketers are no strangers to space constraints given the 35/25/25 maxim of SEM.

Yet despite this potential, there are plenty of banner blunders out there, from poor branding to colour overkill to lacking Calls-to-Action. Here’s what you should avoid in your banner designs:

Ignoring Your Brand

Like everything else, your banner ads need to be branded. The visual elements of your brand spread awareness about what you do, help make the ad recognisable and also communicate your overall brand message.

Make sure your brand colours, icons, logos and fonts are used in your banner ads.

Twitter and eBay, for instance, are both great banner branders.

Competitive advantage can sometimes be found in unusual ways of incorporating brand in less space – try limiting to thematic, colour or iconic representations. Don’t be afraid to test informal brand representations to drive CTR – after all your prospect can always get to know you (and your complete brand) once you’ve secured their initial interest with a click..

Cluttered Colours

Colours need to be bold, but too many colours can also send the wrong messages to a user or result in an ad that looks amateur and childish. Choosing a colour scheme of 1-3 is best, and these colours should ideally flow on from your brand colour palettes.

Think about how Coke uses its red in its banners, for example, or the oranges that continually fill these ING ads or the instantly recognisable blue that signifies Facebook is on the scene:

PRO-TIP >>Colours are one of the easiest – and sometimes highest impact – changes you can A/B or MV test. Colours can infer emotional messages that can drive or reduce CTR depending on context and your audience.


Remember in high school when you used to cram for exams, trying to fit in as much information as possible? It might’ve worked back then, but it doesn’t work for display ads.

Cramming too much information and images into your banner ad means you’re essentially designing something that will look like spam. Instead, aim for streamlined and focused designs that communicate a single, clear purpose, like this ad for Disney World.

PRO-TIP >>Rationalising and paring back elements to streamline your ad wont help to address a weak offer or value proposition. Before pruning make sure you are using your most compelling hook or ‘reason to engage’ – then communicate it with impact, succinctly

Uh, Targeting … Who?

One of the biggest mistakes marketers and business owners make is to overlook the exact target audience they are trying to reach with their banner ads. Who, exactly, do you want to gain clicks from? Do the visual aspects of your ad speak directly to this group? Or are they just forming a ‘pretty’ design?

PRO-TIP>>When designing with audience mindset as context, avoid generalisations and/or datapoints that are better A/B tested –  ie ‘males 25-40 won’t click on pink’. Favour specific behavioural insights ie. our key buyer is an office manager who favours on-site search to surgically identify their purchases in the minimum time possible’.

Absent or Unclear CTAs (call to action)

This is a huge error in display designs, but one that occurs often. Your ad must include a Call to Action, and this Call must be visually and conceptually clear, telling the viewer exactly what to do and why. Think about what generates high click volumes and what value you are offering the user in return.

Consider the clarity that this Netflix ad for The Lorax displays.

The offering/benefits are simple to understand (watch instantly, free trial) and the Call to Action (“sign up now”) is clear.

Don’t forget that wherever your users end up after the click, you must also deliver on your Call to Action promise.

PRO-TIP>>Test different CTA’s to attract more cautious audiences. To secure a customer ‘first date’ try replacing a ‘purchase’ CTA with a ‘take the next step’ CTA.

Wrong Banner Choices

Banners are typically static, but you can introduce animations or animated effects into your designs. Do this well and it can increase your click rates. Do it poorly, and your ad will again look like Spam and be ignored by users. Similarly, be careful with floating and pop-up banners unless you’re especially confident they’ll result in higher clicks, as they can deter users and simply become ad pests instead.

PRO-TIP>>If you’re going to animate often the placement will entail a premium – so be sure that the incremental cost is outweighed by the impact & when seeking incremental value remember that at its most basic animation can allow you to expand your selling points ameliorating ‘cramming’ risk.