Inferno: A Guide to Field Experiments in Online Display Advertising

30 Pages Posted: 15 May 2020

Date Written: April 20, 2020


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 new issues like identity fragmentation and market spillovers. In this guide, we review challenges and best practices in this setting. New developments employ frontier econometric methods including causal machine learning and continuous-time modeling of dynamic treatment effects.

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 (April 20, 2020). 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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