Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Yes, your ad looks boring! Why are we still not putting creativity first?

These articles have been written by the latest cohort of the Practice Makes UnPerfect programme – a course that helps women find and finesse their public voices.

By Sophie Anthony, Business Director at Azerion UK. 

It’s no secret that in recent years we’ve seen dazzling, award-winning creativity in digital advertising dwindle, in favour of hyper-targeted data strategies, efficiency-driving and over-measurement of traditional ‘spreadsheet KPIs’, all underpinned by programmatic activation.

Sir John Hegarty of BBH agrees, famously claiming that technology and data were leading to a “creative deficit“, arguing those working in campaign activation get distracted by the technology and forget to focus on what the technology can actually deliver; the output that the end user sees.

Having sold digital creative solutions over the past decade, I’ve seen how quickly what starts out as a brilliant creative concept can be reduced down to a standard display ad, something with a fraction of the original ‘wow factor’, in order to drive immediate ROI, reduce costs, hit certain numerical benchmarks, and be activated within a programmatic DSP.

The introduction of the ‘Coalition for Better Ads’ several years ago hasn’t helped. Whilst it makes sense to produce less disruptive ads resulting in a more positive user experience, it has forced many digital creatives to become more pared back, less ‘all singing all dancing’ versions of their predecessors. The by-product of this, along with our industry’s obsession with short term results and programmatic activations, has led to many online creatives looking templated, incredibly similar, and yep, I said it… boring. 

This can only be harmful for brand building. In the current climate advertisers need meaningful messaging, they need to be seen to be making a positive impact and most importantly of all they need to be establishing trust and rapport with the consumer on the receiving end. How can they expect to do that when their ad looks like everyone else’s?! A boring ad will undeniably have a negative effect on an advertiser’s brand health, even if it does, on paper, ‘perform’ well. 

Just because we can measure these metrics, does it mean we should at the extent that we are? What’s the point in measuring the performance of a campaign in this way when what ultimately matters is whether it’s achieved better offline, real-world business results for a brand? After all, what does a 0.4% CTR really mean, when even Google themselves have said that 50% of all clicks on online ads are accidental? 

The Drum recently reported that “too often the measurement of marketing and campaign effectiveness is determined by ease of access performance metrics and not strategic KPIs. It’s time for marketers to take a step back, look holistically and challenge old habits”.  At Azerion we provide quantitative and qualitative pre-campaign technology to ensure the creative we produce is as meaningful (and therefore as noticeable and memorable) as possible to a brand’s specific target audience. As a result, we rely less on hyper-targeted data strategies and programmatic tech to pinpoint audiences which can limit reach and prevent exceptional creatives from reaching the end user. 

When we used our technology in this way for a well known drinks brand, we asked the target audience what contexts they’d be most receptive to seeing advertising in, how often they purchase this particular drink, what would encourage them to purchase more, and what messaging they’d need to see within the ad in order to consider making a purchase. These invaluable insights enabled us to produce formats that the audience actually wanted to see. When it came to measuring the campaign’s success, instead of relying on CTR or viewability, we implemented Lumen’s attention technology to quantify the impact the campaign had in terms of attention and more importantly perceptions of the brand. 

Using these insight technologies strategically to inform the creative process and delivery led to brand perception significantly improving (+22%) and attention increasing by nearly 480%. I think we can all agree that these are far more useful and informative results to advertisers compared to a viewability score or a CTR. 

This shows that digital technologies can be used positively to inform and ultimately boost creatives ahead of them even being built so that they stand out, perform better and provide the best long term ROI for advertisers. They can be used in such a way as to maximise a brand’s strategic performance, instead of reducing creatives down to the size of an MPU. It’s all about how we use them. 

It’s down to us all to continue to move away from short-termism and help advertisers understand they need to focus on rebuilding brand health after a tough few years. The only way to achieve this is to invest in brand through creative builds that are truly unique, convey the right messaging and look super slick. We also need to look at new ways of defining ‘performance’ or ‘success’ and realise that brands need to perform at every part of the purchase funnel. Creativity sits at the very heart of how well a brand connects with its audience, so metrics such as attention, awareness and intent to purchase should be viewed as key performance indicators too. 

Whatever happens next, it will be fascinating to look back in a few years time to see what changes we’ve implemented as an industry to ensure we bring the very best creatives back to online advertising. Will we come to use technology to supercharge our creatives and rely on it less to measure success via hygiene factors? Only time will tell but here’s hoping that dazzling creativity returns, supercharged and underpinned by new technologies.