Can't We All Do Justice to Digital Already?

Digital advertising has a problem. Viewers, by and large, ignore the ads they encounter online. What do you expect, when most of the ads are repurposed television spots? With all the engagement possibilities in digital technology -- many of which have yet to be explored in earnest -- advertisers and their agencies should be producing cutting-edge campaigns that push the limits of the medium. Instead, we get too much of the same.

There’s no better example of a creativity and conceptualization disconnect than in video advertising, where agencies are convinced that simply adding digital widgets on top of video enhances the brand message. I recently met with the agency of record for a major luxury brand, and when the conversation turned to the company's digital execution, I asked if the brand had plans beyond running basic pre-roll ads.

“We’re thinking about adding a location tracking widget on top of the video” was the reply. OK, that’s definitely possible. But how does a location tracking integration bolster the video’s message? Does it help the overarching idea and overall campaign? How does it help with the branding goal of driving consideration for the product? How does that widget urge a viewer to engage with the ad unit?



In this case, the location widget didn’t drive any of the goals. It was a superfluous digital addition, an instance where the brand and its agency felt they had to add something interactive, just for the sake of doing it. The location widget was low-hanging fruit but didn’t work in concert with the video to enhance the digital message. 

Digital creative helps brands connect with consumers, whether it’s in-stream video, on a smartphone or tablet, or in connected TV. Interactive features drive extra time spent with a brand message beyond the 15- or 30-second run time of the pre-roll ad. But the digital elements, be they weather widgets, location tracking, extra videos, or other new pieces of creative, have to support the original idea in a meaningful way. Digital offers plenty of creative possibilities, but the additions always have to work in tandem and drive the same campaign goals as the original piece of video.

Obviously that wasn’t happening with this particular client on this particular campaign, and this problem is widespread across the entire industry. Looking back at that fateful meeting, there are a few easy ways to recognize issues that lead to this creative mismatch.

Issue number one was that with 10 people in the room, only the creative director was talking. The entire creative team sat silent. Creative meetings should never, ever be silent! Where was the storm of ideas bouncing back and forth? Why was no one discussing possible ways to extend the creative, connect it with different channels, or build in technological elements that will actually amplify the existing video creative and help the ad stick out?  

The second issue, which may very well answer my previous question, was a clear lack of digital expertise on the team. It’s possible to put your TV spot online and call it a day, but effective digital advertising is about more than repurposing old creative. Placing the same television spot online is endemic throughout agencies right now, where media isn’t working with creative because creative directors raised in a traditional world aren’t quite grasping the digital landscape possibilities. To start adapting to the medium and pushing the digital envelope, agency creatives need to try the following three steps:

  • Bounce ideas off a developer: They’re pushing new ideas out all the time. Share your idea, pick their brain, and see if there’s a way to work your big idea into their new execution.
  • Bring all your ideas to the meeting: Every creative professional should enter every meeting with a slew of ideas, ready to set off a tornado that will revolutionize the creative landscape.
  • Dream the impossible: I’d rather enter a meeting where an agency has potentially impossible ideas than one where they have no ideas. There’s a strong chance that not every idea will even help drive the campaign goals. But when there is a line of ideas running from media agency to creative to developer, we can evolve ideas so that they work, or even provide new takes that haven’t been thought of before.

Digital advertising is most exciting when the creative agency takes the time to come up with inventive and noteworthy creative executions. Forays into digital can be translations of print or TV advertising, but they can also be about much more, combining sight, sound and motion with interactive elements, giving the consumer a unique experience, rather than just another video ad view.

3 comments about "Can't We All Do Justice to Digital Already?".
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  1. Patrick Fitzgerald from Straight Face Productions, August 1, 2012 at 4:33 p.m.

    The media consumption experience between TV and Digital is fundamentally different. TV viewing is a passive experience. The "on demand" ethos of the digital viewer is active and engaged. They choose what they watch and when they watch it. They will reward you with their attention and will share your content among their networks too; if you provide quality, engaging content. Traditional content models cannot efficiently deliver content on the scale required; crowdsource production offers brands access to scaleable creative resources without overhead; which translates to substantial cost savings.

  2. David Hawthorne from HCI LearningWorks, August 2, 2012 at 10:47 a.m.

    Online advertisers have to totally rethink the game. Face it, regardless of what you think, users come to the web "purpose driven." The damn adds interrupt the pursuit of that purpose. They don't inform, they don't help, they clutter. I'm as inclined to leave a site and look elsewhere the moment the damn spots starts to roll. You want my time and attention? Earn it! Be respectful of my "purpose." Why 30-seconds? How about, "Skip this Ad and print discount coupon instead?" and let that happen in the background as the 'consumer' is actually spending time accomplishing his immediate purpose. How might a consumer respond if after month or a day, she had $1's worth of 'coupons' invested in your product or service? Wake up!

  3. Doug Garnett from Atomic Direct, August 2, 2012 at 6:21 p.m.

    David's "purpose driven" is 100% accurate. And the reality is that when we're "active and engaged" by our web activity, it's probably the LEAST effective time to receive advertising messages. Part of the reason TV works is it hits us when we're relaxed and open - able to hear about new things that interest us. That absolutely ain't true on the web.

    AND it gets worse. TV aggregates audiences - brings people together so we can reach large numbers. But the web inherently fragments the audiences - shatters them into minuscule pieces. That shattering fundamentally limits the web's ability to deliver large power. Web advertising activity is great - but it delivers a power of 10 where TV delivers the power of 100.

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