News & Insights


Get more creative on the display network with rich media ads

pwd staff OLIVER WOOD
Oliver Wood

|21st June 2017

The Google AdWords display network is a key component for advertisers looking to target new customers.

Google’s search ads and remarketing ads boast higher CTRs and CVRs than display advertising but neither of these campaign types can reach new audiences before they search. This gives the display network the very important job of growing your reach and brand awareness.

Despite this fantastic opportunity, we know that the vast majority of users have been numbed by boring, irrelevant and intrusive ads. The resulting banner blindness has reduced the effectiveness of display ads over the years. Disappointingly, the average global CTR for banner ads across all industries now sits near a meek 0.05%.

There are many excellent targeting strategies marketers can wield to solve this problem but the quality of creatives will always be a major factor. At the end of the day, no matter how relevant your targeting, display ad creatives must be compelling. These days even attractive banner ads struggle because human eyes have filtered them out but it seems the often underused rich media ads offer a solution.

What are rich media ads?

Rich media ads provide the perfect way to get more creative on the display network and take your ads to a whole new level.

Rich media ads are technically any ads that include advanced features beyond a simple static image. Video, audio, scrolling images or an interactive element could be described as a rich media ad.

These ads are ideal for combating issues on the Google AdWords display network. While standard banner ads usually evoke boredom or worse annoyance, rich media ads have a distinct advantage.

The ads are far more eye catching and interesting to users. Rich media ads are also less frequently encountered, hence people have yet to grow bored of them and filter them out as harshly as they do standard banner ads. Our attention is naturally drawn to sound and movement. This means that when used in a positive way (harsh, intrusive sound and flashing are unpleasant to the user) they create curiosity. People are also looking to be constantly entertained and they are easily distracted, so if you offer a playful or intriguing interactive feature that users are unfamiliar with, you will succeed in acquiring their engagement.

This is not only useful for overcoming problems like banner blindness. When targeting a new audience, the users are higher up the conversion funnel. This means they are a cold prospect. Your highly data led targeting strategy means they might be the perfect profile for a potential customer but this alone gives them little reason to bother with your ad in a world where they have so much choice right at their fingertips. This makes the digital showground both a blessing and a curse for advertisers. There is so much useful data and so many potential customers right in front of you, yet, due to so much choice and competition, few users will ever be desperate for your services. Rich media ads combat this issue. They are interesting to the human eye and this novelty helps to draw users into the first stage of the conversion funnel: awareness and potentially the second stage: interest.

The importance of compelling ad creatives cannot be overstated, since even with the best targeting, users can fail to notice your ad and therefore never click through to see your excellent landing page and convert.

Rich media ads receive far better CTRs than standard image ads. The chart below is taken from the Google AdWords display network benchmark tool and shows the comparative CTR of rich media ads over the last two years:


If you have read our article on YouTube ads you will know it is very easy to make a rich media video ad for the display network. You can either make it in a video campaign and target the display network:


Or if you don’t want to target YouTube as well and simply want video ads on the display network, you can use the Ad galley in AdWords:


However, this is not the only way to create rich media ads on the Google AdWords display network. Lightbox ads offer an innovative method for creating an array of creative rich media ads.

What are lightbox ads?

Lightbox ads are rich media ads for the Google AdWords display network which are designed to be more engaging than standard banner ads.

They can include multiple images and videos, as well as other interactive features.

The standard format of a lightbox ad is an image and CTA, which is the invitation part of the ad. When a user hovers over the ad for two seconds the ad expands revealing its rich media features. On mobile, users must tap the invitation section to expand the ad.

The expanded ad usually allows the user to scroll through images, watch a video or click elements in the ad to make features appear or to head to the advertiser’s website.

Below is an example of an invitation stage lightbox ad:


As you can see it is quite similar to a standard display ad, however, when one hovers over the ad, it expands and in this example, allows the users to scroll through product images:


Here is how an invitation to a lightbox ad would sit within a website:


Lightbox ads can incorporate an impressive array of features and interactive sub levels to entertain users. This Fallout 4 lightbox ad uses multiple features to its advantage. Its expansion allows the users to open additional features with a few clicks:


Like the first example it too has a scrolling image gallery:


However this ad is also home to video trailers.


