The 12 types of display ads you need to know

Published Aug 1 2023 7 minute read Last updated Apr 30 2024
12 types of display ads
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  • Sean Dougherty
    Written by Sean Dougherty

    A copywriter at Funnel, Sean has more than 15 years of experience working in branding and advertising (both agency and client side). He's also a professional voice actor.

Today, we are going to be digging through “the display dozen.” No, not the 1967 war film The Dirty Dozen that your parents have probably seen. These dozen are the main types of display ads that any marketer worth their salt should know about. 

Let’s face it, the digital world is awash in display ads. They can appear on websites, social media networks, mobile apps, and more. They can include text, images, videos, or all three. All of these ads are designed to catch your attention and sell you a product or service. 

Display ads are sort of like the digital equivalent of print ads found in magazines. But these ads give you, the marketer, much more flexibility and interactivity to engage with your audience. So let’s break down the 12 types of display ads you need to know about. 

Banner ads

Banner ads are the display ads that nearly everyone is familiar with. This is because they have been a staple of internet advertising for decades. Banner ads come in different shapes and sizes. We’re talking skyscraper ads, leaderboards, and more. They are typically static graphics, but can feature some dynamic elements and transitions. 

Regular display ads appear on websites, blogs, and other online properties and often include a call-to-action that encourages viewers to click on them. Many advertising platforms, such as Google Display Network, let you position these ads on third-party properties to increase awareness about your brand and products. 

Some of the most popular reasons for using banner ads include:

  • Building a brand identity
  • Reach a specific target audience
  • Lead generation
  • Lead nurturing
  • Retargeting campaigns

Social media display ads

These display ads fit neatly into the feeds of your favorite social media platforms. They work just like display ads, but can include additional content areas that are specific to each platform (like captions and special calls to action). 

While they may be designed to look exactly like a regular user post, they are ads with a strategic purpose. Whether you’re promoting a product or just trying to build brand awareness on a platform, social media display ads can help you quickly reach your target market thanks to powerful algorithms that serve ads on most platforms. 

Since they often look like regular social media posts (we have more on native ads below), they can result in more engagement and higher consideration rates when clicking on the ad or visiting a resulting landing page.


Examples of display ads on Google Display Network (left) and Facebook (right)


Interactive display ads

Interactive ads are one of the most popular display ad options right now. They incorporate an interactive element to engage the person viewing it. For example, this display ad format might let the viewer hover over different parts of the ad to access additional information. Or an interactive ad might enable someone to drag or scroll to view information.

Interactive display ads can be more expensive to produce than regular display ads. However, they can generate a return on your advertising investment. According to research from Ion Interactive, 88% of marketers believe that interactive content differentiates their company from their rivals.

Display ads containing video

Display ads with video use dynamic visual content to grab your audience's attention and quickly tell a story. These ads might also contain audio that enhances the visual experience. Typically, this type of ad will display a short video with text encouraging the viewer to click on the ad. The viewer can find more information about the company that created it on its website.


Because video display ads contain movement and visuals, their capacity to capture attention can be extremely high. However, you still need to get your point across as quickly as possible. That's because not everyone will watch your ads to the end. According to HubSpot, 36% of marketers say capturing a viewer’s attention in the first few seconds is the most important factor for creating video content.

Native display ads

Native display ads match the design of a website or app. Unlike conventional display ads, native ads are more subtle and provide a unique experience for visitors. Similar to social media display ads, many people might be unaware they are viewing a native ad and presume it's just another piece of content. However, these ads often contain a label such as "sponsored" or "promoted" next to them.

There are three different display ad types for native advertising:

  • In-feed / in-content units
  • Content recommendation ads
  • Branded / native content

In-feed units blend seamlessly into a website or app’s design, while content recommendation ads might be inside a box or separate section. That’s what differentiates them from other content on a page. Branded content looks similar to news content on a website or app and might look like an original article.


Example of native advertising on Pinterest (the image on the right is an ad)


Retargeting display ads

Retargeting or re-marketing display ads specifically target an audience already familiar with a product or service. Say someone visits a company’s online store from Google and then hits the "back" button on their browser. A couple of days later, they might see a display ad from the company on a different website. The ad reminds the person about the product they viewed, which could result in a conversion.

This technology was often made possible by dropping cookies from your website onto a user’s browser — allowing your ads to target that user across various ad networks. However, with stricter privacy standards being applied across the world, many brands are shifting to other strategies like server-side tagging.

