Four of the best brains in display advertising say it’s a format that has plenty of heart — and that it will continually improve its ability to resonate with customers, creating a bond as well as a click. OMMA’S Carrie Cummings gets Neal Mohan, vice president, display advertising, Google; Dean Harris, managing partner, Silvermine Marketing; Corey Gottlieb, managing parter, Targeted Social; and Ekapat Chareonlarp, vice president, IDG TechNetwork talking about display’s soft spot.
What is the one display ad that
sticks out most in your mind?
Neal Mohan: We recently worked on a project with Avis to create a series of mobile and banner ads that can take any customer service experience you share with them and within seconds, dynamically create a personalized animated video of your story, which you can then post or share with friends. The cool thing about this execution is that the technology behind it is incredibly complicated. With millions of Avis customers, the ad has to account for every possible story and item that someone could possibly write about, including names, things, places, etc. The input is analyzed through structured data and story scenarios. With all of the potential combinations of variables accounted for, this ad can produce 1,024 possible videos. So no matter what a customer has to say, there is a unique video for everyone. But the customer doesn’t see all this technology — they just see their story, seamlessly, within seconds, and it looks and sounds like it was created in a studio. That ad, I think, hints at the possibilities of what display can be.
Dean Harris: The American Express Open Campaign for ‘Small Business Gets Its Own Day’ was brilliant. Branding a day and then associating it with local businesses made me feel good, made me think of American Express and did an excellent job on Facebook generating real likes (more than 2 million).
Corey Gottlieb: Nothing really jumps to mind.
Ekapat Chareonlarp: Hardchorus campaign by Puma.
Will display ever evoke emotion in users? When? How?
NM: Yes. I am a firm believer that display ads can, and will, spark emotional responses from users. As an example of how this might come to pass, we recently conducted an experiment called Project Re: Brief where we took four classic campaigns — some of the most loved campaigns of all time — and worked with the advertising legends that originated them to bring them to life for the digital age. What we learned in doing this is that good storytelling transcends medium. For example, one of the campaigns we “Re: Briefed” was Coca-Cola’s “Hilltop,” the iconic television ad with young people from around the world singing, “I’d like to buy the world a Coke...” The idea for the campaign, then and now, was that Coke can be a way to connect people. So for the new campaign, we created banner ads that actually allow you to send a stranger on the other side of the world a Coke, along with a message. We documented some of the responses, and let me tell you, this campaign absolutely triggered emotional responses from the people that experienced it.
DH: There’s no reason that display cannot evoke emotion. A good idea is a good idea regardless of the medium, and if emotion is a crucial part of the sell, powerful words and images in display can do the emotional heavy lifting. This statement is as true for brand ads as it is in direct response ads. Great creative and a well-crafted selling message will stand out regardless of where it is placed. With all of the clutter in display, rich media and video seem to be the best ways to gain attention.
CG: It’s difficult to evoke emotions with a static ad or Flash without sound which is the default. So, we will never say never, but the odds are stacked against display developing a deep emotional connection.
EC: Yes. For a long time, display has become more like a guy handing out flyers on the street than a storyteller as it was meant to be. As part of the industry, we have put metrics to measure how many flyers we get out on the street rather than metrics around user experience and how the story connects with users. I see this changing as rich media becomes a standard for the display business. More beautiful content, more relevant and more pleasant experiences are being introduced via display in unique ways. iab’s Rising Star units marks the era where display gets smarter and more beautiful and begins taking advantage of more human senses rather than just visual (sound, interaction, etc). With digital video replacing tv (Netflix, ted, Hulu), I would say in about five years, we will see more display/video ads become more effective in connecting brand emotions with users and having standardized ways to measure it.
What would you tell a creative team designing for display?
NM: I think sometimes the temptation in digital advertising is to start with the technology and build the creative around what the technology can do. We’ve found it can be far more powerful to start with the creative, then figure out how the technology can bring that vision to life. So I would tell creative teams to dream big and bring the technologists into the conversation early. That’s how we’ll end up with more big, groundbreaking campaigns that will dazzle users.
DH: A creative team designing for display knows that the advertising is inherently interactive. So ads designed for that back-and-forth interaction is crucial. Motivating a creative team in digital requires a deep understanding of the brand especially buyer behavior. Also, it’s clear that the best creative product comes from an environment that is fun. In my experience, fun always works better than fear regardless of the enormity of the task or the severity of the deadlines.
CG: First rule of thumb is an eye-catching image. Usually close-ups of people smiling and happy, interacting with the brand. Messaging must be clear and concise.
EC: They must think outside of the ad boxes. Be aware of the surrounding environments where the ads are placed. Work with the media team to craft out a “creative driven” media plan that helps connect with the right audience, the right place and the right time. (Data advertising will help a lot here.) Fight back the old conversion metrics and think about connecting one user at a time to brand stories.
Aside from display, what ads have resonated most with you emotionally and why? It doesn’t matter how old it is.
