The multi-screen era of digital media consumption is so firmly entrenched that it's almost old news. Except it's not. It's a phenomenon that arose and spread quickly, engendering unconscious habits in the way we interact with the various connected devices we have at our disposal every day. And since advertising supports a large majority of online content, any discussion of digital advertising today would be remiss if it didn't include how ads adapt to the screens that users view and interact with them on.

Since a multi-screen campaign forces advertisers to focus on users rather than devices, it's important to keep all the necessary execution details in mind to make for a robust, seamless experience for users.

1. Layouts responsive to the most common dimensions and aspect ratios

At least currently, there are three primary device form factors: computer (desktop or laptop), tablet, and smartphone. Within each are a fairly wide range of aspect ratios and sizes. Some screens display 4:3 video content better; some can more readily handle HD 16:9. Some smartphones tout exceptionally high pixel density, but screen dimensions still limit how small fonts can be and still be readable. Some larger ad formats will not play well with the content they're juxtaposed with on smaller screens.

The solution is to take a responsive approach: build a set of ads that can recognize to dimensional constraints and serve up content that fits them. Much of the browser environment details can be teased out by the ad server, which can serve up different creatives based on specified size breakpoints. Many creatives can be created to serve broad device classes, but phablets and small netbooks are blurring the lines.

2. Leveraging device functionality

As ad creatives need to be made available for varying screen sizes, they should also capitalize on specific device functionality. Smartphones are often used on the run, so ads that utilize GPS and maps could be particularly useful to users as they navigate street and sidewalk traffic.  Phones and tablets often have front-facing cameras, enabling some fun "photo booth" types of interactions. "Click to call" calls to action can be helpful for placing reservations and requesting information on phone ads.

3. Consistent ad experience across screens

Although different screen sizes and available native functionality can seemingly give license to an infinite array of ad experiences, marketers should also strive to construct consistent (if not identical) experiences across the devices users are connecting with. Color schemes, messaging, and salient graphic representations should be recognizably similar so that a user hopping from device to device experiences an unwavering brand message.

4. Backups

iOS is famous for not supporting Flash. Firefox doesn't include Webkit layout engine, making HTML5 executions not render properly. Other forms of content and functionality that require downloads and add-ons are difficult to rely on when computers could have security restrictions preventing their installation.

So it's always a good idea to have a contingency plan, which, until (if?) browsers standardize these sorts of things, will require fallback files. This can mean Flash backups for HTML5 ads, and static banners for Flash. Advertisers don't want to pay for impressions that users can't see or that can't interact with in their intended way. 


While it may require tinkering with process in order to effectively transform digital advertising from a desktop-only focus to a multi-screen one, the impact is well worth the effort. Smartphone and tablet usage continue to skyrocket, and yet people are not yet abandoning their computers. For some fascinating insights into the way consumers interact online across devices, check out Google's deck on the new multi-screen world.