Technology Drives Change, But It's Still All About the Message

The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.  -- Albert Einstein

Advertising has always been a creative endeavor.   Back in the days of J. Walter Thompson, advertising was shaped by a client's communication objectives and budget, but was always molded into effective communication by someone charged with the creative execution.

Times have changed in the past 130+ years.  There are many more ways to advertise (than the religious magazines J. Walter ran ads in), many more formats (radio, video, Flash), and precision for ad placement has vastly improved (from sandwich boards on a sidewalk to the behavioral, contextual and geographic targeting we see today).

No doubt technology has played a significant role as a driver of change for advertising (the first television ad was broadcast in 1941).

Online video advertising is poised to be the next driver of change in advertising.  The ability to run high quality video online, target them to the right audience, measure the ads' effectiveness in more meaningful ways (beyond the click), and make changes on the fly in response to performance data is an amazing leap forward.

Change in whatever technology form it comes in, however, is not the source of creativity; nor is it what ultimately drives video ad effectiveness -- it's just an enabler.

We're often asked what makes for an effective online video ad.  We analyze and measure impacts on engagement rate and exposure based on play mode, length of video, initial thumbnails, actionable overlays -- but time and time again, it comes down to what's the message, how well the "story" is told, and what the offer is.

We have seen repurposed 30-second commercials drive high engagement rates (views, clicks, lead requests, replays, etc.) and high brand exposure.  We've also seen 100% custom video ads perform poorly on those same measures.  The reasons are driven not by the length or video format but by the message: when the value proposition and the "ask" are clear, the video ad performs better.  

If an advertiser wants to drive more clicks to their site, just being in video won't do it.   When advertisers add promotional overlays and call to actions that give the viewer a reason to click, the likelihood of the desired action goes up dramatically.  In short, online video advertising or any technology, for that matter, can't solve the problems of  ill-defined communication objectives or poor creative.

J. Walter Thompson was THE enabler for changing the publishing world back in 1877.  He executed on an idea to convince reluctant magazine publishers to diversify their revenue models from subscription and newsstand and start selling advertising in their magazines. The publishing world has never been the same.

But J Walter Thompson and JWT are known more for their work with Lux Soap, Maxwell House, Nestle or Ford and for pioneering the creative strategy around  "hard-sell"  advertising that focused on the "reason-why" approach with a clear value proposition and, often, promotion that connected with the consumer.   In short, they innovated  how to get the message right.

And at the end of the day, effective advertising is really all about the message.

5 comments about "Technology Drives Change, But It's Still All About the Message".
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  1. Steve Pike from pikemarketing, April 6, 2009 at 7:42 p.m.

    Effective advertising may still be about the message. However, marketing communication is no longer about advertising, ie pushing a message towards a target audience. Modern marketing communication seeks to engage the audience, to provoke interaction with the brand and even to facilitate consumer-to-consumer interaction. Because the media is changing, the message is changing.

  2. Alan Schulman from SapientNitro, April 6, 2009 at 8:39 p.m.


    Great Post! Very true....It's all about the Poetry....not the Plumbing.

  3. Scott Broomfield from Veeple, Inc., April 6, 2009 at 9:03 p.m.


    Couldn't agree more. Marshall McLuhan said it right in 1964 when he said 'the medium is the message' and today's medium is online video. But one must keep in mind that video is simply a means to an end and that end is to better tell one's story and engage one's audience. And whatever you do, do not link the video message with the video ad, as they are not the same thing. Most people we talk with at Veeple don't even what ads in their videos. The video is the message and putting an ad in it takes away from the message.

  4. Tommy Liu from Supercool Creative, April 7, 2009 at 4:47 p.m.

    The message is definitely important, but one must figure out the best method to optimally reach audiences as well whether it's through creativity or format. You can have a great message expressed through top creativity, but if you don't properly seed the video and get it out to the public it's almost pointless. It's an elaborate game this online video business, but I'm always up for a good game.

    Supercool Creative> blog>

  5. Christopher Payne-taylor from sAY-So, April 8, 2009 at 7:29 a.m.

    Actually, effective advertising is about more than the "message." It's about the quality of branding behind that message. The efficacy of a brand goes well beyond how the "story" is told, and what the offer is.

    Coca-Cola, for instance, has spent millions of dollars creating just the shade of red to render the color coding of its iconic identity. It is a key piece of a very broad and intelligent strategy to ensure the Coke brand itself does the heavy lifting, transcending any "message" that a particular campaign may employ.

    Which leaves the medium as the last car in the train. Marshall McLuhan was dead-bang wrong. The medium is not the message, no matter how labyrinthan or socially networked it might get.

    It is still essentially a "dumb pipe," through which brand and advertising creative is fed. Taking a page from the food service success of McDonalds, the consumer really doesn't care how the advertising gets to them (as long as it is reasonably fast and efficient); they just respond (or not) to how tasty it is when it gets there.

    Christopher Payne-Taylor | Andover, MA

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