Amazon Sponsored Display – The New Frontier in 2021

Sponsored Display is a campaign type that is after a few false starts, finally here to stay. When they say “Amazon PPC” what most people mean is Sponsored Products or the increasingly feature-rich Sponsored Brands. But as of late 2020, the Sponsored Display campaign type has the full weight of Amazon behind it and is now feasible to use on a larger scale.

Amazon Sponsored Display – The New Frontier in 2021

What are Sponsored Display Campaigns?

thanksgiving celebrate GIF by Amazon


They are a display ad type created inside of Advertising Console yet they show up both ON and OFF Amazon

Sponsored Display campaigns are created inside of Amazon’s advertising console, AKA seller central. What sets them apart from the usual sponsored products and sponsored brands is that they show up in ad inventory both on and off of the Amazon marketplace. 

Sponsored Display ads may also show up on other websites, like the New York times, IMDB, Twitch.tv or other websites that either have ad distribution agreements with Amazon (or are actually owned by Amazon.)

The retail-aware version of display advertising inventory shared with ADSP

These are also what Amazon likes to call retail aware ads. Much like sponsored products, if your product is out of stock or you lose the buy box, then that ad shuts off. It benefits from a built-in intelligence where it won’t spend your money if Amazon knows you can’t make a sale. 

Compare and contrast this to how ADSP (Amazon Demand Side Platform) functions, which will continue to run despite changes to inventory or buybox ownership.

Both are display advertising and even share inventory, but this is a difference that makes SD more suitable for a wider number of advertisers.

Product Display Ads = Sponsored Display?

Which One Thumbs Up GIF by Originals

This campaign type used to exist on the Amazon Marketing Services platform which also no longer exists as everything has been merged into this Advertising Console.

Having the word “display” in their name was about where the similarities end. These ads could be used effectively but never at any great scale unless you took extreme measures to build hundreds of them.

Are product display ads the same as Sponsored Display? No, they’re totally different. With product display ads you could only target one ASIN at a time, but with a Sponsored Display, you can target many of your products simultaneously.

You couldn’t do any targeting by lifestyle or in-market or custom audience segments . There was also no useful reporting which is not the case with Sponsored Display. 

Product display ads = dead. Long live sponsored display ads. 

Some types of audience targeting SD are charged on a CPM (cost per 1,000 impressions), not CPC (cost per click) basis.

The last notable difference is that some of the targeting types available within display ads are charged on a CPM, not a CPC basis. Let’s say you bid a dollar and you beat someone else’s bid at 90 cents. You pay 91 cents, right?

You’d beat their bid because you were willing to pay more for that ad slot.

With CPM, you’re not paying based on clicks. What you’re saying instead is, “I will pay this much for a thousand impressions” understanding that impressions are what you’re paying for instead of clicks, and that’s how CPM works.

This is the first time CPM bidding has been used in an Advertising Console campaign type.

Use Sponsored Display Campaigns to expand your marketing funnel to reach shoppers at different points in their journey on and off Amazon.

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According to Amazon, it takes 6 or 7 days for shoppers to make a purchase after their first search. With Sponsored Display campaigns, you’re looking up the funnel and expanding your marketing efforts. What we’re used to with Amazon, specifically with sponsored products and sponsored brands, is looking at keywords and ASINs. 

But with Sponsored Display, the strategy behind these campaigns is to be put in front of the right shoppers based on their buying signals and demographics.

As an example, someone might be signaling that they’re shopping for running shoes. 

These shoppers that are looking around at many different versions of running shoes, like Adidas or Nike, are considered someone who’s “in the market” for running shoes. They haven’t looked at your particular brand or searched your keyword, but they’re in the market. 

So that would be considered a shopping signal rather than a direct query and that is where Amazon is trying to move with Sponsored Display. They’re trying to get into that space and move up the funnel. 

That also ties into the newest feature in Sponsored Display: remarketing. We’ll examine remarketing later in this article because it’s one of the most interesting types of targeting currently available in sponsored display. 

ACoS % still a consideration, but requires a different mindset with Sponsored Display

Advertising cost of sale, that almighty percentage, is still a consideration for Sponsored Display but in some targeting types, it’s more advantageous to focus on other metrics as your main KPIs such as how many impressions were earned, the click through rate, detail page views and what categories and shoppers we’re reaching rather than just thinking about it only from a single percentage metric. 

When it comes to display advertising, the whole story is not told by just money in money out. You’re reaching people at different stages of their shopping journey so you’re not necessarily doing it for the immediate click and sale.

