How to get a banner ad right: Lessons from a not-for-profit

Always on the lookout for behaviourally effective examples from market, a Save the Children ad caught my eye last week.

Run as a series of images, the banner ad first asks, “Want a better tax return?” Well, of course I do.

Then “Want to save a child’s life?” That sounds good.

“You can do both in just a few seconds.” A personal benefit and a community-minded one that is easy to do? Wow.

Before the final panel presents the Call to Action to click through. Here are the behavioural elements that make the ad work.


1. Timed around a trigger event

This campaign capitalises on the financial year deadline when tax deductions are top of mind. Would it work at other times of the year? Less likely.

Sounds obvious, but your goal should be to hook your marketing program into an external trigger event. For example, replacing smoke alarm batteries is now triggered by daylight savings, and we are in the midst of “Dry July”.

2. Clear, immediate and tangible benefit

Due to what’s known as short-term bias, we are persuaded by immediate gratification. While this ad could have started with “Want to save a child’s life”, that would have missed the opportunity to persuade people to donate for an immediate financial as well as community benefit. In effect they broadened their market from those who want to support the work of Save the Children to those who want to reduce their tax (tangible) and, by the way, will help save a child’s life (less immediately tangible).

This has also repositioned a donation as financial benefit rather than cost. While most charities reference the tax deductibility of donations, this ad has taken it a step further by relating it to getting a better tax return.

Whatever you do, be clear about the benefits your customer will experience today if they take action. As well as the more obvious benefits like saving money or gaining points, look to draw on emotional payoffs like peace of mind, completing a task on their to-do list, or the satisfaction of taking a first step.

3. Reward > Effort

I’ve written before about the Effort:Reward equation. In short, when real or perceived effort is greater than the payoff for the customer they will simply not take action. Here, the third panel reminds the donor of the personal and community reward and reduces any anxiety about how much effort will be involved by indicating it will take only seconds.

When constructing an ad, make sure you are convincing your customer of the payoff as well as reducing the perception of cost they shall bear for taking action (including psychological, financial, time, and effort).

4. Styling so that only the most important elements “pop”

The ad uses simple iconography, a primarily passive colour palette and highlights only the strongest words so that they “pop”. The main call to action (“here”) is presented in red font as the final link in the chain of benefits (better, save, both, here). The lesson is to keep it simple, particularly for online ads that sit amongst busy news sites. To cut through, less can be more.

The great news is that we are surrounded by thousands of marketing messages every day, so be on the lookout. Your opportunity is to observe the efforts of others to find out what works and what doesn’t and convert these lessons into more effective campaigns for your business.

Bri Williams runs People Patterns Pty Ltd, a consultancy specialising in the application of behavioural economics to everyday business issues.



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