Rich media became a staple of digital advertising in the mid-2010s. As of today, it is now one of the most efficient formats, with significantly higher click-through rates than traditional alternatives, such as standard banner ads. The best way to understand what makes rich media ads so efficient is by understanding what makes this format different from other ad formats.

Definition of a Rich Media Ad

A rich media ad is a type of digital advertisement combining interactive features and multimedia elements. Rich media ads are dynamic and typically contain advanced features like audio, video, or animated images. They may also feature more traditional aspects like static images and text.

Modern technologies, such as HTML5, allow rich media ads to include multiple layers of content in one ad. For example, a current-day rich media ad may feature streaming audio or video.

Formats of Rich Media Ads

Most rich media ads today are served in one of three formats: in-page, in-stream, and out-of-page.

  • In-page rich media ads appear on standard web pages. They can display ad creatives between the site content or on the page’s side margins. In-page rich media ads typically do not persist on the screen when scrolling up or down.
  • In-stream rich media ads are typically video ads that play while the user watches video content. In-stream rich media ads are divided into three subcategories, depending on when they begin playing: pre-roll (before the video content starts), mid-roll (interrupts in the middle of the content), and post-roll (plays after the video content ends).
  • Out-of-page rich media ads are not bound to the web page, instead displaying the creatives to users through external methods (e.g., pop-ups, pop-unders). Although out-of-page rich media ads are the most noticeable type, they also disturb the user’s experience the most and should be used sparingly.

Common Types of Rich Media Ads

Rich media ads are available in various types, each suited for different digital properties: standard websites, interactive media, video content, mobile applications, and more. Here are some of the most common types.

  • Banner ads: Rich media banner ads are a more advanced version of the traditional, static banner ad. They are simple to implement and ideal for displaying animated ad creatives on standard web pages.
  • Expanding ads: Expanding ads, also called expandable ads, display a partial message in a smaller window and invite users to click or interact on the ad to learn more or see the rest of the message. Although compatible with both desktop and mobile devices, implementing an expanding ad requires careful optimization when served on mobile due to the limited screen space.
  • Interstitials: An interstitial ad is essentially a full-screen pop-up, using the entire available screen space to display an ad creative. Although rarely seen on desktop devices, interstitials are frequently utilized in mobile applications such as games.
  • Multi-Directional Expanding (MDE) ads: A multi-directional expanding ad is a variant of the standard expanding ad that can expand in more than one direction. How an MDE ad expands depends on its placement on the page; for example, an MDE ad may expand to the left if implemented on the right side of the page. If the same ad is implemented on the right side instead, it will “know” to expand to the left.
  • Lightbox ads: This ad format was introduced by the Google Display Network (GDN) in 2013. It is a more advanced version of the expanding ad, displaying a banner the user can either hover their mouse (desktop only), click, or tap to expand. When expanded, the ad creative pushes the main content into the background, which appears dimmed and grayed out, helping the ad stand out more.

Related content: 10 Best Mobile Ad Sizes

  • Pushdown ads: Pushdown ads can be viewed as an alternative to expanding ads. Unlike a standard expanding creative, a pushdown ad doesn’t overlay the site content but simply pushes it further down the page. For this reason, pushdown ads are typically placed at the top of the page.
  • Slider ads: A slider ad displays an image or video ad creative on the corner of the screen. However, unlike typical banner ads, the slider ad is designed to persist on the corner, following the user as they scroll up and down.
  • Video ads: While most rich media ads can display video creatives, video ads as a dedicated ad type are typically played in an in-stream format over video content. A common example of this type of ad includes creatives playing over a YouTube video.
  • VPAID: Video Played-Ad Interface Definition (VPAID) ads are similar to standard video ads and play in-stream. However, instead of being played on dedicated video-sharing platforms, VPAID ads play on integrated video players embedded on other websites, typically over regular video-based content.

Table of rich media ad formats and compatible types

Banner ads
Expanding ads
MDE ads
Interstitial ads
Lightbox ads
Pushdown ads
Video ads
Expanding ads
Interstitial ads
Slider ads
MDE ads

5 Critical Differences Between Rich Media and Standard Display Ad Formats

Rich media ads are among the most popular types of ads in today’s digital advertising landscape. They offer publishers, digital property owners, and advertisers numerous benefits and possibilities over standard display ads. Here are the top five differences between rich media ads and standard display ads.

1. More Room for Creativity

Per the IAB’s recommendations, standard display ads rarely exceed a total file size of 250 kilobytes. While the lightweight nature of such ads helps keep page load times low, the file size introduces many severe limitations on what standard display ads can do.

In contrast, rich media ads have a much higher file size limit. According to Google, the maximum file size of a rich media ad creative is 2.2 megabytes, corresponding to almost nine times more than a 250 kb display ad.

The higher file size limit compared to display ads gives advertisers and ad creative developers more room to create unique and engaging experiences. The higher limit also allows multiple files and elements to function, making it possible to create more complex ad creatives.

2. Interactivity and Engagement

Rich media ads allow advertisers and publishers to serve ads with a critical element that no other format offers: interactivity.

A typical example of a rich media ad using interactivity is the mobile interstitial, especially on mobile games and other highly interactive mobile apps. Many interactive interstitials offer viewers the possibility to play small snippets or examples of the game or app featured in the advertisement. This factor is crucial for boosting engagement, as it lets users get a “try it before you buy it” experience.

