Online Advertising Needs a Different Kind of Creativity

An Ad Age Editorial

Published on .

It's become clear that those creating online ads need to step up the creative game. But before marketers and agencies rush to hire Cannes winners to lovingly craft a new crop of banner ads, they should perhaps redefine the word "creative."

Last week, Dynamic Logic released a study indicating that it's bad creative that makes online advertising ineffective. The study 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.

But we're not so sure branding, human faces and logos -- the most traditional aspects of traditional advertising -- are the sort of creativity needed in online advertising. That seems an extension of too much current online advertising, which is either bad direct marketing in ad form, or TV-ad thinking in a box online.

Creativity, in this case, should revolve around interactivity and utility. To get a consumer to engage with an online ad -- an ad that will take her away from the content she is reading -- marketers will have to find a creative solution to give the consumer something she needs. Give her tips, invite her to contribute her own thoughts. Offer her other online resources dealing with your brand.

Better yet, couple the creativity with courage -- the courage to link comments or tweets about your brand (or the subject) at hand. Yes, even the bad ones. If a company so believes in its product or service, then why not also include links to product reviews at independent sites or objective professional reviews (which is not the same as cherrypicking quotes out of reviews). Perhaps a smart marketer could persuade Consumer Reports itself to let advertisers link to ConsumerReports.org reviews.

On the web, a marketer isn't trying to entertain a passive couch-surfer. It's interrupting an active user, ferreting around for information or entertainment. It may be harder to capture that user's attention, but if you can hook into that consumer's interest and passion, she may prove more valuable to your brand.

In short, when advertising online, there has to be a way to make your message less like advertising and more like content. And that's the creative yardstick by which marketers should measure their efforts.

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