May 8, 2024

Putting the CREATIVE back in ad creative

David Ogilvy: “If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.”

So many of us in the adtech/advertising space salute data as the the pivotal driver of successful online advertising. "It's all in the targeting!" is the rally cry, as we pump our ads out into the ether.

We’re wrong. But our misjudgment is forgivable; data-driven marketing is pretty much all we talk about right now. Everything we do is laboriously valuated on insights, metrics and measurement, but as we proceed to tighten our unshared focus on these, we lose our vision.

The digital space has forsaken the essence of great advertising: creativity. The creative planning that marketers got so good with other broadcast media, somehow bypassed the banner ad - and the fallout has been nothing more than tragic. In our drive for accuracy and authentication, we've thrown the (creative) baby out with the bath water. And on this road to creative oblivion, there’s little doubt that the 0.01% banner click rate will fall further.

But why is creativity so important when we can show the right product, at the right time, to the right individual? Surely that’s what it’s all about? The answer is no, and we should strongly reject any theory that these alone are the fundamentals of great online advertising.

The first argument against, is simply that your banner ads do not exist in isolation. As high-fives ripple through your team for each ‘relevant’ impression, remember the competitor out there, whose bare proposition looks all but the same – perhaps better. The only way to pack a punch in this landscape of competing prices and products, is for your banners to underline the singularity of your brand. Those impressions mean peanuts, unless you’ve executed a memorable concept with creative dexterity. Ideas, not data, will be the ultimate make-or-break of your digital presence.

The relevance of your ad does not pertain exclusively to product, place and price alone, but in fact flows as deep as the ad’s ability to harmonise with the types of imagery and messaging that consumers are exposed to more widely. Great banner ads are as rich as any premium content they sit alongside. Try to always think of them in this way – content rather than catalogue (we’re looking at you, retargeting ads!). They can be well-conceived, funny, smart, subtle, beautiful and so on. Publishers knowingly use headlines and images to draw readers to their editorial, and the same principles can be applied to your online advertising.

But, “Urgh, it’s such a small space to work with!” It sure is! Still, this shouldn’t get between your copywriters and designers and the collective strive for better ad creative. As a high-level gauge, the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, which were adapted to help assess the creativity of advertising offer ways to critique the level of creative innovation in your ads.

ORIGINALITY: Is your ad out of the ordinary or does it look like competitors’ ads?
FLEXIBILITY: Does your idea link your product to different uses or situations?
ELABORATION: Does it include unexpected details?
SYNTHESIS: Does it extend basic ideas and make them more engaging?
ARTISTIC VALUE: Are the visual or verbal elements well-conceived?

If you can’t lay claim to at least a couple of these, it’s probably a good shout to start over with your concept.

Once you’ve done your research (into trends and competition), and thereupon built up a stockpile of awesome ad copy and visuals, it’s time for our dear friend data to get those ads in front of the right eyeballs. With DCO, permutations of one ultimate concept can be targeted to the right person, at the right time, and so on, but the key is to have as many of these great alternatives as possible, so that you can target and test with profound depth.

It's a sad thing when the intelligence, adaptability and immediacy of the humble banner ad goes untouched. Just as OOH benefits from its size, and TV benefits from its complex narratives, the banner has a potential that can only be reached through canny, idea-driven creative.

The industry has been guilty of neglect towards its display advertising, but a little bit of love goes a long way with this channel. Regroup with your designers and copywriters. Don’t be afraid of the banner’s size – learn to work with a simplicity and self-discipline that elevate your brand rather than diluting it. Then, watch the click-rate escalate. High-fives all round.

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