Good Media, Bad Creative

Since the Internet’s inception, one of its main selling propositions has been that it is inherently more measurable than other media. Unlike TV, radio, and print, the Web boasts serving and tracking technology that allows advertisers to know a lot about the impact of their ad investments.

For advocates of Internet marketing, this inherent measurability is both good and bad. It’s good because the industry can provide data and accountability that make the Net unique. But this measurability can sometimes hold the industry, especially publishers, hostage, because they’re held accountable for measurements over which they have little control.

The classic scenario is when a marketer makes a cost-per-acquisition (CPA) buy on a Web site, in which the publisher is paid only when people click on an ad and sign up on a Web site. The publisher may deliver people to the site, but if no one signs up because the offer on the site is not compelling or the sign-up process is too onerous, the publisher gets cheated.

This phenomenon isn’t limited to cost-per deals. Publishers can be unfairly blamed for poor results on branding campaigns, too. When publishers are evaluated based on a campaign’s ability to build a brand, they often get blamed for lackluster results.

But unless the publisher has created the ad, a big part of the campaign’s performance is not under its control. Though placement, targeting, and audience are extremely important, the quality and type of creative also have a big impact on branding effectiveness.

There have been some important efforts to improve online advertising over the years, many focusing on measurement standards and ways of streamlining the media planning and buying process. But apart from the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s influential efforts to promote rich media and larger size formats, the industry has focused little energy on improving the quality of online ads.

That’s unfortunate. The fact is, too often Web ads are just plain bad. Even after years of creating them, many agencies and advertisers ignore simple guidelines, based on solid research, that can make their ads better. There’s just no excuse for breaking rules by, say, creating an ad that doesn’t prominently display the brand or logo or delivers the message in only one frame of animation.

Many advertisers are still in the testing mode. And when they get poor results from an Internet campaign, they can come to the conclusion online advertising doesn’t work. Often, bad creative is at fault, not the medium itself. This problem is particularly pronounced in cross-media campaigns where different media are being compared to one another.

People using the Internet aren’t there to consume ads, but they still look at them — if only for a moment. Efficiently delivering a compelling message — in a way that is intrusive but not annoying — is the only way to make an impact. The people who create online ads should also be held accountable for making the medium work.

This column ran previously on ClickZ.

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