The following expanded lightbox ad example brings in elements from Google Maps and social interaction with Google Plus:


This final example even has gamification incorporated to entertain users:


You can view and play with the interactive elements of these example ads, just as a web user would experience them onsite, using the Google Rich Media Gallery Showcase.

This is a great place to see what successful brands have done with lightbox ads and get inspiration for your own creative display campaigns:

Image scrolling lightbox ad

Multi functionality lightbox ad with clickable elements, scrolling images and video

Lightbox ad with map elements

Lightbox ad with game

Lightbox ads and engagement campaigns

Lightbox ads were made with rich media in mind and their entire purpose fits in with objectives that belong on the display network. Typically, advertisers should be using the display network to build awareness and increasingly to encourage engagement.

Awareness has become hard to gauge, due to people ignoring banner ads. Just because your ad had an impression does not mean a user really noticed it. This is where engagement becomes a far more useful tool. If a user engages with a rich media ad this would be a very good indication that they not only saw the ad but really noticed it and brand awareness would have been achieved.

Additionally, capturing engagement means that a user was actively compelled to explore the rich media elements. This is why rich media ads and engagement metrics work so well together and offer a clearer picture of brand awareness than impressions.

Lightbox ads have been designed to work with these campaign objectives. Instead of running a CPC charging system, lightbox ads only work in campaigns where the objective is impressions or engagement. You can be charged CPE (cost per engagement) or vCPM (cost per thousand impressions)

It is therefore vital to consider your campaign goals when using the display network and particularly rich media ads. The lightbox ads system makes their purpose very clear so there is no room for confusion. The transparency of lightbox ads makes them an excellent tool in AdWords for businesses new to PPC.

Benefits of lightbox ads

Lightbox ads not only enable greater creativity on the display network, they also offer a number of distinct tactical advantages for your PPC campaigns.

  1. They are captivating for users on all devices

Lightbox ads have the potential to provide a far more immersive experience than standard display ads. This is reminiscent of the canvas ads on Facebook and both focus on delighting the user, which is the key to boosting engagement. Responsive lightbox ads work seamlessly with their interactive elements on all devices.

Watch the video below to see how lightbox ads function to provide user enjoyment across devices:

  1. They are memorable

Naturally the entertaining, interactive and immersive features of lightbox ads give them a distinctly different flavour from other ads on the GDN. This is a big advantage for advertisers, as it makes their ads and therefore their brand more noticeable and more memorable.

Since display campaigns are primarily about awareness it is vital that the users who encountered the ad remember the message and brand clearly to aid conversion when they do come to search for your products and services.

  1. They are relatively cheap

Lightbox ads have a noticeably high-tech feel compared to standard banner ads but this does not make them more expensive. Wordstream report that advertisers can expect low CPE bids for lightbox ads, as they are on the display network, which typically sees lower bids. Their extra functionality does not drive up the cost of your bids.

  1. They still have all the targeting advantages of the Google AdWords display network

You can use these beautiful, engaging ads in combination with all the advanced targeting options of AdWords for a highly successful campaign. Just imagine delivering stunning ads, that cannot help but draw the eye, to a highly refined target audience.

With lightbox ads you can still utilise all the normal targeting features of the display network, including topics, placements, remarketing, similar audiences, custom affinity audiences, demographic targeting, in-market audiences and more.

  1. They are more successful than standard banner ads

Lightbox ads have proven higher interaction rates and we have shown how they outstrip standard display ads in CTRs as well. Even back in 2014, when rich media ads were less used by advertisers, they still surpassed standard display ads. eMarketer reveals their average engagement rate to be 16.85% with a CTR frequently 267% higher than standard display ads.

