Ashlee Sierra

In the world of advertising, you’re often pulled in 2 different directions. On one hand, you’d probably love to have your ad campaign automated — it’s like having a robot butler who happens to be really into public relations. On the other hand, you’ve likely watched or read enough sci-fi plots to know that a robot butler with complete creative control over your publicity will somehow lead to an apocalypse (or, at the very least, some less-than-ideal ads).

But what if you could have the best of both worlds?

The good news is that it’s possible — and the opportunity has likely been right under your nose this whole time. Today we’re talking about responsive display ads, the internet’s gift to anyone who wants to automate advertising without surrendering complete creative control.

Let’s dive in.

What Are Responsive Display Ads?

You may not realize it, but responsive display ads are already a big part of your internet life. Open just about any website and you’re likely to see these cute little guys lounging between paragraphs or hanging out in the margins. They might even include animations to get your attention.

Here’s one I saw recently that made me want to grab my keys:

Simply put, responsive display ads are a type of display advertising that allows you to weave your message right into a webpage. They often live on the Google Display Network, which includes 2 million websites and reaches 90% of worldwide internet users, according to Google.

Here’s how it works:

  1. You provide your ad assets. These can include images, logos, videos, descriptions and headline copy.
  2. Google automates your display ad campaign. By combining your assets and automatically resizing, reshaping and reorganizing them for different placements, Google helps create responsive display ads that look good in a variety of settings.
  3. Your responsive display ads live on the Google Display Network. Your fresh Google ad campaign is seen while current and potential customers browse the internet, watch YouTube videos, answer messages in Gmail and more.

That’s all it takes — no robot butler required. The best part is that you get to enjoy the benefits of automation without giving up control over image content, ad copy, headline structure or anything else we advertisers pour our blood, sweat and tears into. Plus, you don’t have to spend days or weeks worrying about ad format, ad size or even ad space — it’s incredibly advanced. (See what I did there?)

Here are a few more benefits of responsive display ads:

  • Personalization: Different combinations of ad assets can be displayed to different audience segments. That way, you’re never limited by just one message, style or CTA (Call to Action) for your responsive display ads.
  • Optimization: Another impressive thing about Google display ads is that they’re optimized for each ad slot. Google looks at your assets and uses its machine learning model to decide what combination would work best for a certain location. For example, the same ad might be a banner on one website and a video on another.
  • Automation: I can’t say it enough — display campaign automation is impressive. It allows you to save the time, money and energy necessary to manually plan and design new ads for every placement. On top of that, it makes use of Google’s expansive algorithms for natural and intelligent brand promotion.

The Data on Responsive Display Ads

So, now you know what responsive display ads are — but do they actually work? Let’s take a look at what the data has to say.

The Good

Google has all kinds of reliable stats singing its own praises. Here are a few highlights from across various brands using the Google Display Network and a responsive display ad campaign:

  • 15.5 million impressions per month.
  • 40,000+ clicks per month.
  • 50% increase in sales.
  • 150% increase in bookings.
  • 29% increase in direct calls.

There’s no guarantee that you’ll see the same results as any of these companies — but if you’re anything like Julian Bakery, which sells specialty loaves of bread, your business partners could start saying, “I don’t know what you’re doing, but it’s working.”

The Not-So-Good

Hey, it can’t all be glowing results and amazing numbers, right?

The bad news is that, according to Statista, almost 26% of internet users were using adblocking software. That’s certainly not a majority, but it’s still a good chunk of people who may never see all the hard work you put into your responsive display ad — and that number is likely to increase over time.

Of course, as pointed out by a study from Carnegie Mellon University and the City University of Hong Kong, there are ways to use adblocking to your advantage — it just takes more work and a whole lot of know-how. For example, you could identify which ads are most consistently blocked and work on creating content users will consent to see.

The Takeaway

When all is said and done, the truth is that responsive display ads can be effective and have proven to be valuable tools in the ad campaign toolbelt. However, that can only happen if you put forth the effort to design the right image, headline and ad copy combination.

Best and Worst Responsive Display Ads

Here’s the deal: If your responsive display ads don’t look good, people aren’t going to trust them, and they certainly won’t click.

Let’s take a look at some of the best and worst display campaign examples the internet has to offer:

Ads I Love


Let’s start with this Hertz ad.

It’s simple, clear and appealing, and I read it in just a few seconds. I personally don’t need to rent a truck or van — but with that clear CTA and an image of what I’ll be receiving, I kind of want to.

Flintstones Gummies

Here’s a blast from the past.

As a fan of Hanna-Barbera cartoons, I’m probably biased — but I can say that the color palette is good for grabbing attention and the simplicity is effective. Most notably, this ad includes a quick list of value propositions that will appeal to an audience looking for healthy vitamins for kids.

Chevy Silverado

Okay, I promise I’m not secretly working for Chevy. What I am doing is pointing out how the Google Display Network has apparently identified me as part of a truck-buying audience and is now showing relevant responsive display ads across multiple placements.

This one has a few things going for it, including the imagery that’s clearly telling me, “Look at all the adventures you can have in a new truck!” It also has not one but two buttons, both large and clearly labeled, to help me further personalize my truck-buying experience.

Ads I’m Definitely Not Clicking On


The first entry in this list of shame isn’t bad. It just brings attention to a common problem in responsive display ad design, which is text overload.

The background color is eye-catching and the phone imagery certainly makes me want to hide my own old, cracked screen in shame — but look at all that legalese at the bottom. There’s so much required information here that my eyes glazed over and I stopped reading any of the text in that white color.

Liberty Mutual

Take a look at this one.

It has all the ingredients for an effective ad, but the disconnect between the image and the text makes it seem like two different pieces of content at first glance. Plus, the font is oddly generic, and that essentially turns it into the kind of “spammy” ads we all tend to avoid (even though it isn’t — it’s just a formatting faux pas).


Speaking of spammy….

I don’t know what’s being advertised here because, spoiler alert, I didn’t click on it. The image has very little to do with the ad copy, which is itself a little suspicious. In fact, there are whole blogs dedicated to strange ads that offer no context or use ill-fitting images — so the takeaway here is to make sure you don’t end up in that category.

Best Practices For Your Responsive Display Ads

Before you head off to create incredible responsive display ads of your own, here are a few best practices to keep in your back pocket:

  • Choose high-quality images: You can upload up to 15 images for a Google responsive display ad. Just make sure to avoid blurred or distorted content, and remember not to put overlaid text on your images (instead, include text separately).
  • Plan your descriptions: Descriptions can be up to 90 characters long, which isn’t a lot of space. Plan your word choices carefully to make the biggest impact on your target audience.
  • Make every headline count: Each uploaded headline should say something unique about your brand, product or service. Remember to make them capable of standing alone in case the Google Display Network algorithms decide to show a headline separate from any descriptive text.
  • Use animated content: GIFs or animations can catch a user’s eye on an otherwise-static page, so give your ad campaign the chance to really shine.
  • Remember your priorities: Responsive display ads are a balance between creativity and automation, so keep in mind that this is more about efficiency than full control. If you want more flexibility (and a little more work), there are plenty of other digital ad types to experiment with.

Inspiration Delivered to Your Inbox

Responsive display ads and the Google Display Network are just waiting to help you make a splash in the advertising space. Efficient, flexible and highly automated, this type of ad campaign helps you talk to your customers even when they’re not actively engaging with your website or brand.

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