The 3/3/18 Rule of Display Ads


ADOTAS – As branding advertisers, we’ve perpetuated a never-ending spiral of newfangled gadgets to get consumers to look at our ads. We try so hard to get every single word into a description that we’ve busted beyond our normal ad constraints and forced spillover through pop-ups, pop-unders, rich media, expanding units, interstitials, fold-overs, in-banner engagement… The list could go on. Let’s take a page from Steve Jobs’ teachings and focus on simplicity. The best 300×250 I’ve ever seen was for Swedish Fish. Everyone knows the brand, so all they had to show was a picture of one piece of candy, and it was stuck in my mind. Not all brands have the consumer awareness to act so simply, but here is a rule a la Guy Kawasaki’s “10/20/30 Rule of Powerpoint.” It’s very simple. A display ad unit should be no more than three frames, last no more than three seconds and contain no font smaller than eighteen points. Let’s end the madness! Don’t let websites continue turning into Times Square.

Three Frames

A 300×250 is a very brief window into your brand and product. It is not a chance to cram information down a consumer’s throat. The smaller the unit, the less you should try to fit in. Get across a simple message and image in three frames or fewer, with your call to action loud and clear. If you can’t explain your product in three frames, then focus on intriguing the user to click through to learn more. One quick message is all it takes. As a consumer, I just want to know what your product is. If I’m interested, I’ll click or research the price. If I’ve been to your site, I must know what your product is, so I don’t need another overview. Give me a picture and the price, to keep me thinking about it.

Three Seconds

There are a few major reasons for this rule. First, people have short attention spans, especially when being inundated with ads. No one will watch through a 15-second rotation of an ad. Take a step away from your brand and think about the last time you interacted with another brand’s ad for a reason other than competitive research. Second, according to Adsafe, 57 percent of ads are not in view for a consecutive 2.5 seconds. Let me repeat — more than half of all the ads shown on websites are not seen by a consumer for more than two and a half seconds. Why would you ever consider an ad that lasts longer? (Shameless plug — LiveIntent’s ads are viewable for an average of 28.2 seconds and don’t rotate, so they can be shared the old fashioned way, by forwarding an email.)

Eighteen-Point Font

Guy Kawasaki said it best: “The reason people use a small font is twofold: first, that they don’t know their material well enough; second, they think that more text is more convincing.” Keep font size large and your text to a minimum. Find the fewest words necessary to explain your brand, and everyone will love you for the simplicity. If your consumer needs to strain to see the text, then the ad is useless.


  1. Excellent advice. As the person who has been explaining to small businesses and bloggers for years now why it is best to put so few words on banners it is good to see some evidence we can share.

    The purpose of your banner or ad is to get a person to click through to your site. Then it is your site’s job to answer their questions and get them into your conversion funnel.

    You don’t want to tell them everything on your banner or in your video – even if you could – because that would defeat the primary goal of getting them to click through to your site.

  2. David, great guideline. This is often a push-pull in organizations. I’ll add a third point to Guy’s that often applies to banners: companies are trying to accomplish too many things at once. Until they have a clear focus, they can’t get down to 3-3-18.

    Two guidelines to add:

    1) Include an element of a call to action (even if it is just a visual cue, before the real CTA is displayed) on EVERY frame
    2) Ensure every frame can capture attention. You never know what frame someone will first see (another reason to always have a CTA hint).

    Great post and guideline, thanks!

    — @wittlake


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here