Display Ad Basics for Multifamily

Bus benches and billboards have long been the stock and trade of real estate advertising. Ever since GeoCities threw up its first banner, real estate professionals of every stripe have turned to the internet as the future of display advertising.

Today’s display ads, however, aren’t your father’s banner ad. Internet advertising has grown increasingly sophisticated. In this article, we’ll show you the basics of display advertising and how it can help more people notice your multifamily community.

The Difference Between Search and Display Advertising

It’s essential you don’t confuse search and display ads. While search ads show up on Google results, display ads live on the sites themselves. Both types allow you to target your ads, but each is meant to accomplish your marketing objectives in different ways.

Search Advertising

Since we’ve recently written on search engine marketing for multifamily property managers, we won’t hash out the details here. To summarize, search marketing is great for pulling in high-quality leads that are ready to convert today.

Since search advertising is driven by behavior (i.e., clicks and conversions), it involves a whole lot of data-driven optimization. The benefit is a highly customizable campaign that can be tailored to your exact budget specifications.

Display Advertising

Display ads are commonly called banner ads, but they can appear in a variety of shapes and sizes. Display ads are more about grabbing attention than they are about satisfying search intent. They don’t assume that their viewer is looking for an apartment to rent in the same way a search ad would. Instead, they “piggyback” off of other activity.

Example: You create a display ad for your lakefront apartment complex to be displayed on sites that focus on outdoor recreation in your area.

Why do Display?

In any marketing strategy, your reasons for preferring one channel to another will vary depending upon your specific aims and objectives.

Display campaigns are particularly well-suited for the following goals:

  • Establishing Visual Appeal — Search ads are text-based and generally leave little to catch the eye. If you manage a stunning mid-rise in downtown Chicago, then a display ad will allow you to showcase that property in all its glory.
  • Brand Awareness — Along with visual appeal, display ads give you a chance to convey the aesthetic elements of your brand. When coordinated with a holistic multi-channel plan, these visuals will significantly support your overall efforts.
  • Increased Visibility — Display ads deal in volume (CPM) rather than clicks (CPC). Either approach has its virtues, but the former is a more cost-effective way to get your ads in front of as many eyeballs as possible. If you optimize your ad well, the CPM approach can even net you more clicks for less money than CPC.
Where to Place Display Ads

Placing display ads is relatively simple. If you’re aiming for social media, then simply go to the platform of your choice and follow their built-in instructions. The basic idea is that publishers plan and purchase ad space all across the web and have certain sites under their network’s umbrella — the more traffic a site gets, the more expensive that ad space is. We will be diving more into campaign setup and optimization in our next blog.

Note: See our post on social media ads for more insights.

The easiest way to begin is by using Google’s Display Network (i.e., Google Ads), Propeller Ads, or any other of the several alternatives out there. Publishers like Google and Propeller make it easy to get your ad out to a wide range of relevant websites. Even so, they’re limited to only the websites that belong to their specific network.

For that reason, many advertisers opt for a demand-side platform (DSP). Unlike Google and Propeller, DSPs operate across multiple networks. This allows for a broader approach and a larger sample of targeting data. For smaller campaigns, however, DSPs and their often-high minimum investment may be overkill.

Elements of an Effective Multifamily Display Ad

As long as there have been display ads, people have been ignoring them. Eleven percent of web users block them outright. The vast majority of others simply tune them out. Every multifamily marketer’s challenge, then, will be to create an ad that is as visually appealing as it is strategically useful. Let’s start with the latter.

Strategic Elements of an Effective Multifamily Display Ad

Even the most visually appealing ad in the world will fall flat if it doesn’t serve a specific purpose within a well-conceived strategic plan.

