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  • Nancy Soulliard

The strategy behind the design and photography in digital ads

Exploring digital ad design through Messiah University's esports program digital ads

Advertising shifted to digital over the past few years and the pandemic really pushed the needle towards broader digital advertising. Many of the publications we previously published ads in changed schedules or formats back in March of 2020. We shifted our design paradigms to match the faster turnaround needed for the broader range of online ads promoting virtual visits, academic programs and new initiatives.

My team and I create digital ad sets of about 10 different sizes - square, leaderboard and skyscraper shapes to name a few. With this variety of sizes, I’ve needed to create a flexible design style that maintains brand consistency. To make our digital ad creation faster and more easily animated, we turned to (now We established strong templates within the system so all designers can create consistently branded ads.

Elements to always include in a digital ad template

  1. Logo, name and branding. This is a given. It tells the viewer exactly who we are and begins the connection with them. It is bold and the first element seen when reading top to bottom or left to right. These e-sports ads connect to our athletics branding rather than our official Messiah University brand since it is a program within the athletics department of the university. The navy blue you see in the ads is one of our primary brand colors. The same fonts are used throughout our prospective student marketing. We use borders on our ads to clearly delineate them from web content.

  2. The value proposition. Why do we want the viewer to interact with us? In this case, we want the prospective student to explore our new e-sports program and consider joining us to compete. The flexible text expands on this and gives more detail on secondary slides in some of the larger ads.

  3. A call to action. If they’re interested, this is how they can engage with the ad. This is accomplished with the Learn More button. It takes them to the webpage at

  4. Relevant, simple imagery. We use strong photography showing a variety of students and mentors in settings relevant to the subject. Simpler images with one or two people work much better than complicated imagery with a lot going on in the background. Simple, focused photography allows the message to stand out.

Esports began as a new program in 2019 at Messiah University with a new competition and practice space. Once the program was underway and the space was branded, we needed creative photography to make this new program distinctive. This is where Eric Forberger came in and created imagery that really makes these ads stand out. We planned shots with creative lighting to specifically fit the variety of ad sizes showing students in a variety of typical situations. The photography was also used in many prospective student marketing pieces and in our alumni magazine, The Bridge, in the fall.

An added challenge for the photo shoot was that this was all shot during the pandemic in the fall of 2020. Our models wore masks, removed them for a few moments when we shot, then replaced them as we set up the next shots. They were set six feet apart with the exception of roommates. Since roommates were already around each other for a significant amount of time, they were permitted to be closer and unmasked. We adapted and worked within the new normal to create the perfect photos to get students engaged and interested in this unique program.

To see the full breadth of esports digital ads, visit For more digital ad examples, see Messiah University's academic ads and see anew brand ads.

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