A guide to common ad formats in online display

The list of digital ad formats continues to grow, but it’s still important for marketers and agencies to (at the very least) understand how the top formats differ and why one might be used over another.

In the Digital databases at SRDS.com, we track whether a site, network or ad tech company offers image ads, Flash ads, rich media ads and video ads. Here’s a brief rundown of each with a few subsets under video since that’s where things tend to get a little more complex.

Image – Static display image ads that offer no movement or user interaction. They are simple images hyperlinked to an advertiser’s site and can contain a combination of still images and text. The benefits of using an image ad is that they are widely accepted, don’t require plugins or a programmer to create and are mobile-friendly.  

Flash – A Flash banner is an animated ad created using Adobe Flash technology. These rich media file formats are used to display interactive animations on the Web. Depending on the ad’s design, an entire Flash ad can be animated or just a part of the ad, while the other remains static. Publishers usually limit the file size of a Flash ad and the number of times the animation can loop.

Rich Media – Ads that contain images, sound, Flash or video that also involve user interaction. Users can expand, float or interact with the ads. Further, rich media ads allow you to retrieve metrics on the audience's behavior, including number of expansions and video completions.  The benefit to using these ads is that they can be multifaceted and prompt high engagement. A rich media banner can use other technologies besides Flash, such as Javascript or DHTML. The benefits of both Flash and all rich media ads are that they are more noticeable, animated, interactive and potentially more entertaining.

Video ads – These ads play a short video for the user. The video can play automatically when a page opens or it can be user-activated. There is a great degree of variety in video ads, including functionalities like fast-forward, volume adjusting, etc. They allow for enhanced user interaction.

  • Preroll video appears before the video content the user has requested.
  • Postroll video appears after the user’s video content completes.
  • Midroll video appears in the middle of the video content.

Overlay – An overlay ad covers a site with a semi-transparent background. Users must "close" the ad to fully view the site. A few benefits of using these ads are increased brand awareness and the ability to engage with users as they consuming content on a site. Overlay video ads are ads in the bottom part of a video display that is shown while the video plays – very common on YouTube.

According to DG MediaMind's 2012 Global Benchmarks Report, here are the average CTRs in North America by ad types:

  • 0.10% Standard Banner
  • 0.14% Rich Media
  • 0.16% Expandable Banners
  • 0.85% In-Stream Video
  • 1.92% Interactive In-Stream Video

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