Do the images you use in display ads really matter? These ad units represent small, targeted “billboards” for your advertisers, so YES. If the imagery doesn’t connect, then they are less likely to see results. But what imagery is best for display ads?

We’ve got ideas and tips to help you support your customers during the creative process.


Simple Is Better, but a Logo Alone Isn’t Compelling

Many display ads only use the brand’s logo. While a logo is important to the ad, it shouldn’t be the only graphic. That’s not compelling to the audience, nor does it define who the market is if there’s no representation beyond the logo.

Simple is good. You don’t want to overcomplicate the ad. Advise your customers that they need to tell a more enticing story with better images. Simple can mean different things, but ultimately, your images should align with the CTA (call to action). Also, you don’t have much space, so images with lots of details aren’t a good fit.


Photos vs. Illustrations

In display ads, it should be one or the other, not both. There are some digital tactics where there’s more space to include both. This can be a preference by your advertiser based on their branding, or they might want to try both.

Regardless of which avenue the advertiser wants to go, images and illustrations should be high-quality and professional. People will have opinions about them from initial sight, so they should convey the feeling the advertiser wants them to have — happiness, hunger, excitement, etc.

Imagery Should Be On-Brand

Every business has a brand. Some have a more established one, but all typically have a digital and physical footprint. Within these properties — their website, social media profiles and storefront — imagery and graphics are present. 

They should be a guide for display ad imagery. Some considerations include:

  • Does the brand use photos or illustrations most of the time? 
  • Are images “stock” or actual photos of their products or services?
  • Can you keep the images consistent across other digital tactics?
  • Are there specific types of images that would or wouldn’t be on-brand? (i.e., people dressed casually vs. professionally, color palettes, landscape types, etc.)

To the right is a great example from Merrell. They place their product (shoes) in an environment that’s totally on-brand.

Ad sample

Static vs. Moving

Another aspect of imagery selection is considering static vs. moving imagery. Movement is an excellent element for ads to drive engagement. However, these ad types may take 30 seconds to rotate, and some people will keep scrolling. 

The decision to use moving imagery will depend on the business. Do they sell a product or service that can benefit from this type of presentation? For example, a local smoothie shop could use a short video of their most popular drink with a CTA to order online. That may get fingers clicking. 

You can certainly test out these ads to see if static or moving drives the most conversions. Also, if they use a video here, they can repurpose it in other channels, including social media and OTT ads.


Imagery Should Convey the Message

Throwing an off-target picture into a display ad, regardless of its visual appeal, will stifle performance. Make sure your imagery connects with your brand and your CTA. Sometimes this is easy because it’s a product or experience. Other times it can be abstract but still provides a strong connection to your messaging.

Here are two examples. The first uses the actual product but makes it part of an image that conveys the message. The second is for a software product, so it’s not tangible, but the illustration serves the message and CTA.

Nivea Ad Sample


Instapage Ad Sample

Color Contrast Is Good

A monochrome display ad may fade into the background. When you’re developing display ads, color always matters. Most brands have color palettes, although many only have two colors. With image selection, work with your customers to ensure that colors complement one another and add contrast, so eyes move to the most critical part of the ad — the CTA.

For example, if a brand’s colors are blue and gray, those are both neutral. Picking an image with a bolder color like orange could bring everything together. You could then use that same orange for your CTA button.

Color can also impact emotion. A research project on color psychology conducted by Joe Hallock shows that men and women have different color preferences, although both are partial to blue. Below are the findings.



Image: UX Planet


If ads are targeting a specific gender, this information may help influence viewers.


Typography Can Be Part of the Image

Display ads are small, so placing copy over an image should be minimal. Otherwise, it will be too busy and not legible. If your customer wants to use a few words, let the typography become part of the image. Look at the example below from Apple that takes this concept to a new level.

Apple ad sample

Apple Ad sample

Because they use a lot of white space, the ad works, whimsically conveying the message.


What Imagery Is Best for Display Ads? The Answer Depends on Many Factors

No matter your advertiser’s goal, imagery will impact if they achieve it or not. Consider these ideas, tips and examples when working with your advertisers on creative.

Get more inspiration with creative samples by industry. Just visit the Ad Categories section, and click on each vertical.