Breaking Through Creative Blocks

Several columns ago, I offered up four effective media placements most every online advertising campaign should include. Formulating a marketing plan by strategically selecting the most appropriate media buys is the first step toward campaign success. Once this process is over, however, some of the hardest work begins.

Media buyers know developing ad creative is a job for their companies’ production departments and experienced professionals with the necessary skills to produce quality online ads. But there’s more to successful creative than a visually appealing layout and technical perfection. Understanding the sites on which ads will appear — and the audience who will see them — is most important.

Who better to provide the design team with this information and other valuable input than the buyer or planner behind the campaign?

Media buyers and planners who have a history with a client and have assisted with past campaigns can draw on their knowledge and experience to help ad designers come up with messages and visuals that are engaging and customized to each client’s specific needs. In case of a creative block, however, here are some other approaches to the ad production process that both media buyers and creative designers may find useful.

Be Inspired by the Competition

Imitation is the highest form of flattery. In online advertising, it’s also an effective way to enhance your client’s ad campaign performance. I’m not suggesting copying your client’s successful competitors’ ads to a tee. If their ads really are producing results, copying them will only attract animosity within the online community, toward your client and your agency. Instead, look at what your client’s competitors are doing, and glean inspiration from their successes. This approach to online ad development has proven extremely useful to Internet marketers. Reference the methods used by your client’s competitors in brainstorming meetings, and watch your campaign team’s ideas begin to flow.

Mimic In-House Ads

If anyone knows a site’s audience better than the media buyers planning campaigns, it’s site publishers. Their in-depth knowledge of the client’s target market and how visitors behave while on a specific site leads marketers to site house ads for online ad creative advice.

Like magazine publishers, site publishers often fill unsold ad space with ads promoting themselves or their partners. Take note of their approach to online advertising the next time you’re developing creative of your own. Watch for trends within house ad creative that might provide some clues to what their audience responds to, both in terms of voice and technical design. Do they use humor in their ads, or are their messages severe and to the point? Do their ads feature search functionality or simply promote their brand?

How publishers choose to frame and format their ads can offer a good indication of their visitors’ mindset, as well as their level of interactivity with the site brand. Media buyers are wise to create a few test banners that mimic publisher techniques. There’s bound to be some strategy and reasoning behind these low-profile ads that media buyers can take advantage of.

Pilfer From Existing Creative

The first thing most production teams will do when preparing a new online ad is consult the media buyer involved with the client to determine whether any ads already exist from previous campaigns. A thorough and organized media buyer will have data on all past ads indicating each one’s level of performance. Though performance can vary from site to site, audience to audience, and even season to season, such statistics provide a good starting point when a team doesn’t know where to begin.

Elements that appear to have engaged the user and produced results in past campaigns should reoccur in new ads. Those aspects that repelled users in the past should be avoided to prevent poor performance.

Both campaign planner and designer should also consult existing offline creative for added insight. There’s plenty of inspiration to be had from print and television. With the Internet technology available to ad designers today, great offline ads can quickly be made into effective and memorable online creative.

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