Mobile display ads

These ads target consumers on mobile devices. You can create display ads for apps or mobile-optimized websites and tell the world about your products and services.

Mobile display ads load better on mobile devices, ensuring you deliver your message to the right people. They are custom-made for smaller screens, so people won’t have trouble viewing them. That makes this ad type well worth the investment. With more than 6.92 billion mobile users worldwide in 2023, according to BankMyCell, mobile display ads can target customers who might not see your digital marketing on desktop computers. 

One specific form of mobile display ads are so called interstitial ads. These are full-screen ads that cover the interface of their host application. They're typically displayed at natural transition points in the flow of a mobile app, such as between activities or during the pause between levels in a game.

Rich media display ads

Rich media display ads incorporate audio, video, or other multimedia elements to provide an immersive experience. These ads differ from static ads, which solely include text and images. Display video ads fall under the category of rich media ads.

Because rich media ads encourage interactivity from your audience, you can use them to:

  • Stand out from competitors that use static ads
  • Grab the attention of your audience as it scrolls pages on the internet, and, ultimately, increase engagement
  • Increase view rates

For example, you can film a video of a customer trying one of your products and turn it into a rich media display ad. The video might include slide and scroll options that allow the viewer to interact with the ad via their mouse.

Video pre-roll ads

These ads play before video content on platforms like YouTube. They might last anywhere from a few seconds to a couple of minutes. Video ads are effective, because a viewer will likely sit through an ad to watch their desired video. That can guarantee views for your video advertising and increase brand awareness.

YouTube and other streaming platforms match your ads to the video the viewer wants to watch. You can, therefore, target specific audiences interested in your products and services. For example, you can advertise fishing equipment before a video with fishing tips.

Programmatic display ads

Spending on programmatic display ads increased by 41.2% from 2019 to 2020, according to a case study by eMarketer. This display ad type uses real-time bidding (RTB) to specifically target audiences interested in your offerings. That lets you focus on prospective customers you can easily nurture and convert.

The RTB process involves bidding on ad inventory so you can advertise your products to a specific type of consumer. The highest bidder will win the chance to display their ads to their target demographic.


Pop-up and pop-under ads

Pop-up advertisements display on top of a user’s browser window, while pop-under ads display under their current window. Adblock software and major internet browsers block most of these ads from appearing on most peoples’ devices.

While you need to know about these types of ads, you don’t want to use them. You’ll want to stay as far away from them as possible. This is because they are intrusive and harken back to an older age of digital advertising — both of which you probably don’t want to associate with your modern brand. 


Contextual display ads

Contextual ad placement means that display ads show up on websites that are directly related to the product or service being advertised. It considers a website’s content and keywords to deliver personalized user experiences. For example, someone viewing a fitness website might see a contextual display ad about new training shoes. 

Contextual advertising differs from behavioral advertising, because it doesn't use cookies to track user data. This allows you target consumers on browsers that prevent you from collecting third-party information.


Paying for ads

Display ads are typically paid for using either a cost-per-click (CPC) model or a cost per mille (CPM) model. With the CPC model, you, as the advertiser, pay a predetermined fee to the ad network each time a user clicks on your ad. This model is particularly effective when the goal is to drive direct responses or actions from the audience.

Conversely, the CPM model charges you for every 1000 impressions or views your ad receives, regardless of whether the user interacts with the ad or not. This model is often used when the primary objective is to increase brand awareness or visibility. 

Types of display ads at a glance

As you can see, "display ads” encompasses many different types of ads — each with their own advantages, strategies and drawbacks. The type of display ads you use depends on your use case and how you want to target your audience. However, you can incorporate multiple ads from the list above into your effective display advertising strategies and increase engagement, awareness, and sales.

Frequently asked question

How do the costs compare among the different types of display ads?

The costs among different types of display ads can vary significantly based on the complexity, platform, and targeting strategies used. Rich media ads, interactive banners, and video ads often come at a higher cost due to their dynamic and engaging nature, requiring more creative and technical resources. In contrast, static banner ads might be more cost-effective, especially for campaigns focusing on broad reach rather than deep engagement.

What are the best practices for designing effective display ads?

Best practices for designing effective display ads include maintaining brand consistency, using compelling visuals, and clear, concise messaging. For static ads, focus on high-quality images and legible text. For interactive and video ads, ensure the user experience is engaging without being intrusive. Across all categories, it's crucial to optimize for mobile devices, as a significant portion of users access content on their smartphones. Tailoring the design and message to the target audience significantly enhances the ad's effectiveness.

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