Bigger Is Just…Bigger

Creative advice from a media guy. It may be a stretch, but in a world where creative, media and technology are inexorably linked, we need to figure this out together.

In an effort to motivate marketers to maximize their use of the medium, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) cranked up their PR machine last week. In a press release dated June 3, 2003 the IAB reported its findings on a study conducted with McDonalds. The study compared the efficacy of a variety of Internet ad sizes to a 30 second TV spot (TVC, for the enlightened few) as it affects a variety of brand attributes: “new,” “different,” “exciting,” and “combination of great flavors.”

Not surprisingly, the study showed online advertising can positively affect brand measures. Larger-sized ads (550×480 between page, or transition ads to be precise) were better at achieving those goals than smaller units. For starters, I learned in direct response school that when you set up a test with a variety of variables, it’s important to isolate one (test) variable while keeping the remaining variables (control) constant. It appears both the size of the ads and the insertion point (i.e. between page vs. on the page) was altered. I could argue the concept of a transition ad regardless of size would deliver improved results as consumers are in a state of “eager anticipation” before receiving their requested content. But I digress.

In any case, I want to caution everyone. Continuing to perpetuate the mantra “bigger is better” validates the belief we can continue to do giant-sized, mediocre creative. Not only will it be big and mediocre, it will continue to be isolated from media strategy and fail to capitalize on available technology. We need to be smarter about how we collectively build digital marketing campaigns.

Coming from a discipline that’s admittedly profoundly flawed (see some of my previous columns), I can say with some impunity that for the most part, online advertising creative is not very good. Strain to remember the most memorable online campaigns. You can probably count them on one hand. Do the same for TV or print, and you’ll think of dozens. Granted, those media have more than a 50-year head start, but the power of the digital world to connect and communicate with consumers should more than overcome the time gap.

What can we do to create more compelling online experiences from an advertising/marketing perspective? There are many to-do items. They’re are not all on the shoulders of the creative department. To begin with, we must combine the technical prowess of a 20-something digital creative genius with the seasoned brilliance of traditional “old timers.” There are still creative leaders in the traditional advertising industry who “don’t get” the space. We need them.

We need copywriters who understand the bi-directional nature of the Web and who can write captivating copy to entice the user. I think we’ve done a much better job on the Web visually than we have from a copy perspective. There are such clever taglines and punch lines in the offline world. We need the digital equivalent. From an audio perspective, we have our work cut out for us. Most online advertising creative does not feature sound. When it does, it’s typically monophonic and uninspiring. As we continue working on that “fat pipe” into the home — broadband — I have to believe sonic branding will become more of a “must have” than a “nice to have.”

Probably the single most important thing we can do to help the quality of online advertising is create a process that fosters communication among a core team of media, production, creative and technology practitioners. This is often easier said than done. Clients continue to separate media planning, buying and creative duties to a variety of roster agencies. Despite potential geographic barriers, the core team should begin to work from a unified brief, and work in seamless, parallel paths. Too often, creative and production teams wait until the media plan is finished so that we can see the ad specs before they start work. The best campaigns marry media and creative strategy from the beginning.

In summary, there are a number of specific things we can do to raise the bar on the campaigns that we put into the marketplace. All parties share a responsibility to create an environment that allows true collaboration. The answer is not simply ” make online ads bigger.”

Bigger is just bigger. It’s not necessarily better.

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