Online Ads Not Working for You? Blame the Creative

Latest Dynamic Logic Study Finds Obsession Over Optimization, Placement Is Less Important

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- It's bad creative that makes online advertising ineffective, so stop obsessing over targeting and placements, according to a study from online-ad-research group Dynamic Logic.

After analyzing the highest and lowest performers from its database of more than 170,000 online ads, the Millward Brown company determined that creative factors such as persistent branding, strong calls to action and even human faces -- and not super-targeted or high-profile ad placements -- make for better ad recall, brand awareness and purchase intent.

"It's magazine-quality," said Ken Mallon, Dynamic Logic's senior VP-custom solutions. "If people think of the internet as a well-targeted magazine and do their planning and creative development around that, they tend to have very successful campaigns."

Stop being coy
The overarching theme in Dynamic Logic's rules for better online creative is that banner ads need to stop being coy. In most online environments, where banners are lucky to get more than a moment's notice, it's smart to use a logo -- a lot. Ads that leave the brand punchline until the very end of a bit of Flash animation largely don't work, so the report stresses that online ads need to be simple, direct and communicate meaning -- as well as the brand -- at a glance.

The results of the study support Dynamic Logic's past research that found creative quality is 50% to 75% responsible for campaign success or failure, Mr. Mallon said. "Other factors like ad size, technology, choice of website and targeting make up the rest of it," he said. "But media people spend most time trying to optimize and measure campaigns, because the creative quality is outside of their control. If they got good ads to begin with, that would help."

While the study's finding that good creative makes for better advertising borders on the obvious, Dynamic Logic's Amy Fayer, research manager of custom solutions, in a statement said the firm still sees a "shockingly large percentage of creative that falls short of its potential."

So where has creative quality control gone astray?

Rei Inamoto, chief creative officer at digital agency AKQA, thinks creative quality suffers because publisher-determined online ad formats are limiting, though sites such as YouTube and NYTimes.com are broadening the potential canvas. On the flip side, myriad banner sizes makes for creative that has to be reformatted again and again to fit into ad constraints that vary from placement to placement.

"Unlike TV or, to some extent, print, where formats are fairly consistent, online ads suffer from numerous formats," Mr. Inamoto said via e-mail. "Agencies have to create so many of the same thing. Thus the creative becomes somewhat generic, and standards are all over the place."

Love affair with measurement
But it may just be that the digital industry's love affair with measurement, targeting and technology has caused marketers and shops to take their eye off creative quality, said Dynamic Logic's Mr. Mallon.

Scott Briskman, executive creative director of TBWA's digital arm, Agency.com, San Francisco, said the industry's fascination with the science of advertising has something to do the lure of real-time data. "The reason why that's happened is that media is so complex in the online space," he said. "There's technology, different serving partners, technical requirements, add in the real-time reporting and analytics, and it's a much more complex animal than other channels.

"But creative is what people react to," he continued. "The media buying and planning are the delivery system. It doesn't matter how good your delivery system is if the creative sucks."

The study compared the top 10% and bottom 10% of ads based on performance from a number of industries suchas financial services, consumer packaged goods and pharmaceuticals. Based on observed differences between the two sets, Dynamic Logic then looked at percentages of each quality -- for example, if the ads were reveal ads or had strong logo presence -- to confirm its hypothesis. As a metric service, Dynamic Logic determines performance from short surveys served to internet users after they've been exposed to its clients' ads. Dynamic Logic will share all findings from the survey and examples of high-performing creative at a 4A's webinar Oct. 27.

A few of Dynamic Logic's recommendations for better-performing digital creative:

Highlight the brand prominently throughout the ad. "Intrigue is rarely a good strategy in online campaigns," the report says. Ads with omnipresent logos had the highest brand and online ad awareness.

Make each second count. Whether it's brand awareness or a call to action, the ad should support the message at all times. The ad will probably only get one second with the user, so each one counts.

"Reveal" ads don't work. Get right to the point, because you can't expect the user to wait around and watch the ad in its entirety. While this applies to all industries, for CPG ads, 1 out of 20 top performers on ad awareness used the reveal format, while 17 out of 20 bottom performers did. Dynamic Logic does cite video and highly entertaining ads as sometimes being exceptions to this rule.

Stay simple. Dynamic Logic recommends using no more than two messages per execution. For example, copy-heavy ads for financial services advertisers tended to underperform on awareness.

Use people. People imagery was found to work especially well for financial services campaigns.

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