Picture this: you’re driving 50km/hour down a busy road in a commercial area. Both sides of the street are lined with retail shops, anchored with big signs, flashing “Open” placards with store hours, and merchandised window displays.

And remember, you are driving. You need to pay attention to the road, stay aware of other vehicles, mind the pedestrians, and dodge the wayward pigeons.

Yes. Yes, It’s a lot to take in. But guess what – you’re not actually taking in. Every. Single. Thing.

Our minds have developed a mechanism to protect us from being constantly overwhelmed. It is called perceptual screens, which are the subconscious filters that shield us from unwanted messages before any data can be perceived.

So how do you break through a consumer’s perceptual screens among all of the clutter, whether you’re advertising on a busy street or on the information highway, a.k.a. the internet?

6 commandments of Programmatic Display design

I’ve spent many years working on national advertising campaigns for mega brands such as Covergirl, Mcdonald’s, and Universal Studios. Sure, they have big budgets to produce expensive photos and commercial artwork, but when we strip away the glossy big-brand elements, there are really simple and effective design lessons to be learned and used to your advantage.

Thus, I will now make my point: all of the most effective outdoor advertising rules are just as applicable to digital ad design for local businesses.

Below are 6 commandments of Programmatic Display design.

1. Thou shalt not use more than 7 words
This is hard, we know. But imagine yourself in a car looking up at a billboard with 50 words. Not a single driver in the world will be able to read much more than 7 words.

Now think of users on the internet where there are way more distractions and options for them to spend their time. Keep it simple, short, and punchy (gotta punch through the perception screens).

2. Thou shalt not use more than one point of contact
If your ad includes a phone number, street address, directions to your location and a website, you have three too many points of contact. Some might even say four too many. If you make a great ad, people will seek out your business.

(Pro Tip: If you’re a business owner, this is where you should ask your Glacier Media Digital account executive about digital retargeting and geo-fencing.)

3. Thou shalt not always include a call-to-action
Gasp! A controversial statement, for sure. But hear me out.

Display ads are great for brand marketing, which should focus on creating awareness. Frequent brand ad exposure can nurture familiarity and mental recall for when a consumer is actually seeking out your product or service to address their needs or solve their problems. Display ads can help your brand stay top-of-mind.

A well-planned marketing program wouldn’t just depend only on display ads to do everything. That’s like asking your doctor to also be your accountant and car mechanic.

As long as your ad creates some sort of emotional response, viewers will decide what action they want to take. By now, many users know that ads are clickable, too. So repeat after me: It is the year 2019. My digital audience is smart and not every ad needs a call-to-action.

4. Thou shalt not ignore thy audience
Take care to know who you’re speaking to, and speak to them in the right tone. Your target audience is not everybody. Narrow your focus and you’ll make more sales.

The best analogy is a shotgun versus a sniper rifle. With a shotgun you spread your chances of making a kill. But the sniper rifle guarantees it.

5. Thou shalt not rip off national advertising campaigns
Mastercard’s Priceless campaign and the Got Milk? campaign are fantastic and ridiculously effective. Copying them won’t be as effective for you. Sure, people might chuckle at first, but they’ll forget you pretty quickly. Doing this is no way to build your brand. So stop doing this. Just stop. Now.

6. Thou shalt break the rules
Once you’ve mastered the rules, you can break them if you have a very deliberate purpose rooted in a strong concept. If your concept just wouldn’t work without breaking a rule, then you’ve probably got an award-winning ad campaign on your hands.

Just a word of advice: this requires high calibre design and strategy to execute well. If you’re going to break the rules, make sure you do it really, really well. No brand wants to look like a car crash (unless that’s part of your strategy).