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How to Effectively Use Advertising in Your Email Campaigns


Facebook ads. Twitter ads. Banner ads. LinkedIn ads. Instagram ads. The list could go on and on. But one type of advertising option that’s often not talked about?

Advertising in email.

Why would a brand want to use ads in their email? Is it strictly for monetary reasons? Can you tie it into your content initiatives? How can it tie into a multi-channel ad strategy?

We sat down with two industry experts—Jeff Kupietzky, CEO at PowerInbox, and Jason Kelly, President of LiveIntent, Inc.—to answer these questions and more. Check out their responses below, and discover best practices and use cases for incorporating ads into your email marketing campaigns.


*Note these following answers are the opinions of Jeff and Jason and not our own.

Why would a brand want to use ads in their email?

Jeff Kupietzky:
Placing third party, personalized content recommendations can add value in several ways. The most obvious benefit is that it can lead to an increase in monetization. However, it can also make the content in the email more interesting, dynamic, and relevant, leading to higher engagement overall.

In fact, many senders can blend their own content with third party content, boosting the overall relevance of the message for the user. Senders adopting this approach receive valuable information on what specific content end users are most interested in, which can be fed back into the editorial decisions for which content to create.

Because ads are a form of content and are optimized everyday, there is a rich source of information available to senders on what their users care about. Using a real-time system also allows for optimizing the content based on the user’s device, location and preferences.


Jason Kelly:
Everything else pales when compared to the email channel when it comes to ROI:

So, obviously, brands must have an email strategy in place. But, the innovation of putting ads in their email is still new to the market. So why should brand adopt putting ads in their email? Here are two reasons:

1. Revenue: An ad within an email that a brand sends can make an email marketing department even more of a profit center, and help fund innovations and staffing. For example, if the brand is fully utilizing its CRM capabilities, it can serve relevant marketing in emails received by people using data mapped from around the web.

Let’s say you’re a large hotel chain. You see that Tom Smith of Cleveland has booked a hotel room in Chicago for late October. In the receipt for that booking sent in an email by the hotel chain, the ad slot could be for the restaurant in the hotel, it could be for a local Movie Theater, etc. The email channel offers more opportunities for revenue than meets the eye.

Note: Transactional emails have different laws that govern them. Learn more.

2. Supporting the core business: A less obvious benefit is that ads in email sent by brands are actually in support of their core businesses. In other words, that ad unit might not be to provide advertising revenue, but instead to drive more long-term value from the customer.

In the scenario above, Tom Smith’s email from the hotel chain might include a marketing unit inside of it inviting Tom to sign up for a loyalty program in order to create a stronger bond with the hotel chain.

Are there any particular types of newsletters for which ads make the most sense? Or are ads in email useful for every sender?

Jeff Kupietzky:
Emails that are more informative such as shipping notifications, order confirmations, and news alerts are ideal for ad-use. They have minimal calls-to-action (CTAs) and recommended content is welcome. If you are sending an alert to a recipient about a package delivery or a birthday reminder or a change in a favorite stock—all those are ideal for adding additional content someone may be interested in.

Ads are also ideal for email newsletters that are very content-oriented. These tend to perform well since third-party content blends in with the rest of the content. In addition, even eCommerce offers can benefit from promotional content just as you would see in a circular in a newspaper.

Jason Kelly:
Email newsletters have truly come into their own, and we view ads as a valuable marketing and revenue source in almost any type of email. We see brands focusing less on the newsletter where their ad might appear, and instead understanding that they’re now able to focus on reaching the right people to see their content.

You see, email sits at the center of what the industry is calling the “Identity conversation.” There’s a lot of variation when it comes to nomenclature, but essentially, Identity is the means by which a platform recognizes a user across devices in order to serve the same person consistent marketing irrespective of device.

That’s the concept behind people-based marketing. So, the most important Identity-driven marketing tools are powered by the email address, since the email address isn’t just a place to send and receive email. It is the way we identify ourselves across devices and across platforms.

Basically, ads in email are useful for every sender because, using people-based marketing, the ads are always relevant. It’s no longer a “shot in the dark” strategy.

How does using ads in email fit in with a brand’s multi-channel advertising approach? What makes ads in emails different from other online ads?

Jeff Kupietzky:
Email has generally not been used as an advertising platform, so it represents a fresh new inventory for advertisers. It doesn’t suffer from ad fatigue the same ways other mediums, like the web, does.

In fact, the two most used applications across the whole internet are not Facebook and Twitter, but rather Apple Mail and Gmail. Advertisers are keen to communicate with prospects in the medium they are spending significant time in, which is email.

Email advertising is also not based on cookies—which may or may not be accurate depending on who is accessing the device. With email, advertising is targeted to a unique user using de-identified hashed email addresses, allowing content to be specific to the recipient.

Finally, email has the additional risk of ad fatigue as the same user will receive an email as frequently as once per day. The ads, therefore, can’t be the same content each day but need to be fresh and unique each and every open which leads to more interest from the user.

