When Brilliant Creative Misses The Mark

Picture a fabulous, brilliantly produced rich-media execution -- chock full of immersive, engaging functionality, eye-catching design and a powerful call to action. Now consider the fate of the campaign that employs this execution. Should it speak to an audience other than the one who will ultimately purchase the product advertised?

There is no shortage of campaigns running rampantly across the Internet that fail to successfully marry media to creative, or product to audience.

 Are we losing sight of simple but vital "marketing common sense" in the digital age?

 Example #1 DIY Creative

Often, when clients "do it themselves," they don't invest the time needed to step back and fully absorb the big picture of what they are crafting and how it will be received by the intended audience. In some cases, clients aren't even fully committed to or aware of whom that audience is. Undoubtedly, this likens the task of developing compelling, actionable creative for the right audience to a "shot in the dark." 

Another common creative mistake occurs when clients think of themselves as the intended customer. And while they may be consumers of their own product, it is unlikely that they singularly represent the most optimal target audience for that product.

 Example #2: Application (More Focus on the Message, Less Debate Over the Medium)

Media success (or failure) is all about application. Too often I see companies blaming the obvious shortcomings of their execution (creative, follow-through, planning) on the medium. In reality, no matter what medium is used, a poor creative or one targeted to the wrong audience is destined to disappoint.

The possibility that a creative may be speaking to the wrong consumer is one that often goes unconsidered. If there isn't a connection between your visual and the most qualified customer for your product, your best efforts and media planning will prove unsuccessful and the end result will be no different than if you had placed your product's messaging before the wrong audience.

Consider this (real) example: A university whose primary customer is someone looking to advance his/her education beyond the bachelor's or master's degree level, i.e. post-graduate focus.

The campaign's initial batch of creative targeted the general public and, more specifically, individuals who were interested in pursuing a degree (that is, any degree, not specifically a post-graduate degree).

Initially, the campaign looked like a great success -- the media generated hundreds of leads. The only problem was that the campaign generated the wrong type of leads -- only a small percentage actually had a qualified interest in the product being supplied.

It wasn't until the creative was modified to include the statement: "advance your education" that the quality of leads generated by the campaign better suited the intended customer: one simple modification, dramatically different results. 

To run a successful campaign using online display (or any advertising medium for that matter) you require an accurate definition of your audience, and knowledge of how to communicate with them effectively through your creative. You also require a well thought-through process that considers and optimizes all user touch points. 

Is Technology to Blame for Creative Complacency?

Optimization is a remarkable tool, especially as applied across a large network of sites. Optimization can determine where a campaign is working and, equally important, where it is not. These insights can be factored into real time placement decisions that maximize user response to messaging based on intelligence derived during the optimization process.

Despite this, optimization cannot, as the saying goes, turn water into wine. Inputs to the optimization process need to be well-structured and appropriate. No matter what optimization prowess is behind the placement of a campaign, a creative designed for the wrong target audience will encounter great difficulty performing; a creative that doesn't allow a user to intuitively click, isn't going to engage; and a campaign that directs clicks to a slow-loading or confusing landing page, isn't going to convert. 

Some Advice...

Here are some basic but practical tips for making sure your creative doesn't miss the mark.

Is your creative legible and focused? Is there fair balance between the visual and messaging components of your ad? Assume the role of "ad viewer" - how will your target audience interact with the creative and how do they use the ad medium (i.e. web)? What will be their state of mind at the time of ad delivery and how might this affect their receptivity to your message?

Are you trying to get too much done in one creative? Consider multiple creative for multiple target audiences or product variants. With the internet and its advanced optimization technology, the concept of A-B testing can be taken to a whole new degree. And don't forget to track, track, track.

Get an outsider's opinion and be open to constructive feedback. Sometimes clients get so close to their work that they miss the most obvious shortcomings. That's why editors and QA specialists exist! Consider bouncing your ideas and creative off a trusted source who may be able to provide a more objective perspective on what you've developed.

2 comments about "When Brilliant Creative Misses The Mark".
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  1. Jan Zlotnick from the zlotnick group, November 16, 2009 at 6:21 p.m.

    Thanks, Julia. It's amazing that even one creative doodle on a bar napkin would be made without everyone involved -- not just creative -- being unified in excitement about a singularly focused, remarkably distinctive brand/product story to be told and exactly who that story is intended to reach -- and be retold by. And you're right, it happens all the time. Fixing this seems as futile as public service ads that so cluelessly seem to preach to the choir instead of really, really understand and reach the target, who left the choir long ago. Yes, digital work is rampant with evidence of this, but my favorite all-time offender are outdoor boards. Outdoor, mile after bloody mile, see to be the, well, poster child, for creative that is signed off on and placed with virtually no idea of target, human behavior, and environment. Another one for me are the booths at events, like the one I just attended for Adtech at the Javitts Center in New York. It would be funny if it weren't so sad...and ROI-hostile. GOT AN IDEA TO FIX THIS: Get media and creative and strategy and client in one room, and don't allow any brilliant creative doodling until you come out of that room on same page on your What, Why, Who, and Where's.

  2. Nancy Brinson from University of Texas at Austin, November 17, 2009 at 8:35 a.m.

    Thanks for pointing out what should be obvious (but is often overlooked) when analyzing campaign results or developing new strategies. I agree with Jan Zlotnick that the key is to get everyone in the same room to ensure that the creative and media strategies complement one other.

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