Inferno: A Guide to Field Experiments in Online Display Advertising

46 Pages Posted: 15 May 2020 Last revised: 19 Jul 2022

Date Written: July 18, 2022


Online display advertising is a hostile medium for field experiments. Display-ad effects are tiny and necessitate large-scale experiments. The experimenter has limited control because ad exposure is jointly determined by advertisers, users, algorithms, and market competition. As such, online display ads provide useful lessons for experimenters at the frontier of digital research more generally. Display-ad experiments place renewed focus on old topics like statistical power and compliance as well as on newer issues like identity fragmentation, experimental spillovers, and incrementality optimization. In this guide, I review these challenges, best practices, and new developments.

Keywords: field experiments, advertising effectiveness, digital advertising

JEL Classification: C93, M37

Suggested Citation

Johnson, Garrett, Inferno: A Guide to Field Experiments in Online Display Advertising (July 18, 2022). Available at SSRN: or

Garrett Johnson (Contact Author)

Questrom School of Business ( email )

595 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
United States
6173534677 (Phone)


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