That’s the job of sponsored products or sponsored brands campaigns further down the funnel.

Who can use Sponsored Display right now?

It’s available in Canada, The U.S. and most of European markets. 

What Targeting is available?

There are two different kinds for Sponsored Display. 

  • Product Targeting with either Categories or  Individual Products
    • Good for defensive efforts, competitor pages and cross-selling between items in your catalog
    • Good for targeting wide swaths of shoppers in a category with the ability to refine

For example, when someone is shopping on Amazon in the Home Storage & Organization sub-category and you target them based on that category they may see your ad. These shoppers  aren’t necessarily looking at your particular product but are actively shopping in that same category. 

An important point to remember here is that you’re not targeting  keywords shoppers are entering into the search box but rather behaviors they are exhibiting.

  • Views remarketing with either Category or Product targeting  
    • Good for reaching back out to shoppers who have already visited your detail page or similar pages
    • In the case of Category targeting, reaching shoppers who have viewed pages inside a specific category. 

Views remarketing is the newest feature Amazon has released and shares a lot of DNA with ADSP. If shoppers have looked at your detail page in the past 30 days and haven’t purchased, you can put display ads in front of those people. There is no ability to retarget shoppers who viewed detail pages of specific ASINs outside of those in your catalog.

This feature is really exciting because retargeting is such a great way to basically recoup your earlier investment.

Since you’ve worked hard to get shoppers to your page, why not show them an ad again to get them to return and make a purchase if they didn’t the first time?

The similar pages feature (keep in mind, ‘similar’ is defined by Amazon) allows you to get your ads in front of shoppers who have viewed similar pages.  These  shoppers  haven’t  yet made a purchase but are shopping around, looking at competitor products. 

This screenshot I included here is a refinement window at the category level.

So the example I have is automotive air fresheners.

You can refine it by brand, or pricing range (ie. Appear in front of products for competitors that are between $15 and $30 if your product is $20) or if you want to show up based on star rating. 

With star rating, you can show up in front of competitors that have three stars or less because their product offer may be inferior to yours and your product might have 4.5 star ratings.

You can refine by shipping options too, specifically Prime shipping eligibility.

These are products to target. Notice here at the top individual products:

  • You can go and you can choose any of those products to target. 
  • You can search for a product. 
  • You can enter a list of ASINs. 

Within our client accounts , we maintain a list of competitor products that we’ve identified using a set of criteria or different tools and we’ll target those systematically. 

Target by categories which is the other one that just allows you to target the whole category. 

That could be hundreds of products depending on how big the category is. So you can easily get a lot of scale with this very quickly. Another point to mention is that you can look at different categories that are related to your product. 

For example,  a company that’s selling coloring books may find it useful to show up in front of  shoppers who are looking at coloring pencils, crayons and other coloring supplies which are highly relevant to a company selling a coloring book. 

Where do they show up on Amazon?

Imagine you’re on an Amazon product page and you’re scrolling down scoping out the product for a purchase. In the image above you’ll see that there is an ad below the bullet points and an ad below the buy box.

These two placements are known as product page middle and product page right. They are both slots that can display a Sponsored Display ad through any of the targeting options. This can be part of a defensive or offensive strategy.

The next set of examples are considered to be the most visible of all the Sponsored Display ads because it is at the very top. This is called Amazon top stripe. This shows up between the search box and the actual product itself.

This is a very prominent position to be placed. (The second image is the same top stripe but on mobile.)

Where does Sponsored Display (SD) fit into your strategy? 

So you understand how to target with it, what it is, and you’ve seen some of the ads now. But where does it fit? 

Most targeting is designed to pull in top and mid-funnel traffic vs bottom funnel

This campaign type is Amazon’s first venture into targeting the top and mid funnel traffic from inside of Advertising Console. If you imagine your typical sales funnel, at the top you have awareness, then consideration, then purchase, and then loyalty. 

Typically when we’re talking about advertising on Amazon, we’re addressing  the purchase and loyalty parts of the funnel. We’re not addressing the awareness and consideration stages.

Sponsored Display is meant to address the middle on the top part of the funnel. 

Do not expect to spend huge amounts of money on SD

season 6 money GIF

In its current form Sponsored Display should be no more than 10-15% of your total budget for Amazon-internal advertising  Most of your spend should probably still go into sponsored products and sponsored brand campaigns.

As new features are released and attribution is improved there may be more reason to spend on Sponsored Display.

Keep in mind that your main goal with Sponsored Display is to reach customers at a different part of the sales funnel. 