  • Defined Objectives – As with any marketing intervention, you need to go in with a clear idea of what you’re trying to accomplish and what success looks like. Are you looking to increase overall brand awareness? Or, are you trying to attract attention to a specific leasing promotion? Questions like these will not only shape the structure of your ads but the sites on which you place them and the particular demographics you choose to target.
  • Simple Messaging – This element is as much visual as it is strategic. Begin with a clear idea of the action you want and what needs to be said to drive that action. If you try to say everything that can be said, you’ll end up saying nothing at all as users scroll on by your ad.
  • Strategic Targeting & Retargeting – Unlike the bus bench, internet display ads allow you to specify exactly who you want to see your ads. With regards to FHA guidelines, geofencing your ads is the safest bet, along with targeting employees of partnered businesses. Try to talk to everybody, and you’ll end up talking to nobody. A critical form of display advertising is retargeting. Conversion rates off any ad click-through are generally quite low. What retargeting does is allow you to serve up ads explicitly designed for people who’ve been to your website yet haven’t requested more information, signed up for a tour, or submitted a rental application.
  • Intentional Landing – The page your ad points to is every bit as important as the ad itself, if not more so. Ensure that your landing page cashes the check written by your display ad. Keep it tight and vivid. For more on writing ad and landing page copy that converts, check out our post on search engine marketing.

Design Elements of an Effective Multifamily Display Ad

Your ad may be clever, but without the right design elements in place, it’ll never grab the attention it needs to drive the action you want.

  • Merciful Simplicity – You can never say all there is to be said in a display ad. Nor can you cram in every design element that tickles your fancy. If you try, the viewer will immediately get overwhelmed and pass. Instead, follow Google’s advice and keep your display ad compelling, concise, and clear.
  • Intentional Structure – The four most important elements of your display ad are logo, value proposition, imagery, and call-to-action. The following examples from Adobe demonstrate each of these four elements in play, all providing a simple, yet compelling motivation for viewers to click the ad.
  • Targeted Color Palette – The colors you choose have a distinct psychological impact on ad-viewers. While men prefer colors like blue and green, women generally lean towards blue and purple. Blue communicates safety, trust, and relaxation. Black portrays a sense of dynamic coolness. The colors you choose should not only reflect your community’s aesthetic but the psychological preferences of the demographic you’d like to reach.
  • Brand-Conscious Typography – Fonts are as important as color in communicating your community’s particular aesthetic. If you’re after elegance, then a more classical font like Georgia will help convey that feeling. If you’re looking for something edgier, Futura or Bodoni might be your best bet. If you’re unsure which fonts will best connect with potential renters, be sure to find a professional graphic designer who knows his or her way around typography. Google offers a vast library of royalty-free dynamic typefaces that you can use to revamp across your marketing materials.
  • Meaningful Imagery – Never throw a stock photo in your ad for the sake of having an image. Instead, choose something that highlights your community’s unique character and resonates with viewers (see below for a good example).

The following is a sales ad, but it represents one of the best examples we’ve found of an ad that effectively brings together the elements we shared above:


Simplicity: The copy is clear, and the visuals are uncluttered. We’re compelled by the image to read further, and there’s no question what the ad wants us to do.

Structure: The logo is prominent, the value proposition communicated by both text and imagery is straightforward. The call-to-action is compelling. The only change we’d make is to differentiate the ‘Find Out More’ from its background.

Palette: Sunset orange, ocean blue, and a darker hue convey the chic quality of this oceanside apartment community. The gradient from blue to black also provides a lovely backdrop for the ad copy and call-to-action.

Typography: The bolded typeface is slightly muddled and could probably stand to be made a bit more “elegant” with a classic serif font like Playfair. The logo typography strikes the right balance between approachability and modern flair.

Imagery: The image chosen here perfectly highlights the property’s modern appeal and the serene quality of its setting by the sea. The time of day is perfect for giving the community a “hipper” quality than a straight-on daylight shot.


As we shared at the head of this article, today’s internet display advertising is nothing like the conventional ads community managers place in magazines and on billboards.

To win at display advertising, you need to combine the artist’s eye with the scientist’s microscope. In this post, we’ve focused on the former. In the next, we’ll dive deeper into the latter by showing you how to set up, manage, and optimize a display ad campaign.