In the chart below you can see how various kinds of rich media ads beat normal display ads in multiple metrics:


Of course, it is to be expected that some industries lend themselves better to rich media ads and user engagement than others, just as some industries work better on social or with search ads. Below you can see rich media ad performance by industry to get a better idea of whether lightbox ads are suitable for your business:


Large brands across the world are already doing great things with lightbox ads. Google cites Opel as one of their top lightbox ad success stories. By moving from standard display to more interactive lightbox ads, Opel managed to generate some staggering results in a short period of time (the campaign was 20 days):

  • Their interaction rate was 7% higher than previous standard display campaigns
  • CPC was five times lower than previous standard display campaigns
  • 1 million clicks were driven to their desired landing page

This is particularly impressive when we remember than lightbox ads are focused on engagement not traffic.

This is not a standalone example. Many more companies have seen significant brand awareness uplift and traffic to their websites following implementation of interactive lightbox ads and engagement focused campaigns. Oxfam also shone with their lightbox ads, reaching 7.3 million people and experiencing 129 thousand engagements.

AdWords have actually claimed rich media ads are 10 x more likely to produce user engagement.

  1. They attract more qualified traffic

Not only are lightbox ads more effective in terms of engagement and traffic but they also push more qualified leads to advertisers’ sites than standard display ads. Many display campaigns have a high bounce rate, where users quickly click away from a website after clicking the ad. Periscopix did a limited test with a lightbox ad campaign and interestingly they discovered the bounce rate was reduced compared to previous display campaigns without the lightbox ads.

The users stayed on the site longer, which is a good indication of a more qualified lead. It could be that because lightbox ads contain more information and users can interact further before choosing the click through, that only genuinely interested parties proceed to do so. The two second hover rule and additional steps before clicking may trouble some advertisers, however it seems to be a successful way to filter out irrelevant traffic.

  1. They produce less accidental clicks compared with standard banner ads

In addition to producing more qualified traffic, Goldspot found that rich media ads produce far fewer accidental clicks:


Accidental clicks on standard display banner ads are common, especially on mobile, due to slips and fingers really being too fat for scrolling and navigating on touch screens in some cases. This means wasted money for the advertiser. Since users must first hover over the ad and then chose to interact and click through to the site, this reduces non-intentional clicks.

  1. They can have multiple landing pages

One of the main benefits of lightbox ads is that they can have multiple interactive layers but also multiple calls to actions leading to a variety of landing pages within one ad.

  1. They are more informative

Thanks to the invitation and expanding structure, lightbox ads can leverage much more space discreetly. With the additional space, they can contain a lot more information than a single image display ad. This is ideal for boosting conversion rates because users can gather more information and better decide if the ad is relevant to them before clicking through to the advertiser site. The extra space also lets advertisers use more imagery and therefore appeal to different people more effectively.

  1. They offer special advantages for e-commerce businesses

If you are an e-commerce business, lightbox ads and their engagement campaigns offer extra advantages. If you have a Google Merchant Center account you can connect it to your AdWords account and use lightbox ads to display scrolling images of multiple products in an innovative, interactive fashion.

These shopping catalogue lightbox campaigns are a wonderful way to combine your product feed with rich media to make a more engaging experience for potential customers. Lightbox ads have allowed even more clever visual strategies for e-commerce business beyond Google Shopping campaigns.

  1. Lightbox ads track a huge amount of data

PPC experts love data and we all know the more data your campaign produces the better marketing decisions you can make. Rich media ads such as lightbox ads on the GDN, offer a huge range of additional data compared to all other campaign types.

These elegant engagement campaigns go far beyond CTR, impressions, conversions and even beyond engagement rate.


They reveal data including video plays, expansion type, full screen average view time, average display time, video view rates, video replays, video stops, video unmutes, manual closes and even more data on varying interactions, dependent on the type of lightbox ad you choose to build. In fact, there are an astounding 56 potential types of data to learn from with engagement campaigns and lightbox ads.

You can find out more about the standard data you can track on lightbox ads and more advanced data from Google Support.