  • Defensive targeting on your own ASINs and offensive to hit competitor ASINs
  • Views retargeting allows you to reach customers who’ve already invested money or effort to get on your page

An advantage of being among the first movers on this campaign type is that it’s underutilized.

As always with Amazon, new features are generally cheaper to run so as an agency, we take these opportunities to test and take advantage of these lower rates when  there’s not as much competition on it.

What are some best practices when using Sponsored Display?

Always use custom creative and write ad copy tailored to each situation

That means using your brand logo, writing your headline, and your copy. It’s 50 characters max so this is not a large task. Make sure that that ad copy is tailored to the situation.

So if you’re targeting a competitor who has a higher price, try to allude to your competitive edge in your copy. Whether you are more competitively priced, how yours has a feature that there’s lacks or you have more features. . 

Whatever it might be, make sure you have created a custom creative. You won’t be eligible for placement in all ad slots unless you have a custom creative so you ad will show in less places and be less effective. 

This is just the example of the simple creative builder on Amazon. If you check this box at the top here, and then you put in your logo and you put in your headline, this is what your ads will look like in the custom creative. 

“When in doubt, break it out”

Properly segmenting efforts at the campaign level for budget and visibility reasons is recommended. For example, create different campaigns for advertised products and similar to advertised product Views when using retargeting. 

If you have different targeting types, build them into separate campaigns or separate ad groups at minimum. You can target people who have seen your page and people who have seen similar pages but you don’t want to combine those two audiences. 

This is a best practice that will take more time to set up, but that upfront investment in structure will make it easier to budget, understand results and optimize. 

Keep budgets low and bids high to test and gather data – watch them carefully

With SD, there’s no minimum spend. However we typically keep our budgets pretty low, between $25-40 a day. Then we will set high bids to gather data quickly and  test. Then we adjust the bids based on performance goals. 

Okay, it sounds too good to be true (some of the cons…)

Only basic reports available in Advertising Console

There are only basic reports available for the SD campaign type, and those were very recently added. . Data is also available through the API but it also provides no insight on how SD ad impact other ad types on the platform.

What we would like to see with Sponsored Display in the future are  metrics that tie Sponsored Display and other campaign types together allow advertisers to get  a full picture of how your advertising has affected your sales. This would include “assist” metrics.

We also don’t know where ads are actually being displayed, including off-Amazon placements. . 

No Search Term or Target-level information available, no negatives

Performance has not been consistent even amongst products in the same account

We’ve had situations where we set up Sponsored Display for one product and it does great. But then we’ll do it for a similar product in  the same exact account and just won’t reach performance goals.

Because the reporting is still in its infancy, we do not have the tools  to determine if the targeting was different, if we can change the placement  options, etc.. We hope these issues will be addressed in a future update. 

You must have Brand Registry to use

You must have Brand Registry in order to run Sponsored Display. For brands in the EU, the good news is that the IP accelerator program has recently become available. This allows you to work with certified law firms or law resources to get your brand registry sorted out on Amazon quickly. 

The future of Sponsored Display (Predictions)

cyber animation GIF by tverd

Further audience segments offering ‘lifestyle’ and ‘in-market’ options

We believe we’re going to get more lifestyle and in market options. So what is lifestyle? Lifestyle could be “pickup truck owners” (a big market in America). In-market would be people who are whose shopping behaviors indicate they are interested in a particular product category. 

These features already exist in Amazon’s other display advertising platform Amazon DSP and we believe they will migrate these features into Sponsored Display in the future. 

More creative customization options and formats including video


Overall, we believe there will be more creative customizations. These include lifestyle images, video, or .Gifs (moving images). All these new creative options will come to Sponsored Display eventually. 

Ability to fine-tune targeting by ‘demographics (gender, age, etc.)

In the future we believe we’re going to have the ability to fine-tune your targeting by demographic. Being able to target people, let’s say men between the ages of 30 and 45, living in a specific region, we can optimize your ads to be sent to the right shoppers.

Reporting capability to see and influence what ad inventory you are appearing in


We believe that this feature will be implemented sooner or later because with the current reporting features, it’s not possible to make any data driven or intelligent optimization decisions.

In conclusion, Sponsored Display is a great new feature Amazon has rolled out. If you’ve read this far, congratulations! You should be able to go into your account and set up these campaigns right away like a pro. 

Especially for retargeting or category targeting, it’s another avenue to reach warm or hot audiences that still have your product top of mind. We’ll keep this post updated as new features are released in 2021 so come back later to learn more!

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