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Why I Love Online Badvertising

  |  September 28, 2004   |  Comments

How to create really bad online ads in only five easy steps.

If you've ever been asked to serve as a judge for an online creative show or competition, take appropriate precautions immediately. Find one of those rubber stress-reducing balls, put the nearest intern in a headlock for a noogie session, or secure all windows above the second floor. Whatever it takes to keep you from loosing your cool. You're about experience that nightmare induced from viewing page after page of (insert Boris Karloff organ theme)... Bad Online Creative.

I'm in the midst of reviewing entries for a fairly large and prestigious awards competition. After spending seven hours reviewing and scoring entries, I'm feeling a bit deflated. I can't believe after eight years, online creativity hasn't risen to a higher level.

Sure, there are celebrated examples of genius work, but a mere handful each year. Yes, bandwidth limitations make it difficult to deliver effective content. But when's the last time you were in Starbucks and overheard someone say, "Man, did you see that cool ad on the Yahoo's home page yesterday?"

Let's be honest. As we say here in Texas, "It's time to 'fess up." The overall level of online creativity stinks.

What does the state of online creativity have to do with a successful media strategy? Everything! Never in advertising's history has a close relationship between creative and media been so critical. It takes just one tap of a mouse finger to load another page and kill any hope of your message getting through -- no matter how targeted the ad placement.

Why aren't we progressing in this area? I like to think it's the widespread acceptance of a few tried-and-true creative techniques that are certain to deliver crappy results:

  • Develop your message with absolutely no conceptual idea. You think: "Let's just wing it. We'll try a bunch of tips and tricks I read in a blog. The boss won't see the ad anyway, so why bother developing a strategy and spending time articulating it in a meaningful manner? We can always change it on the fly."

    How did you get your job? Creating any advertising without forethought is like inviting a complete stranger into your home, letting him throw up on the rug, then trying to ignore the smell.

  • Load the ad with lots of really annoying flashing colors. You think: "Those are so pretty. They just make people so happy. I bet people will click on the ads because the colors will catch their eye."

    More like, they make most people sick. This technique comes from the same folks who enjoy sticking a flashlight in your face after dark or staring at pinwheels close up for hours. At least think of the users with visual impairments and exercise some mercy here.

  • Cram as many words as possible into a small space. You think: "We better get the client's money's worth. We're pretty sure people will lean in to read the copy."

    Yikes! Here's a test. Try printing your ad, and flash it in front of the building janitor for two seconds. If he gets the message, then, by golly, run with it.

  • Use abbreviations and code words to slam even more words in there. You think: "By filling our ad with three-letter acronyms and clever shorthand, people will be eager to decipher the meaning and buy our stuff."

    R U NTS? Was that a fun use of your time? Lavish abbreviation use is the lazy man's approach to good copywriting. If you can't be succinct, take a crack at romance novels. (One exception: ads for SMS, a step in civilization's downfall. Do people converse that way for real?)

  • Let's not bother with a clear call to action. You think: "Surely people will take in our clever ad, and click anywhere to learn more."

    Why do you make it hard for people to interact with your brand? Give people a clear, legible call to action, and they'll respond. Life doesn't come with an instruction book, so don't think your online ad is above giving folks a clue.

Are You a Member of the OBOYI Club?

That's Online Badvertisers On Your Internet, in case you want to borrow the term. I hope you're not a card-carrying member. If you are, I'd almost prefer you to keep creating badvertising. You do me a huge favor by making my agency's creative work stand out even more.

Do you agree the state of online creativity is abysmal? Or are you happy with the status quo? Let me know who you think does a stellar job at badvertising.


James Hering As SVP and director of interactive marketing at t:m interactive, JamesHering's teamdevelops a full range of interactive solutions for a variety of clients.Since 1994, he's been involved in development and evolution of AmericanAirlines' AA.com. With over 10 million registered users, it's one of theworld's most successful e-commerce sites. James' experience includes contentpublishing and development; online CRM; sponsorship/partnerships; searchengine marketing; and execution and implementation of AA's award-winninginteractive campaigns. Other client experience includes Adams Golf, BellHelicopter, eiStream, Nationwide Insurance, Nortel Networks, Match.com,SABRE Travel Information Network, Subaru of America, Reno Air, Nestle Foods,Texas Instruments, Texas Tourism and Pizza Hut. His group's honors includethe Internet Marketing Association's Excellence in Interactive Marketing,WebAwards for Site Design, Communication Arts, NY Festival, iNOVA awards,CASIE Interactive awards and @d:Tech awards.

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