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In Online Advertising, Creative Counts

  |  October 29, 2009   |  Comments

Media buyers must become equal partners with online ad designers. Here's why.

This column has covered a wide variety of topics in the nearly eight years that I've been writing it. Some themes are directly relevant to those working within the media buying industry -- new ad units, pricing strategies, and targeting techniques, to name a few. Others, such as viral marketing campaigns, social media marketing, and banner ad design, play a somewhat more peripheral role. It's important for buyers to stay abreast of major developments within these adjunct arenas. But since they don't actually involve the exchange of ad dollars for inventory, they shouldn't be quite as top of mind when you're planning your buys.

Or should they?

Results of a Dynamic Logic study released last week reveal that ad creative is more central to campaign effectiveness than many digital marketers give it credit for -- in some ways proving to be even more vital to brand metrics than ad targeting and placement decisions. That's a bold statement for a buyer to accept, but Dynamic Logic's analysis of the highest and lowest performing banners of some 170,000 ads suggests that certain design elements can positively impact brand favorability and purchase intent.

To help marketers avoid scenarios where "poor" banner ad design can undo the hard work that buyers have done with regard to site selection, placement, targeting, etc., Dynamic Logic has compiled a list of creative best practices. Among them are such suggestions as prominently highlighting the brand logo on all banner frames, avoiding "reveal" ads that require the user to view the ad in completion in order to identify the advertiser, and favoring "human imagery," such as people's faces over inanimate products.

Of course, it makes sense that better ad creative will produce better campaign results. But if the industry is so aware of this fact, then why do poorly designed banners routinely make it into our campaigns? One reason may be inexperience on the part of agency ad designers. To reduce creative costs, many full-service shops assign banner design and development to their in-house Web developers; hey, if they can build a complex 3-D animated Web experience, surely they can throw together a banner advertising a retail sales promotion. What these agencies fail to realize is that banners belong to a Web culture all their own. A designer may be able to easily grasp the technical requirements associated with designing an ad, but that doesn't provide him with any enlightenment on the banner's rich and sordid history with consumers, the context within which the ad will be displayed, the nuances of effective and ineffective executions, or the industry-specific tactics that can increase success.

But we can't blame it all on designers -- media planners and buyers have to own up to their responsibilities as well. These professionals possess a unique understanding of ad creative, being exposed to countless executions and working in close proximity to campaign reports from which they can glean invaluable knowledge about what works and what doesn't.

If you're lucky enough to work for an agency that involves its media team in creative ad design, then you have the power to influence the process. If the first you see of the banners you'll be using in your client's campaign is when they arrive in your inbox, or the creative is routinely developed by the advertiser or farmed out to a partner shop, it's up to you to proactively assess it and pursue any necessary changes. It isn't just the campaign's success but your reputation as a buyer that's on the line. Because when it comes time to demonstrate campaign effectiveness, it's much easier to point the finger at something like site placement than it is to prove that the absence of a human face in the creative was responsible for the campaign's demise.

If you've been following the increased usage of the Online Publishers Association's new larger ad units, which are now popping up on a weekly basis, you're probably wondering how Dynamic Logic's recommendations apply to these and other more elaborate banners. Although such advice as including no more than two key messages in a banner may seem inapplicable to more sophisticated units like the XXL Box and the popular expendable ad (which can contain numerous messages and calls to action), most of the best practices can be incorporated into fixed panel and pushdown ads, as well as those units that include video. In fact, coupled with the "shock value" of the OPA's units, Dynamic Logic's suggestions may help these banners to reach superstar status, and possibly boost display spending in the months and years to come.

Somewhere along the way, online ad creative lost the level of respect that it rightly deserves. It's high time that we all start seeing it as an equal partner in the media buying process.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tessa Wegert

Tessa Wegert is a business reporter and former media strategist specializing in digital. In addition to writing for ClickZ since 2002, she has contributed to such publications as USA Today, Marketing Magazine, Mashable, and The Globe and Mail. Tessa manages marketing and communications for Enlighten, one of the first full-service digital marketing strategy agencies servicing such brands as Bioré, Food Network, illy, and Hunter Douglas. She has been working in online media since 1999.

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