An interactive ad can turn an otherwise low-intent viewer into a high-intent one, significantly increasing the chances of a click-through or a conversion.

3. More Space for Branding

Traditional display ads are well-known for their limitations: not only is the actual ad size limited to relatively small form factors, but they also feature restrictions regarding file formats. For instance, a standard display ad was either static text in .html format or a static image, typically in .gif or .jpg format.

In contrast, rich media ads can function with virtually any multimedia file format, but most ad networks support large maximum display sizes. For example, Google supports rich media creatives up to 4096 x 4096 pixels.

The large display field and compatibility with virtually any multimedia format allow advertisers to create unique and complex branding experiences. A rich media ad can take advantage of dropdown menus, interactive elements such as buttons and clickables, expansion and retraction, audio features, or even host entire miniature games to retain the viewer’s attention and showcase product branding.

4. Higher Ad Visibility and Better Click-Through Rates

Many studies have shown that video content retains viewer attention more efficiently than text or static image-based content. Human brains process video content more quickly, resulting in higher information retention rates.

While these facts can explain the rise of video-sharing and streaming platforms, they also demonstrate why rich media ads taking advantage of audio and video elements have become the norm.

Viewers are more likely to see and engage with rich media ads and benefit from what the industry calls higher recall values: viewers remember rich media ads for longer periods. In turn, viewers interact more with these ads, resulting in significantly higher click-through rates (CTR). An Adform study has determined that rich media formats deliver 267% more CTR than standard banner ads.

5. Provides More Data and Insights

Building rich media ad creatives also gives advertisers and creative developers access to numerous additional data tracking and analysis avenues.

For example, rich media ads featuring video content can track the number of views, the percentage of viewers that saw the ad to the end, and the number of users that closed the ad manually, complete with an average time stamp.

The additional data can provide invaluable insights regarding the performance of your ad campaigns. It also provides more information than display ads can track regarding audience behavior, making it a more valuable tool for ad optimization.

Comparison Table

Key Feature
Image file types supported
Supported animated images
Supports video content
Supports audio content
Supports interactive content
Maximum file size
Creative formats
Analytics and data tracking
Rich media ads
200 to 250 kb
Click-through rates + additional channels based on media type
Standard display ads
.jpg, .gif, .png
2.2 Mb
Static only
Click-through rates only

What Makes Rich Media Ads Better than Other Ad Formats?

Rich media ads have the potential to offer a more complex, more engaging advertising experience to viewers. A well-developed rich media ad can take full advantage of dynamic multimedia content and interactivity to attract the viewer’s attention, boost engagement, and improve conversion rates.

The primary reason to use rich media ads over other formats is the possibility to perform far more functions than a standard display ad, which typically only redirects to the advertiser’s site. With the right developers, nearly any type of dynamic experience is possible in a rich media ad.

Related article: What is an Ad Unit

For example, video-based rich media ads are compatible with a complete analytics suite. Interactive ads can provide information to attract the viewer’s interest, such as an ad with individually clickable product descriptions. Some examples, such as mobile game ads, can even be playable and provide entertainment on their own.

Benefits and Advantages of Using Rich Media Ads and Formats for Advertisers

From the advertiser’s point of view, rich media ads present many benefits and advantages. If you are an advertiser considering rich media ads for your next campaign, here are the top benefits they offer over more traditional ad formats.

  • Viewers pay more attention. Most rich media ad formats are designed to attract the viewer’s eyes and ensure they see and experience the ad creative. Expanding, video, and pushdown ads are among the most effective formats for capturing viewer attention.
  • More interactions and better brand awareness. Well-designed rich media ads, especially those that employ interactive content, are more likely to receive viewer interactions. They are also more easily remembered and last longer in viewers’ minds, contributing to improved brand awareness.
  • Improved click-through and conversion rates. The primary objective of an ad is to entice the viewer to buy or convert. Rich media ads are more effective at getting viewers to click through and visit the advertiser’s site, resulting in more conversions.
  • Better analytics. Rich media ads can track far more analytics data points than standard display ads, providing advertisers with more information to adjust and optimize their campaigns.
  • Better user experience if well-designed. A typical rich media ad offers many benefits to the advertiser: they are more memorable, more efficient, and provide more data and insights. The best-performing are well-designed and respect the user’s experience, ensuring it doesn’t disturb or stop them from viewing the site or app’s main content. Better user experience increases the likelihood that viewers will retain a positive opinion of the ad, boosting the ad campaign’s effectiveness.

Disadvantages of Rich Media Ads

While rich media ads have become the norm today, they have not entirely replaced other ad formats. Advertisers must be fully aware of the potential drawbacks of using rich media ads to maximize their effectiveness.

  • Rich media ads are more complex. By their nature, rich media ads comprise far more parts and elements than static ads, all of which must work as intended to serve the ad creative. Developing a high-performance rich media ad requires extra quality assurance to ensure it functions correctly.
  • Rich media ads take more time to make. Dynamic and interactive content requires longer development times and a broader range of specialized skills than traditional static display ads. Most such ads also require more testing and optimization to get right. For instance, video ads require personnel specialized in video editing, whereas interactive ads require more complex programming.
  • Rich media ads cost more. The added complexity and development times translate into a significantly higher investment cost. While there are many advantages to using rich media ads, and the potential return on investment is significant, advertisers must manage their ad spending carefully.

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