8 Examples of Fortune 500 Brands Using Display Advertising

Digital display advertising, or ‘banner ads’, are used by small startups to some of the biggest companies in the world to showcase their products.

The pull for advertisers to use display ads is that they are placed within the Google Display Network. Instead of advertising being restricted to a text based ad on Google, display ads open up a whole new set of platforms. They will often be spread out across the internet on YouTube, blogs, Gmail and various news sites.

And some of the biggest spenders on display advertising are Fortune 500 companies. Companies like General Motors, Microsoft and Apple spend billions of dollars annually on advertising, with a healthy chunk of that change being invested in display advertising.

Before we dive into some of the most successful examples of Fortune 500 companies using display advertising, let’s quickly debunk the myth that display advertising is dead.

Should You be Using Display Advertising?

This year, mobile ads will dominate more ad budget than any other medium worldwide, surpassing mainstream channels like TV, radio and print.

The main reason behind this spike? Mobile display ads have skyrocketed in popularity, and digital marketers are readjusting their ad spend to keep up with the market shift.

A recent study by eMarketer found mobile ads and desktop/laptop advertising now makes up 43% of the total ad spend in the US. By 2022, that figure is predicted to jump to 52.4%:

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Many forward-thinking digital marketers are now making the shift and prioritize their budget spends on mobile advertising as desktop advertising starts to lose its pull.

One thing is for sure; there is a huge opportunity in the mobile advertising market. However, your chance to make a guaranteed ROI on your ad spend depends on the quality of your ad creative.

Now that it’s clear display ads are not a medium you can afford to ignore, let’s take a look at how the Fortune 500 companies are making their mark using the medium.

Coca-Cola: Making People Feel Good


The campaign was simple on the surface, but it took a lot of co-ordinating on Coca-Cola’s end.

Click on the display ad’s call to action, and the viewer could send a can of Coca-Cola to a random stranger, anywhere in the world. The campaign was inspired by Coca-Cola’s Hilltop ad, and involved the brand creating web-enabled vending machines:

Screenshot 2019 06 02 at 9.29.11 PM

It took some work. The ad’s campaign was integrated with Google Maps, Street View, and composite motion graphics to show that the coke actually made it to its destination. The viewer was able to see the coke’s final vending machine due to the clever use of the integrated software.

Despite being super quirky, the ad also had powerful undertones of creating a friendship and bond with a complete stranger. Once the Coke was delivered, the recipient was given the chance to say “thanks” to the sender by sending a message of their own back. The original sender would receive the message in their inbox and were also provided with a video clip of the recipient receiving their gifted Coke.

Takeaway Tips You Can Use

Make your CTA so enticing that the viewer’s curiosity takes over and they have no choice but to click.

Maybe your display ads could have a similar CTA. Do you offer free material? Or maybe you could run a campaign where the viewer can send their friend a free sample of your product? Step outside the box and try something different.

IBM: Use Education to Drive Revenue

Example of creative banners IBM

IBM created a new platform worldwide with the goal of educating people about how technologies like AI, cloud computing and Blockchain could benefit them.

To launch the initiative, IBM heavily invested in advertising, including banner ads that invited people to “think” with them. The series of display ads encouraged people to “Think” and “Put Smart To Work”.

The obvious draw to the ad is that it’s interactive. The user needs to click on the sequence to reveal what each of the five pillars represent. Once the sequence has been completed, the user would then have the chance to explore what IBM means about “making the world work better” on their official website.

Whether through data or AI principles, shepherding this new technology and putting it to work is something that has to benefit all mankind, not just the few.

Takeaway Tips You Can Use

Despite winning a slew of awards (Gold at the London International Awards and the Gold Design Lion at Cannes Lions 2012, just to name a few), the campaign was a fresh take on a traditional lead magnet: offering up educational content, for free.

Consider what lead magnets or free content you’re currently offering up to build up your list, and see if there is anything you can repurpose on a display ad that’s enticing enough.

McDonalds: Don’t Take Your Brand Too Seriously

Banners creativos McDonalds

This banner ad from McDonalds has a clear goal: to increase its website click-through-rates.

In partnership with Canadian ad agency Fjord, McDonald’s built this set of display ads to increase awareness for a launch of a new burger; the quarter pounder deluxe.

However, this launch was a bit different. McDonalds made it quirky and fun, and through spreading awareness of the new product, users were also invited to click on the burger to “make it better”.