NM: The ad that immediately comes to mind is Apple’s “1984.” I’m sure this is on many people’s top 10 lists, but I actually like it because of what the creative was able to accomplish. They took a technological concept that at the time was fairly obscure — the personal computer — and brought it to life in a way that was incredibly real and emotionally powerful. There are so many reasons to praise this ad; the artistry is amazing. But for me, the real magic was that it single-handedly redefined our relationship with technology.
As a more recent example, I also have to confess I love our own “Dear Sophie” ad because I have a new baby girl at home myself.
DH: This may be a popular choice, but I love the Apple campaign and believe it has been a major reason Apple now is one of the most valuable companies in the world. What is wonderful about Apple’s work is that it’s a true campaign; something that marks and distinguishes the brand on an enduring basis. What has been remarkable is how Apple uses this campaign as a lever to introduce new products into the marketplace.
CG: The power of a 30-second video done well probably has generated the most and deepest emotional connections, while print ads certainly have been responsible over the years for quick humor or even recall. On the print side, I still remember a campaign for j&b scotch around the holidays that read “ingle ells, ingle ells, what would the world be without j&b.” It was so simple yet so memorable and created a holiday connection to family with a background image.
EC: In the past 10 years, I find myself spending more time on digital devices than other types of media. My content consumption pattern is no longer scheduled (perhaps except event broadcasting such as the Super Bowl, Olympics, etc). Living in the suburbs and commuting to Manhattan, I find that the best time to connect is during the commute and not at home where we try to enforce more time “screen free” moments, really to enhance quality time with the kids. Digital ads have done the best job there.
Do you think there is a possibility of evoking that level of emotion in video display ads, without sound? If not, how do you get a consumer to click through?
NM: The history of media and advertising has shown us that images can be incredibly powerful: think of glossy, impactful ads in magazines, for example. We’ve also found that rich media campaigns with strong imagery can be incredibly successful. Airbnb, for instance, ran a display campaign showing gorgeous photos of some of its most exotic properties, resulting in a 120 percent increase in branded searches. So yes, video can definitely succeed on this front.
DH: Running online video without sound is like running a silent television spot. It’s possible that the visuals alone can convey your message, but this is far from ideal. In addition, many people think that a video without sound is a mistake or a misguided attempt to get a view without the full sight, sound and motion experience. Getting a click-through requires an inherent respect for the consumer, and soundless online video does not meet this standard. That being said a soundless online video is worth something, but far less than a user-initiated video with sound.
CG: Sound is a very important part of the storytelling where the goal is to evoke emotion. So, if that is part of the direction of the ad, I would recommend ad units that do have sound and more of a one-to-one experience that perhaps resides in the social space, so it can be shared and go viral. Ads that do not have volume clearly need to be able to draw your eyes in the first five seconds and compel you to want to see more with volume.
Which publishers are offering the most innovative ad solutions?
NM: The multiscreen opportunity for publishers is huge. We’ve seen across our own network that integrated campaigns that reach consumers across all the different screens in their lives (tvs, pcs, mobile phones and tablets) are incredibly effective. For example, a study conducted by Google and Nielsen found that users that were exposed to a multiscreen Volvo campaign had a 24 percent higher brand recall than those who viewed the ads on tv alone. With results like this, the ad dollars are sure to follow. The most innovative publishers today are the ones who are thinking about how to create those types of cross-screen opportunities and capture that spend.
DH: Mad props to Google for its YouTube sponsored original content channels. What an excellent investment in the future of online video. I am certain that some of these shows will migrate to television and will become meaningful stand-alone media properties.
EC: IDG TechNetwork formed the Tech Media Lab over a year ago to assist the display market with new technologies. Its main goal is to transform display advertising into “audience driven” solutions for marketers. Carefully crafting out of each solution by applying audience insights and environment architecture intelligence (type of tech environment such as php, html, html5, type of surrounding content such as forum, review, article, blog, etc.) Tech Media Lab introduces new display products that help solve real business problems. A couple of our award-winning innovations: The Nanosite (display + microsite) is a product designed to reduce the complexity of microsite and landing-page marketing.
The Navigant (display + search) is another great product that allows marketers to reduce costs of intent based marketing initiatives through search and display. A marketer who tries to have a decent share of voice on most popular keywords like “tablet” or “cloud computing” will have to spend a significant amount of money to bid for it. With Navigant, we allow marketers to “own” those keywords across our network of 450 sites at a fraction of the cost. We target users who have visited our sites and search for specific terms (tablet, cloud, Apple, etc). Then, our Navigant display unit provides a personalized search experience serving up content that is relevant to the term they are searching. Users are presented with a completely customized search experience based on what they are searching. For consumer sites, the Navigant unit pulls search results for articles, how to, review, video, social content, and everything is organized neatly into tabs. For business technology sites, users will be presented with articles, white papers, Webinars, videos, etc. This has been proven to significantly lift engagement over standard display.