Commentary

Are Digital Marketers Stuck In Creative Adolescence?

Interactive advertising is in an awkward period right now, seemingly stuck between two creative eras. It’s almost as if digital is in its gawky teenage years.

The simple childhood days of static banners are over, but the industry can’t embrace its adult, dynamic creative self quickly enough. Brands experiment cautiously, but remain afraid to commit to a different way of delivering their message, giving the brands, agencies, publishers and partners that love them fits of teenage angst.

Advertisers are still lukewarm on much of digital advertising, preferring to spend the big bucks outside of digital as they look for real results and big volume. The logic they use is backwards.

A single TV commercial carries far greater risk of either miscommunicating or missing its target audience, theoretically resulting in the exorbitant price of broadcast production and media as a wasted investment. Traditional TV, even with the greater cost, is still safe and somewhat predictable simply because it has been implemented and reliably -- even if loosely -- tracked for decades.

After years of cutting and pasting the same creative across digital and traditional channels, dynamic is hard to trust. There isn’t anything wrong with pragmatic experimentation, as testing new concepts and placements is a necessary part of any informed plan.

The problem arises when advertisers are overloaded and even intimidated by the choices before them. Rather than double down on a winning hand, they feel compelled to parse out minimum bets for another slate of tests.

Very little traditional media is action-oriented. Instead, it leverages long, broad exposures that play on each other, allowing brands to build recognition through constant exposure and slowly adjusted messaging, taglines, and graphical elements thrown at users in various states of passivity.

Digital is inherently actionable and measurable, so unlike TV, small digital tests with low volume over short periods generate data. But similar to TV, these tests don't effectively leverage or contribute to any kind of diversified brand presence online.

Digital can drive to action, but only performs as well as the offer or messaging within the creative. Like TV, this is relative to the overall brand impact across all media. Very little in advertising can truly succeed with the limitations most brands place on digital. Ultimately, it takes real commitment to deliver real impact.

So how do advertisers shake themselves out of this fickle teenage cycle of testing and spending in splinters, and tip the scales toward a grown-up winning creative digital strategy?

Digital success requires well-choreographed TV-like volume to generate big results. High-value hyper-targeted online media is too great to resist, but it falls short if the creative doesn’t rise to meet the amazing volume and variation potential of the Internet.

As device and environment usage patterns change, so must the featured advertising mechanisms. Mobile ads are evolving to capitalize on multiple ways people use the same device.

Sometimes it’s a search device, a navigation system used on the road, a TV, or a private messenger used while watching a big screen. Each use-case warrants an appropriate engagement strategy.

Brands will need to match creative to these parameters to determine the effectiveness of every campaign. Commitment to a longer, larger campaign will create a broader exposure that contributes to the overall brand impact, both on- and offline.

The beginnings of the new dynamic digital era are already visible. New products in the social channel allow bolder, more interactive, responsive and respectful creative executions on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr.

Once the industry sorts out Flash and HTML5, and reluctantly embraces the inevitable post-cookie world, advertisers will hopefully have enough standardization to grow up and lead the way to a new creative era. A time when all media work together, but each ad execution – and its creative components – take full advantage of the chosen medium and user moment.

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1 comment about "Are Digital Marketers Stuck In Creative Adolescence?".
  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc , June 13, 2014 at 11:51 a.m.
    You raise some very interesting points, David. One of the reasons why so many branding advertisers are wedded to conventional forms of TV is their belief---born of decades of pre-testing commercials and reading the results ----that they have a very good handle on what works and what doesn't. Unfortunately these advertisers have never applied the same disciplines to radio and print media. As a result, no matter what the audience studies, CPMs, and other relevant quantitative data tells them, they have no ad impact benchmarks to guide them for these media. Not surprisingly, they are afraid to take chances with major shifts of ad dollars away from TV. It's just too risky. Now that the digital option includes the use of TV-style ad messages advertisers will begin to develop the kinds of testing and result-monitoring systems that have guided their TV campaigns. I'm pretty sure of that. It will take time to determine exactly which metrics---or combinations of metrics- offer the best insights and it behooves digital ad sellers to get in on the ground floor as this process unfolds so they know how their medium is being evaluated. Their knowledge and ability to analyze user data could also be very helpful, giving advertisers a leg up in terms of choosing the right metrics and interpreting the findings.