Jason Kelly:
People spend a whopping six hours a day in email! So, following the customer along their journey into one of their most heavily used channels is a must-have for any brand. The question is: how do you do it in a sophisticated way?

Email is an integral part of a multi-channel advertising approach, rather than a separate channel for it. Ads on the web are fraught with fraud, bots, and uncertain recipient and viewability. Ads within email can target just like display (age, gender, geolocation, category, device, day/time, browser, and leveraged with third party data) but with much higher standards.

In addition to the ads having high visibility in premium content, the very nature of the email address opens up new possibilities. Once customers onboard their anonymized offline data, some platforms can even provide attribution and measurement offline to close the loops on advertising-driven spend and create true return on advertising spend models.

That’s been the holy grail of digital advertising since its inception, and because of the people-based nature of the email address we can provide it. Think about this: 94% of purchases are still made in stores. CRM retargeting in email can bring the promise of people-based marketing to a new channel: by connecting offline sales to online marketing. That’s the power of email.

Can senders choose the specific advertisements that display in their emails? How can they ensure they’ll be relevant to their subscribers?

Jeff Kupietzky:
Senders have many tools to decide the type of ads, advertisers, and categories to be shown. They can set content by category and block categories they do not want to show. They can block specific keywords, titles or advertisers by name. They can also control the images themselves using the familiar movie rating with options from G to PG13.

The PowerInbox recommendation engine takes into account a number of real-time factors including the location, device, and time of open. In addition, we look at the newsletter category and segmentation for that audience. Most critical, we look at the individual users’ prior click behavior using a hashed identifier, so we don’t know the actual person, just that he or she is unique. With that information, the algorithm makes several recommendations for content and continuously learns and improves based on additional clicks.

Jason Kelly:
Every platform is different, but publishers within the LiveIntent platform can choose the specific advertisements that display in their emails by hand, however, most rely on our platform to serve the ads based on machine-learning and data-decisioning.

Machine-learning and data-decisioning ensure that the right ad is seen by the right person at the right time, leading to more revenue and success for publishers. In addition to the ability to sell their own inventory, we are able to drive programmatic demand from our partners at MediaMath, Trade Desk, Google, and many others enabling each impression to be monetized and targeted based on the consumers’ interest and intent.

Of course, controls and safeguards are stringent. Any platforms a publisher takes on should offer category blocking, allowlist and blocklist options, and strict review of all ads to make sure they meet quality guidelines.

How can a sender balance using ads in their email while not distracting from the non-ad content and CTAs in their campaign? How do you segregate ads from editorial content?

Jeff Kupietzky:
A sender can customize exactly the type, number and placements of their advertising based on their view of how best to optimize between paid clicks and the organic clicks. Some publishers prefer to use a background image to offset the advertising content, while others look to match the exact content of their newsletters.

With a service like PowerInbox you can customize the advertising to fit all use cases—whether standard display sizes or more like native content recommendations. We recommend testing both the type, number, and placements of your ads to optimize for the specific metrics you are looking for. Some clients want to focus on their own content and use advertising as additional revenue while others view the advertising as their primary objective.

Jason Kelly:
All publishers should carefully test their email templates and ensure that content engagement does not drop given certain ad placement. We have found that design can work in everyone’s favor. Here’s a report that shows the best templates for everyone: Email Templates that Delight & Deliver.

Publishers should be vehemently opposed to deceit and clickbait that power cheap clicks in the inbox and drive their subscribers to suboptimal experiences on other publishers. The subscriber is the most important asset a publisher has. By introducing an aspect of deceit, whether through a shady advertiser or a scammy clickbait link, you have put your relationship with the most important audience at stake.

How can you balance using advertisements without seeming too “spammy,” or too direct? How do you add value, even with your advertisements?

Jeff Kupietzky:
The advertising should always reflect what the user is most interested in. The best way to achieve this is to partner with a platform using a cost-per-click basis whereby advertising is only shown when it has proven to have received clicks. A system that ranks higher those pieces of content with more clicks will create an ongoing feedback loop between the content and the user. Senders should measure the overall metrics such as deliverability, unsubscribe rate, and overall click through rates to ensure the advertising content is in line with other content in the newsletter.

Jason Kelly:
The key to success in the email channel is being respectful of your users. Loading up a newsletter with ads that are clearly of low-quality and belong in the realm of spam do you no good. Publishers need to embrace brands and advertisers in the email channel committed to CRM retargeting.

Brands that embrace CRM retargeting are embracing intent. This means no ads for diet pills, fake native content, no get-rich-quick schemes, etc. Simply quality advertisers in the email channel who are not randomly going after users. They are using the CRM files that they have to help maintain the reputation of the publisher.

Do advertisements display in all email clients?

Jeff Kupietzky:
Even though each mail client renders content differently, ads can be optimized for each device, platform, and mail client. In fact, unique experiences like video, carousels, and pop-up windows can be introduced to those platforms which support them, with a static fallback on those platforms not supported.

Jason Kelly:
They do. Email is, fortuitously, inherently cross-device. Your email client works on a device, no matter what that device is.


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