[Skip to Content]
Oct 15, 2021

Exploring Responsive Display Ads

We've all been there before. You need to generate awareness or consideration for a game, concert, performance, or any event, but you don't have the creative assets to launch the campaign. On the other hand, maybe your creative team has a backlog, you're under-resourced, or the request came late, and you need to get something up quickly. If this sounds familiar, Responsive Display Ads through Google could be a great solution.

I started exploring Responsive Display Ads with Chris Flores and Justin Lisk at NC State Athletics in the spring of 2021. We needed to get ads up for Men's and Women's Basketball season tickets, and though we had some fully-produced creative, we didn't have all display ad sizes, and Google was rejecting some due to how the animations were set up. In addition, due to pandemic-related staffing issues, we weren't going to get updated fully produced creative assets in time. That's when we turned to the Responsive Ad type, which was quick to set up, customizable, and ended up outperforming the standard ads by a large margin.

Responsive-ads-selecting-image-cropping.gifResponsive Ads require only high-quality images or a video, a logo, and some text to get started. The photos do not need to be sized to any specific dimensions, and we can upload them and choose your desired cropping for the required formats. If you supply more than three appropriate images, the platform will generate a video version of the ad, which cycles through the photos like a slide show. If you prefer to use your videos, Google recommends 15 to 30 seconds to get the best performance.  

The text used in the ad is entirely customizable. You can enter up to five headlines to grab the viewer's attention, one "long" description which may be viewed in some formats, and up to five descriptions that should tell the viewer why they should consider buying these tickets. There are, of course, character and punctuation limitations, but they are generally easy to work within.

You can make other customizations, such as the call-to-action button text and setting primary and accent colors, but they aren't always necessary to change.

What happens next? Google uses the provided elements to serve different combinations to your audiences. The algorithm determines which combinations are working best to meet the goal set on your campaign. Make each headline and description as unique as possible to give the algorithm better data points when generating the ads. Reporting will tell you which images, headlines, and descriptions are performing well or poorly.

Check out the samples from these campaigns below. Notice how the same images and messages are used in different combinations.blog-responsive-MA_body-emails.pngblog-addDigitalTixtoWallet-MA_body-emails2.pngResponsive-display-video-ad-mobile-example-1.gifResponsive-display-video-ad-mobile-example-2.gif

Not only do these ads look good, but they can also be formatted to serve in many more locations than traditional image ads. We'd try to avoid placing ads in mobile apps in the past, but with Responsive Ads, mobile app placements are much more prominent, often taking over the entire screen. Responsive Ads also place well on YouTube and show in Gmail like Discovery Ads, increasing your exposure.

There's a lot to like with Responsive Display Ads, from quicker turnaround times, less impact to creative teams, and expanded placement opportunities. But how do they perform? Do they work? The answer is a resounding "yes.

For both initial campaigns, click-through rates on these ads exceeded the benchmark, 0.27%, by a large margin, with the men's campaign at 0.73% and the women's at 0.57%. Additionally, within the women's campaign, the retargeted audience had a 1.06% click-through rate, a 13% conversion rate, and a $48:1 ROAS. There was potential here.

Since then, we've expanded the use of responsive display campaigns for NC State, using them to create product-specific retargeting ads efficiently, customize messaging for different audiences like families or younger fans, and an awareness campaign for the game against Clemson. These efforts have been successful, and this success has translated to other schools as we've expanded our use of this ad format.


Since July 1, 2021, less than 1% of display ads we've generated were in the responsive format, yet nearly 6% of all conversion value from display ads can be attributed to them.


Across all display campaigns, the total click-through rate for responsive ads is still exceeding our historical benchmark. And we're getting clicks at a cheaper rate through responsive ads than standard image ads.


So, if you're in a crunch for time, strapped for resources, or want to try a new way to reach current and potential audiences, consider using responsive display ads.

Reach out to your Pac Digital Marketing rep for more information on how to get started and add this efficient and effective tool to your marketing mix.

authorPost by Mark Baker, Digital Marketing Specialist, Paciolan