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Best practices for developing compelling digital creative

Being a digital marketing professional, I spend a huge amount of time “optimizing” advertising campaigns. With the ability to track a multitude of metrics that translate to advertising performance, I’m constantly making tweaks to my clients’ campaigns. Oftentimes this involves shifting spending between different placements or targeting techniques. I’m a big proponent of using past performance as an indicator of future results (practical for a marketer but depressing as a Bills fan).

With this ability to make changes on the fly, however, we often lose sight of the most important factor that determines the effectiveness of our advertising initiatives: the creative. Our industry has fallen in love with targeting, technology and measurement. We are quick to summarize the results of a campaign with tables and graphs, forgetting that winning over the hearts and minds of an audience and affecting brand perception can only happen as a result of engaging visuals and messaging that makes a connection.

According to a study from digital advertising research group Dynamic Logic, the quality of the creative is 50 percent to 75 percent responsible for campaign success or failure. This is an important factor to note in an industry that obsesses over targeting and placements when measuring and optimizing banner and video advertising.

If you’re still reading this column, you’re probably wondering how someone could be hired to write a marketing column that makes the ho-hum proclamation: “Creative is an important factor for successful advertising.” It’s important to note because, as Dynamic Logic points out, a large percentage of digital creative falls short of its potential.

There are a number of factors that contribute to digital creative falling short of the mark. One factor is the often limited ad formats that advertisers need to use in order to fit into the cookie-cutter ad positions used by the majority of ad-supported websites. These ad formats still have file size limitations that have been in place since back when picking up the phone in the other room kicked you off the Internet (kids: ask your parents if you don’t believe me). Even as high-speed Internet and better technology have increased the ability to run multiple formats like video and rich media, the large number of sizes and versions needed to scale the message often leads to the designer building ads with the lowest common denominator in mind. 

The most prevalent issue, especially when analyzing regional advertisements, is the lack of knowledge around building creative that fits the medium. A lot of digital ads use the tried and true formats of print or television and repurpose these formats for the Web. While many designers have spent decades cutting their teeth creating advertisements suited for traditional channels, digital is a very different medium.

Here are some best practices for developing and designing better-performing digital creative:

  •  Keep the brand logo present at all times. Despite what many creative directors wish to be the case, Web users don’t view animated banner advertising as a television spot. You have a short window of time to grab their attention, and it won’t always be at the beginning of the animation. If your company’s logo or the product name is not featured throughout the animation, you risk paying for views that don’t provide any awareness.
  •  Make every second count. As mentioned above, many viewers won’t watch your banner through the entire animation. Rather than use the copy to tell a story, make sure that each “frame” conveys a message that is coherent and meaningful.
  •  Teasers and reveals don’t work online. Seems like I shouldn’t even have to include this one, but I’ve seen it so many times I feel obligated to bring it up. Viewers aren’t hanging on your every word, so get right to the point. In the Dynamic Logic study, 1 out of 20 top performing ads in the CPG category used a reveal format. In contrast, 17 out of 20 bottom performers used it. (Video and highly entertaining ads can be exceptions to this rule.)
  •  Stay simple. Don’t try to convey more than two messages. Copy-heavy ads tend to underperform for awareness.
  •  Use people. This goes back to the early days of print. We know that people imagery draws the viewer’s eye and connects with the audience.
  •  Use a strong call to action. How many ads have you seen that ask you to “click here” or “learn more”? No thanks, I’m busy. Besides, what’s in it for me? That’s the question every marketer needs to consider when determining the call to action.

While campaign optimization will always be an important part of running digital advertising, targeting and placements are only the delivery system. Improvements to the delivery system won’t matter if the creative sucks.

Karl Heberger is chief media strategist at Mason Digital, a full-service digital marketing firm.

8/28/15 (c) 2015 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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