A Creative Idea That Will Give Advertisers What They Want

Unlike the poetic poise tennis fans pay to watch emanate from Roger Federer or the brute force displayed by Rafa Nadal, when Jimmy Connors played tennis, fans paid to watch a street fight. That’s what Connors gave them every time he stepped onto the court.  Connors figured out that if he gave fans what they paid for, they left wanting more.

After advertisers pay for and run an online display advertising campaign -- be honest, are they really left with the feeling of wanting more?

Online display advertising is bought because advertisers know they have to do it, but are unsure why or what they are paying for.  We (as an industry) say online display ads “deliver branding” “create engagement” and “generate experiences” -- but these are the reasons “we want” to hear.  You rarely hear these reasons from the folks picking up the check.

If you ask an advertiser like Target why it spends $200K per day on search advertising, the answer will be simple: “It works.” Ask company strategists why they buy display ads online, and the answer is never that easy to define.



As an industry, we have to own the answer to the question -- what do advertisers want from display ads? --before we can leave them wanting more.  You’re not going to like this, but that answer is clicks – either within an ad unit or the more preferred traditional click-through.  Everything else adds ancillary value and is assumptive.  Clicks can be counted.  More important, clicks allow advertisers to show consumers the most expensive and interactive ad that advertiser has ever created: their website. 

Any doubts about this, just ask yourself realistically how hard it would it be to sell online display ads tomorrow if the ability to click on them were suddenly removed.  That may be what “we” want, but it’s certainly not what “they” want.  The removal of clicks (if you include search) would cause the entire industry to collapse.  The removal of brand awareness studies would have zero impact.

Compounding this problem, the burden of ad performance is grossly misplaced on the shoulders of publishers.  Publishers could never solve this problem on their own.  Buyers know this, but finger-pointing at publishers helps buyers gain more leverage to secure lower prices when ads “don’t perform.”  This creates a perverse scenario in which users see more of the ads they like the least, and advertisers have no incentive to invest in better creative.

The real culprit causing this online display malaise is online display creative, not the publishers running the ads.

This now becomes an easy fix.  Which ads do advertisers cheer for, the way fans cheered for Jimmy Connors?  Search ads.  Those ads get clicked.  Intent adjacencies driven by keywords is a part of that performance success, but the other part has to be the creative: those text links and thumbnails.

Is there something about those ads, as stark as they may appear, that makes users feel safe to click on them?  Is there a sense of trust that comes with knowing where users will end up after they click, and that this place has been pre-approved?  Search creative is like a green light.  Users feel safe and excited to proceed.

Display creative is like a red light.  Users are afraid to move forward.  Maybe it’s because we have trained them to fear what will happen.  Will clicking cause their content to shift out of sight?  Will even getting near that display ad cause the unit to expand and obfuscate the content they’re trying to read?  Will sound inadvertently blast through their speakers?  And if they do risk it and click, where will they be taken?  What will be taken from them?

If these fears exist, they can be easily removed.  Even in traditional display environments, advertisers should show users the ads they don’t fear clicking on: the search creative.   This ad creative, combined with impression data to help close this targeting gap left by a lack of keyword intent, will increase clicks on display ads considerably.  And for consumers, seeing search creative ubiquitously throughout their online experience isn’t as far-fetched as you may think.  When online users encounter a display ad on a publisher’s site, they’re likely either coming from a search or heading out to conduct one soon.

If this all sounds a whole lot like AdSense, then that proves my point, no?  AdSense appears to be making money and making advertisers happy.  The improvement here is that unlike Ad Sense, where the ads often appear in the dungeon of a page view or alongside two other advertisers inside the same ad box, these “search display” creative inside leader boards and rectangles would appear for a single advertiser, in prominent positions, with a much higher share of voice.

Advertisers can still run traditional display creative in those attention-grabbing roadblocks, welcome mats and skins.  They can still buy native ad programs and even those long and annoying video pre-rolls consumers are really learning to love (insert sarcasm here).  But now, in support of the overall campaign, instead of serving billions of display ad impressions with creative no one clicks on, run creative users are accustomed to clicking on -- and advertisers will be left wanting more.

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