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How To Get The Most From Display Advertising

If you use display ads to reach buyers, you can thank Benjamin Franklin. In May 1742, the Founding Father debuted his General Magazine, the first American magazine to carry advertising. (The first paid print ad in the Colonies appeared even earlier, in a 1704 edition of the Boston News-Ledger.)

That 18th century tradition has continued to raise brand awareness among buyers for 400 years. It made the transition to digital content in 1994, when AT&T served up the world’s first banner ad on

That onscreen novelty earned AT&T a whopping 44 percent clickthrough rate — and it’s been downhill ever since. Over the intervening quarter-century display ads have become an intrinsic part of brands’ marketing campaigns, and a ubiquitous presence for online audiences.

That’s led to good news and bad news for brands: Display campaigns can be powerful tools for boosting awareness and engagement, but the “ad blindness” readers have developed over the years means you need to design creative and target audiences in a way that will cut through the background noise.

And when your target audience are busy IT pros, the challenge is even more formidable. After all, these are the people who are charged with implementing ad filters for their companies! To win their attention, your campaign should focus on some core values.

Make sure your creative resonates with IT pros. Just like any other component of your marketing arsenal, display advertising must demonstrate your brand’s understanding of the kinds of pain points they’ve probably encountered, not just tick off a list of features and jargon. Prep your creative assets like you’d prep for a meeting with a customer.

Stay on point. That means offering a precise, compelling reason why the customer needs to know more. A constrained display ad has no room for ambiguity or sweeping claims, especially among IT pros who demand substance. Give them a short, sweet message about how you’re going to make their lives easier and enhance their organization’s tech stack.

That goes for your CTA, too. Consider the next action you expect the IT buyer to take: Will they want to learn more, comparison shop, or go straight to a purchase? Will they want to explore a specific feature you’ve highlighted? Whatever you intend IT buyers to do next, make sure the call to action on your ad aligns with that next step.

Test, test, test. Since Benjamin Franklin’s day, it’s become vastly easier to compare the performance of different ad messages and placements in real time. Take advantage of the flexibility of online publishing, and try out two or more variants of your ad to see which one gets the best response.

Americans have been reading ads since colonial days, but that’s no reason why your display-ad strategy should be stuck in the past — especially with the future-focused audience in the market for enterprise IT.