This wealth of tracking and data is reason enough to start investing in rich media ads for the display network.

  1. They can be very simple to make

With all that data and possible styles, lightbox ads may now seem rather complex but they do not have to be. One of the best parts of a lightbox ad campaign is that they can be extremely easy and quick to set up or very sophisticated, depending on your business needs. You can set up a lightbox ad in AdWords just as easily as a standard display ad. Even if you don’t have lots of bespoke creatives you can just scan your website or YouTube Channel or Google My Business Page to produce some charming visuals for your lightbox ad.

  1. Lightbox ads can be highly sophisticated

For advertisers looking to really invest in engagement campaigns by getting highly creative on the display network, lightbox ads can offer many options. Just as they can be simple and quick to make, lightbox ads can be highly elaborate. This is where custom lightbox ads come into your campaign.

You can set up standard lightbox ads within AdWords but if you have a creative design team at your disposal, your business can create more complex, cutting edge ads using HTML5 to host on the Double Click Studio. The studio will give developers access to an almost inexhaustible list of varying creative ad formats for lightbox ads.

If you want gamification, voice overs, shake and shout formats, scratchy surface simulators, tap to call and even more advanced ad functionality, then HTML5 lightbox ads with Double Click studio are definitely the way to go. This is the path to unlocking true creativity and irresistibly engaging ads on the GDN. People love different media styles from reading to visuals to watching and playing, so more high tech ads offer the possibility to connect with users in all these ways and more.


Have a browse of the Rich Media Gallery ad types to see which formats might suit your business. Double Click Studio is adding more prototypes all the time as rich media ads gain popularity.

How to build simple lightbox ads

To build a simple and easy lightbox ad, first you need to build a new campaign with engagement or impressions as your objective on the display network only.


This will allow you to be charged vCPM or CPE.


To create the actual ads, simply head to the ads tab.


Now click the red + Ad tab and select the Ad gallery.


Select lightbox ads


Choose your method of adding visuals. You can start with a template, upload your image assets first or upload videos from YouTube or scan your website.


Now you can build the lightbox ad. Add a logo.


Add your message and call to action. Don’t forget you can add multiple landing pages and different calls to action and messages in different sections of the ad.


Add your styles, such as font and ad details:


Finally fill in your advanced options.


Now the ad is ready and you can preview its functionality for all devices.


Disadvantages of rich media ads

Lightbox ads offer wonderful rich media with many advantages but rich media ads do have some draw backs. Unfortunately, not all websites across the GDN can support rich media ads. The result is far fewer potential placements and therefore less reach and less impressions.

This is a fundamental problem for engagement campaigns but as usage and demand increases for these ads, hopefully more publishers will support the format.

Another disadvantage is that while engagement may be a useful metric for some, it can put smaller brands off rich media ads. Smaller businesses tend to have smaller budgets and only want to invest in campaigns that deliver tangible profit driven results. Larger brands can more easily invest in engagement, which has long term success. Despite these problems larger brands are still investing more money into engagement campaigns and rich media ads so they are clearly here to stay.

Engagement campaigns will have a bright future in PPC

With the rise of social media and video, engagement is being seen as an increasingly value KPI. Users are evolving and want to be entertained by content and the brands that produce it.

Engagement is also a much clearer KPI for gauging real brand awareness than impression rate, where users may have not concentrated on an ad. More attention is being given to engagement metrics, especially in the fast-paced world of programmatic display ads and for some industries e.g. gaming companies and media companies, engagement campaigns will be a natural progression to measuring the impact their ads have with their target market.

Getting a positive ROI in PPC will always be about choosing your objectives and targeting strategies carefully but with lightbox ads’ greater visibility and the additional data provided by engagement campaigns, this is a good step in developing a more informed strategy. It will enable advertisers to draw new users into the top of their conversion funnel more effectively.

Rich media ads are on the rise, so we advise advertisers to get in the game before their competition does and users become more accustomed to seeing these kinds of ads.