AASA 2021 Virtual NCE Google Responsive Display Ads

Work for hire for the School Superintendents Association (AASA) by Lara Lee while employed at CSG Creative with permission for Lara Lee to display for self-promotion.


AASA, The School Superintendents Association, launched its first-ever virtual National Conference on Education (NCE) since the event started 153 years ago. It was also the first year we did animated advertising for them.

The annual NCE conference targets attracts around 3,000 superintendents in public education each year. This year, the conference theme is, “Social Emotional Learning Focusing on the Total Child.” Of course, a 2021 Virtual NCE key topic is social emotional learning, but also: schools re-opening/digital learning, trauma informed learning, schooling for resilience, effective management, equity, and more.

Since the AASA 2021 Virtual NCE is primarily a digital event, its advertising pushed digital marketing methods as well. I executed a lot of its digital art production, including:

to help promote the virtual event. However, I want to focus on the Google responsive display ads (RDAs) here and working around their 20% Text Rule.

My Role

Digital Designer


CSG Creative

By the Numbers

Unique Google
Responsive Display Ads
0 %
Text Rule Applies
to Ad Layouts
0 +
Total Impressions between Google Responsive Display Ad Campaigns
. 0 %
mean CTR between Google Responsive Display Ad Campaigns

Applying the 20% Text Rule to My Web Ad Design

My agency began marketing using Google’s new Responsive Display Ads (RDAs) in January 2020.

Although Facebook dropped its infamous “20% text rule” around September 2020, Google RDAs did not. Google RDAs retained the 20% text or less requirement instead.

My web ad designs must adhere to the 20% text rule. However, Google specs lacked the transparency for how it calculated what counts in that 20%, unlike Facebook.

On one hand, Facebook published an online testing tool for designers to confirm their ads pass without ad reach penalties. I understood Facebook quite literally conducted a grid scan of the ad, permitting text (or monoline icons!) to appear in only 5 cells of this invisible 5×5 table before reducing ad range.

On the other hand, Google was less forthcoming. There was no such Google tool. Additionally, online news and blogs shared no further insights.

I ultimately applied the same 5×5 invisible table technique from Facebook ads onto Google RDAs. I felt this ensured Google would reward my clients’ digital ad campaigns with great ad reach. Sure enough, all the ads I submitted to my agency’s Digital Ad Manager passed Google’s test.

Hover to reveal the 20% text grid.

Setting Up InDesign for 20% Text or Less

I approached designing Google responsive display ads the same way I used to do for Facebook: an invisible 5×5 table.

First, I created my InDesign document with a second layer above the ad and stored my table there. Next, I drew a 5×5 table covering the full size of the ad. I then marked off its borders with the same magenta InDesign uses to indicate margins—I can’t miss it. Finally, I checked the table object’s “Non-Printing” attribute.

As a result, the table shows when I’m editing but automatically disappears when I export. (I also use the non-printing technique to mark off safe areas in social media profile and cover graphics, like ACS’s Spring Meeting 2021 Social Media Graphics.)

Hover to reveal the grids. Text occupies 5 cells are less—meeting the 20% text rule.

Getting Creative with Copy Placement

My agency’s clients tend to prefer a lot of copy in their web ads. A lot. However, 20% text is not a lot. I therefore needed to strategically place copy in ways that both Google accepted and that provided a lot fo impact nevertheless. Additionally, the remaining 80% of whitespace could not look like dead space, or I would weaken the overall visual impact of the whole ad. Fortunately, large, oversize graphics never fail!

Cart abandonment campaigns also used Google responsive display ads with a longer message than many of the other RDA graphics. 1200x628 shown.

All My Google Responsive Display Ads

A final total of 24x responsive display ads promoted the 2021 conference. Google’s smart algorithm then mixes-and-matches the graphics with different copy, layouts, and CTAs to best appeal to the target audiences.