Show, Don’t Tell With Ad Formats

For decades, high school English teachers have been touting a phrase that haunts creative writing students well into adulthood: “Show, don’t tell.” The idea, of course, is that it’s better to describe something – an event, a location, a character, what have you – in a way that invites the reader to experience the story, instead of simply telling them what they need to know.

In digital advertising, abiding by this mantra can mean the difference between a captivating campaign and one that falls flat. A brand can deliver its core brand attributes in the form of banner ad copy, but isn’t it more interesting to manipulate an ad format to actually illustrate them instead?

You may recall the 2008 YouTube ad for Nintendo Wii game Wario Land: Shake It! that literally shook up the site page until virtually every element of text had fallen off the screen. Since then, a number of brands have taken a similar approach by using rich media to develop creative ad placements that serve as a visual representation of what a consumer can expect to get from their products.

A New Dimension of Product Marketing

The most recent example of this happened this week, when Sony showed us what its 3D World is all about online. 3D World encompasses everything from video games to movies and home entertainment, and its value is in its 3D imaging technology. Sony displays this on its product site, a 3D version, which is available to consumers. Now, it has also demonstrated its 3D capabilities within a home page ad.

In the buy, the home page of was transformed by way of a takeover ad to give it a three-dimensional feel, with content areas assigned to a series of stacked 3D boxes. There was, of course, an actual ad included on the page, but it was intentionally vague (“Everything is better in 3D – 3D World Created by Sony”) to incite the user to investigate further. The experience of visiting the site was enough to thoroughly emphasize the benefits of the product.


Building an Audience

Earlier this year, The History Channel was looking to promote its special miniseries “America: The Story of Us.” The documentary series depicted key moments in American history, much of which were related to innovation, manufacturing, and modern technology. To illustrate these points, the series was promoted by way of an MSN home page takeover ad.

Upon arriving at, the user saw a rich media banner ad of a man perched on the side of the Statue of Liberty during what appeared to be its assembly. The entire page then fell forward to reveal the statue in its entirety, an action that gave the sense of witnessing a demolition or being present at a construction site. The resulting full-screen ad was impactful and memorable but also functional; it included a link to more information that expanded into yet another video banner, along with links to numerous social media sites.


Shaking Up Mobile Media

Last year’s shakeable iPhone “Shakedown 2 Get Down” ad for Levi’s Dockers apparel created an association between its clothing and a particular lifestyle by asking users to shake their phones to see a freestyle street dancer’s moves. According to Mobile Marketer, users spent an impressive average of 42 seconds interacting with the ad. Imagine the potential of a shakeable ad for make-at-home salad dressing, bottled juice, or any number of products that require the buyer to “shake well before use.”

Of course, it’s possible to take this concept too far, as evidenced by one app that last year somehow managed to make its way through Apple’s App Store approval process. Baby Shaker depicted babies accompanied by crying sounds and encouraged the user to shake the phone until the babies were silenced, at which point two Xs would appear over their eyes. Needless to say, there’s no accounting for poor taste (or certifiable app developers).

The aforementioned marketers are proving that there’s value in using ad formats as a means to exemplify brand and product attributes. The more you can leverage rich media to create an online version of your offline product, the better your ability to deliver the message you want potential customers to know.

Just ask your high school English teacher.

Related reading

Vector graphic of a megaphone spewing out business themed items, such as a laptop, tablet, pen, @ symbol and smartphone