Darryl Choo
Nov 4, 2020

5 tips for making display advertising work

Ample research is available to devise a set of principles that can help brands maximise their online media spend and capture user attention, writes Inskin Media's Asia sales director.


With predictions saying that the Asia-Pacific region will overtake North America as the largest advertising market worldwide in 2021, it’s clear that advertising will remain a critical component of the marketing mix. And Statista also predicts that it is digital advertising that will drive the growth rather than traditional media.

Much of the digital advertising growth in Asia has been driven by mobile advertising. Unfortunately, much of the investment in recent years has been heavily focused on short-term gains, concentrating on metrics such as CTR. These can be misleading and even damaging for the long-term health of brands.

At Inskin, we believe a strong, consistent and maintained emphasis on well-designed brand attributes can help steer brands to success in the longer term. The key to that in our opinion, is attention.

We define attention as visual engagement—actually looking at the ad, rather than viewability or page dwell times. Research has shown that attention is a far better indicator of brand uplift as well as sales and conversions.

Nor does the mobile device limit visual engagement if the right steps are taken. Inskin’s research has shown that our ads deliver more than an hour of aggregated visual engagement per thousand impressions (per CPM) on mobile devices. Fundamentally, the same rules that work for desktops also work for mobile—there is no difference in terms of best practices.

We have spent a lot of time evaluating and researching the right creative elements and strategies to maximise the value of each impression. And we’ve learned a lot about combining research with creativity effectively, which is the key to doing so.

Here are five of our best tips for maximising attention for your ads:

Ad clutter: When ads collide

We make it sound like a Hollywood blockbuster—but in all seriousness, the concept of ads colliding on the same page makes for grim viewing for anyone in the digital ad space. The last thing we need is multiple ads competing for the same low rate of user attention. There’s more than enough data to support these concerns around ad clutter.

For example, a study Inskin conducted with Sticky & Research Now SSI suggests a 37% drop in individual format gazing time and a 31% drop in the total number of visual engagement when three ads are on the same page, compared to just one.

Therefore, it is important to try and get unique placements for your ads, or try to use ad formats that are natively the only ones on the page.

Premium environments

On a more positive note, having ads featured in premium editorial environments can work wonders for digital ads. Premium environments are sites with high quality of engaging editorial content. These are typically well-established editorial brands, with quality content that users trust.

Advertising featured on these sites benefits from the value that users attach to the editorial site itself—a “halo” effect.

In another study conducted by Inskin, affection for a brand, or brand warmth, increases by up to 7% when it’s featured in a premium environment. What’s more, brand consideration increases significantly (60%) when seen in premium publishing environments.

Size, scale and format

Size and scale matters for display advertising. The more of an ad you can see, the more attention you are likely to give it. Research from well-known attention researcher, Karen Nelson-Field found a positive relationship between attention and both the percentage of an ad that is viewable, and the percentage of the screen that it covers.

Essentially, the more space on a screen that an ad takes up, the more likely users are to “fixate” on it—look directly at the branded content. As Nelson-Field points out, if the ad only covers 10% of the page, the other 90% is distracting “clutter” that the ad competes with for attention.

And we know that attention is directly linked to brand metrics and to conversions and sales. So the size of the ad on the screen matters: basically, bigger ads are better. But also the percentage of the ad that is viewable matters. If only part of an ad is seen (even though it may count as viewable) part of the message, potentially even the brand and most importantly, the overall message could all be lost.

At the same time, it’s important to also pick the right format for the right device. Thirty-second TV ads in 16:9 format won’t necessarily work online no matter how big they are, and desktop ads won’t work on mobile devices. Understanding the context of the page and device are very important for maximising the effectiveness of an ad in terms of attention.

In other words, size does matter, but so do a number of other factors!


MPU’s (mid-page units) are standardized advertising formats that are widely used for display advertising. Proprietary research from Inskin found that exposure to a higher-impact ad helps to “amplify” the impact of subsequent MPUs.

According to the “Amplify” research study by Inskin Media and Lumen Research, MPUs are 27% more likely to be looked at, with a 39% increase in visual engagement time if they were preceded by higher-impact ad format.

It’s also important to consider “marketable attention”, which is the point at which brand messages start to have an impact on the user. The absolute minimum threshold for marketable attention is one second of visual engagement. If MPUs are amplified, they are 140% more likely to exceed the 1 second threshold—significantly increasing their marketable attention potential.

This means that intelligent flighting plans using both high-impact formats and MPUs can generate higher attention without incremental spend. However, to really leverage this, you need “matching luggage”: creative consistency between the formats. The more the two are visually consistent, the more likely the MPU is to overperform in terms of driving attention. So creative consistency is another key element for driving attention.


Viewability is a basic gating factor as far as attention is concerned, mainly because about 40% of delivered ads are not viewable. However, being viewable is only the beginning. Of the 60% that are viewable, a lowly 12% are actually viewed by users, according to research conducted by Inskin and Lumen.

In order to be viewable, an ad must be within an active browser window and within the viewport—or in other words, not “below the fold”. The data around viewability is disheartening to say the least—yet with a practice that focuses on maximum attention, there are methods that can influence greater viewability potential for digital ads.

While viewability and attention are not closely correlated, if an ad is not viewable then it can’t be seen. That’s why it’s critical for advertisers to use the right formats featured in prominent placements in premium publisher environments to get through the viewability “gate.” That’s when the other creative elements can start to work their magic.

Conclusion: Leverage research-based best practices to drive attention

A shrewd approach to creative provides greater visual engagement potential—and this is borne out by research. Put simply, effective creative drives attention, and in turn, attention drives brand success. The easiest way to maximise your media spend is to use these research-based insights to help you drive more attention for your ads.

Darryl Choo is Asia sales director at Inskin Media.


Campaign Asia

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