The Elephant in The Room: A 'Creative Stimulus' Plan
I agree with Rosenberg that the advertiser/agencies' top job is to create effective creative. We wonder - among other things -- why an advertiser would run the same creative on Weather.com as on ESPN.com. Content publishers have responded to the capabilities of the Internet with innumerable varieties of content. In specific interest areas where there were once four magazines, there are now 40 content, community, and blog sites, all with a different point of view and environment. Why wouldn't that trend to specialize apply to the world of advertising creative?
This raises a critical point of strategy and tactics for publishers and advertisers in this most accountable of media. Let's consider ROE -- or Return on Effort. Great efforts have been made to increase ROI on media spending with greater targeting. But there is a bigger return just waiting to be tapped: publishers need to urge advertisers/agencies to provide better-adapted ad creative, tailored to the content environment in which it appears.
Optimizing ad creative
Lame creative is the elephant in the room. No publisher or salesperson wants to criticize the agencies that are placing business with them. But experts who see a lot of creative tested know that far greater lift in results can be had from improved creative than from "optimized" media targeting. And a great way to optimize creative is to tailor it to each audience.
Bad advertising is everywhere, and mediocre advertising is commonplace. And on the Internet we can easily measure the result. But is an advertising agency going to tell its client, "Our ads are50% less effective than our competitors"? No they'll say "It's the publication's fault. We're working hard to negotiate for better targeting, pricing and optimization."
Steve Greenberger, former head of print at Mediacom, founded Creative Diagnostics, for just this reason. The big gains are to be had from better creative.
Smart advertisers know that the total value of the advertising is not encompassed by the click-through itself. They know there is a brand-building effect for advertising run in trusted editorial environments. But they also suspect that the CTR is an indication of how well their ads are working. So we can assert the relative CTR vs. competitors is an indicator of relative effectiveness of the creative, other things (size, position etc.) being equal.
In this information age, information is the weapon to counteract this situation. Publishers have collected the click-through-rate for all the advertising on their site stored in their ad-serving systems. Of course the CTR for any given advertiser is confidential to that advertiser. But the publisher can easily point out to an advertiser that a particular piece of creative is underperforming the average for its size and position. And leading publishers with the greatest databases of past advertising can help create clarity for their advertisers by comparing CTRs for one advertiser against the average for other advertisers in their category; a travel advertiser leaderboard against the travel leaderboard average, or even more specific hotel vs. the hotel average.
This strategy appropriately directs the advertisers' attention to the greatest ROE: where the greatest improved results lie; improving creative to be better than the competition's. And this approach puts publishers where they want to be: in service of the advertiser rather than in opposition.
When a publisher adds value by reporting comparative results to its advertisers, it allows the publisher to concentrate on helping the advertiser make their advertising more valuable, and the publisher's inventory more valuable rather than reacting to advertiser disappointment with lower prices.
Would a car advertiser like to know how the CTRs on its leaderboards compared to the CTRs on leaderboards of the average automotive advertiser? You bet. Would more versions of creative, specific to various interest groups and site environments, drive better results? If course. Let's do our part for the economic stimulus, by initiating a "Creative Stimulus" plan to show advertisers and agencies why they should hire more creative talent. The ROE from better-adapted creative will lead directly to ROI.