By doing this, the banner transformed into an interactive ad to capture the viewers imagination: mcdonalds

Takeaway Tips You Can Use

Sometimes, the best marketing campaigns are those with a simple but fun message.

Do you have a product or service that you think could do with some more awareness? Repackage it into a fun, interactive ad that has an enticing call to action (but doesn’t require an email address to enjoy it). You might be surprised with how well your audience appreciates seeing your fun side.

Nissan: Highlighting Negatives in Their Industry

Example of creative banners Nissan

Every industry has negative stigmas attached to it. For the automotive industry, that stigma is unfortunately statistics surrounding road accident related casualties.

Nissan knows this, so they decided to invest a ton of advertising budget into initiatives to show they were working towards cutting down accident numbers.

The “Buckle Up” campaign shows the brand’s logo with striking images of injured drivers or passengers which show a stark reminder of the dangers of not wearing a seatbelt. Cleverly, Nissan managed to seamlessly integrate their branding into the positive part of the advertisement, which tells drivers that seatbelt use can boost their chances of road accident survival by 70%.

Nissan decided to launch the campaign in India. The country currently has the largest number of global road accidents, with 53 crashes and 17 deaths every single hour. The brand’s “Buckle Up” campaign partnered with the country’s SaveLIFE Foundation to show the country that they were advocating for the use of rear seat belts.

Using the #HaveYouClickedToday hashtag, Nissan made it their social mission to combat road accident statistics in India, before spreading the campaign to other countries.

“Through our campaign #HaveYouClickedToday, we aim to drive the awareness and also builds a strong case for a comprehensive National Road Safety law to bridge the policy-implementation gap,” Nissan India Operations President Thomas Kuehl said during the campaign launch.

Takeaway Tips You Can Use

Incorporate a negative issue that’s associated with your industry and join forces with brands who have the same agenda and desire to solve the problem.

Create a dedicated #hashtag to drive the campaign beyond your display ads and drive it on social media channels. For example, are you a clothing company who is battling public opinion on material waste? Pair up with a non-profit agency to let your target audience know that you’re hearing their concerns, and that you’re addressing them.

AirBnB: Targeting Consumers Through Contests

airbnb ad sentimental

Airbnb’s #LiveThere campaign was part of a larger contest targeted at those who suffer from wanderlust.

The contest, in which Airbnb collaborated with MTV, was advertised across several mediums, including display ads. The campaign was used by AirBnB to push the idea among travellers that when they travel, they must not just visit or see a place, but immerse themselves and actually live there.

Like Nissan, Airbnb honed in on the Indian market. Although the campaign was promoted to the masses, social media influencers were targeted to spread the word.

“By associating with social media influencers and Bollywood celebrities, we see a huge potential in establishing the connect between films and travel, in the endeavor to meet the demand from the 230m urban millennials in India seeking a more exciting way to experience the world,” said Varun Raina, Marketing Manager for the Indian arm of Airbnb.

It worked. The three winners and their videos went viral. Combined, the three winning videos on Airbnb’s Facebook page received:

  • 10M+ views
  • 170K+ Reactions
  • 4.5K+ Shares on Airbnb’s official Facebook Page.

“Through digital engagement we have been successful in taking the value of Airbnb closer to our consumers. We also feel that digital medium[s] will continue to play a critical role in our marketing plans and we will continue to look at engaging with our audience with innovative content,” said Raina.

Takeaway Tips You Can Use

Combine your display ads with a contest, and make them accessible across both mobile devices and social media channels.

Engaging influencers on any contest will always give you a chance at boosting the campaign’s success.

Apple: Use The Power Of Imagery

iphone photography

Apple have sold 1.3 billion iPhones since 2007, and with market saturation growing, it was crucial that with the release of the new iPhone XS, they kept up awareness.

Apple’s display ad campaigns are the definition of “less is more.” Investing in quality photography and images has made Apple’s product-launch campaigns unique, recognizable and simple.

Sometimes, there is no better choice than a product image for display ads. It allows your message to be amplified, and the call-to-action isn’t lost.

Takeaway Tips You Can Use

No matter what display ad campaign you’re launching, make sure your branding isn’t lost. And even more importantly, don’t let CTAs get lost either.

Apple is a great example of repurposing successful display ads. To create successful campaigns, you don’t need to recreate the wheel, you just need to find a formula that works. Try a simple, streamlined advert for your next campaign and measure the results against your existing campaign to see if this style is something worth pursuing.

Microsoft: Target a Niche in Your Target Market


Microsoft is huge. And they know that with any new technical product release, it’s best to start targeting the niche within their own target market.

The release of their Azure suite did just that. It targeted coders and programmers, and even honed in on app builders and specific coding platforms like Python and Java.

It won’t capture the attention of non-coders. And that’s okay, because they aren’t the target of the ad. But if you’re an engineer or programmer, your interest will be piqued because the ad is talking in your language.

This is what makes it a great message; it doesn’t resonate with everybody. They’re getting the attention of only those who understand the message.

Takeaway Tips You Can Use

Don’t be afraid to target niche audiences within your target audience.

If you’re building a display ad for an eCommerce product, why not target specific niches inside your eCommerce communities. Try targeting only those who use Magento, or only those that use WooCommerce. Niche is best, and talking in a niche’s own language can supercharge your display ad’s click-through-rates.

Zendesk: Target an Industry’s Pain Point

design principles zendesk banner ad

If you’re in the sales and marketing space, chances are building and maintaining customer relationships is a daily pain point for your company.

Zendesk knows this, and tells its audience that they understand their pain point with the display ad’s main message: “Good relationships take work.” And immediately underneath this pain point, Zendesk is offering the viewer a solution to their problem; “Software for better customer relationships”.

The most effective display ads use effective copywriting and smart use of font sizing. Zendesk have created a hierarchy in their typography: read the bigger copy first, and they the eyes will trickle down to the solution.

Lastly, the call-to-action sticks with their brand, but it is offered up in a different color. It’s a nice touch that attracts the eye.

Takeaway Tips You Can Use

Not all companies have huge budgets to create amazing photography-driven ad creative. Use Zendesk’s ad as inspiration for simple, type-based ads.

A short, digestible headline with your logo, and a stand-out CTA, is sometimes all a display ad needs to make it successful.

Mailchimp: Using Curiosity as a Conversion Tool

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In a world where advertisers are turning digital and markets are becoming saturated, it’s more important than ever to stand out.

And that’s exactly what MailChimp did with their “Did You Mean Mailchimp?” campaign. The campaign’s sole purpose was brand awareness, and was built on phrases that rhyme with Mailchimp.

Here’s the catch; the agency behind the campaign didn’t even mention Mailchimp in the creative. The idea was to let the audience make the connection themselves.

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Nine different projects were created to rhyme with the brand’s name. One thing that stands out about these examples is that they commit to one direction, spark interest by connecting with a feeling, and let their linked landing page do the rest.

At the very least, the display ad campaign does an amazing job of standing out in a saturated ad market, especially for Mailchimp’s customers (marketing automation).

It worked. The campaign was insanely successful. It had 988M media impressions, 67M organic searches, and by the time it finished, it had a media worth of $3.52M.

Takeaway Tips You Can Use

Use colours, get creative and get your audience guessing.

Sometimes, curiosity is the best way to get people’s attention when it comes to advertising. In an age where every ad seems to be blending together, try going against the grain.

Display Advertising Can Pay Off

Display advertising has become a hotly debated topic amongst digital advertisers, but love it or loathe it, the advertising channel is gaining popularity.

The stats are in. Mobile advertising is overtaking the world, largely due to a massive rise in display advertisements. However, companies should be wary of throwing all of their money into the medium without a clear direction for their campaign.

Some Fortune 500 brands have cracked the code to successful display ads. Some brands, like Apple, can achieve successful ROI on their display advertisements simply for sticking to their sleek, simple designs. Other brands, like Mailchimp, have had to work a bit harder and get creative to build their highly successful display advertising campaigns.

One thing is for sure. Display advertising can pay off, if you manage to pull it off. Don’t blend in with the rest of the display ads out there. Get creative, talk to your niche and collaborate to give your campaign the best chance of being successful.

Image credits:

All screenshots taken by the author, June 2019

Feature image: Unsplash / Karl Bewick

Image 1: eMarketer

Image 2: Coca Cola

Image 3: Matt Clack

Image 4: IBM

Image 5 & 6: McDonalds

Image 7: Nissan

Image 8: Airbnb

Image 9: Apple

Image 10: Microsoft

Image 11: Zendesk

Image 12 & 13: Mailchimp

Tom Whatley

Tom Whatley

Tom Whatley is the founder of Grizzle, a content marketing agency that helps B2B, SaaS and tech companies generate more traffic and leads through high-value content and distribution.

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