I was sitting on my couch one evening, glancing through a Thai cookbook while deciding on a dinner recipe. I’m someone who believes cooking is a form of art and while reading this recipe book, I came across an excerpt discussing a theory on creativity from a great documentary filmmaker, Werner Herzog.
According to Herzog, in creative work there are two kinds of truth – objective truth and ecstatic truth. Objective truth is an illusion, he argued, because although it might act as a record of facts, it is ultimately superficial in describing truths. It misses the greater point. Objectivity is for accountants (and politicians, hopefully). “There is just very shallow truth in facts,” he said. “Otherwise, the phone directory would be the Book of Books.” The other type of truth – the ecstatic truth – is different. “There are deeper strata of truth in cinema,” Herzog said, “and there is such a thing as poetic, ecstatic truth. It is mysterious and elusive and can be reached only through fabrication and imagination and stylization.”
These ideas resonated with me. Just as there are objective and ecstatic truths in cooking and cinema, the same can be said about the art of advertising. I believe the secret ingredients to creating a real connection between brands and consumers lies within this theory.
In today’s fast-paced world, it’s very easy for ads to blend in as background noise. Sure, Nielsen ratings or DCM metrics may tell us an ad was viewed, but how do we know the message left an impression on the viewer? As a planning and strategy agency, we place a lot of focus on reaching the right consumer, which is a huge piece of the puzzle. After we’ve identified who our audience is, I believe the next most important puzzle piece in the box is creative. To complete the picture, the audience and creative need to work in harmony towards the greater goal.
To demonstrate my point, try to remember all the ads you’ve seen today. You can probably think of a couple, right? But you were likely exposed to a lot of other messages as well. The ads that you do remember managed to somehow break through the clutter and hit home. This is the difference between objective and ecstatic in advertising. This begs the question: how can imagination and stylization be used to create a deeper connection through the messaging in our campaigns? Here are a few thought starters:
Ad Size – In a society with short attention spans, it’s more important than ever to create a connection in the limited amount of time an ad is visible. We’ve noticed trends shifting towards shorter form video. Where :30 used to be the norm, a :15 now holds attention much better and some publishers are even adopting a :06 spot length. This fuels a need to be more innovative in quickly capturing attention and getting to the point before the viewer moves on. Another newer option to consider is vertical video. Research shows that people hold their phones vertically 94% of the time. Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook have all taken note and cater to the user by offering vertical video within their platforms. Many publishers are also shifting towards including high impact display sizes such as 970×250. These ads offer a highly viewable message, often spanning up to 25% of the desktop screen.
A/B Testing – Another starting point in putting the best creative forward is testing different versions. Typically, creative versions are rotated at pre-determined weights. The weighting often doesn’t factor in performance which can vary drastically between different ad versions. In an ideal testing scenario, multiple creative versions would be tested at the same weight with the goal of optimizing towards the greatest performer. This would ensure that the majority of impressions are going towards the message that resonates best. In a recent Digiday survey, 81% of respondents planned to do more creative A/B testing in 2018 than the previous year.
Native – What better way to get a message across than for it to blend in with the content people came to see in the first place. Business Insider predicts native will generate 74% of US display revenue by 2021. The methods to align ads within content are constantly evolving. A few worth considering include native video, native display, and native article. Video behaves like an editorial video on the content page to grab attention. Display blends in with the page theme and behaves like traditional display in that it clicks out to drive performance. Article ads click to remain on the publisher site. They function as sponsored content a publisher can help brands develop to raise awareness.
Location based – Through GPS data we can target consumers who are either in a physical location or known to historically frequent locations. This is great for sending product offers and promotions to frequent store visitors, for example. There are other ways to get innovative with location data as well. A recent example involved promoting a technology product that didn’t have as much shelf space as a competitor, and therefore wasn’t as likely to be recommended by retail employees. We created a custom data segment that focused on people in a specific retailer at least 3 times a week. The idea was to reach employees with awareness messaging, so they would be more likely to recommend the product.
Data segments – Similar to targeting people based on location, messaging can be customized based on behavior. Rather than running the same ad to everyone in a campaign, a new healthy avocado drink could choose to showcase the benefits of their product based on the audience they’re reaching. This might involve targeting millennials to pair the drink alongside their avocado toast. The same campaign could then target cooking enthusiasts, encouraging them to consider the new product as an alternative in their recipes. In either case, the message creates a better connection with the recipient because it caters to their individual lifestyle.
Sequential messaging – Through implementing pixels, advertisers can capture those who were exposed to an ad or visited their website. This opens a lot of doors in terms of what to do with this data next. For an advertiser interested in sales, they’re able to create a data segment capturing everyone who was served an ad and came close to purchasing their product. They can then set up a strategy to serve fresh messaging to these intenders in hopes of encouraging them to complete the purchase. Alternatively, another advertiser might be focused more on a main goal of awareness. They can serve a user exposed to their ad an additional sequence of ads to help educate about their product. Some advertisers have the unique challenge of needing to both create awareness and drive actions. In this case, video can be utilized to generate awareness, and then those exposed to the video can be retargeted with display ads to drive conversions. Ultimately, the idea is to reach the same user with multiple creative versions across platforms to have a more impactful influence.
Dynamic Creative Optimization – DCO takes a lot of these points a step further by creating personalized ads in real time. Dynamic ads are able to utilize data such as time, device, weather, contextual targeting, location, behavioral targeting, demo, and retargeting. An example could be retargeting a user who was recently looking at an Eagles jersey with ads to persuade him or her to purchase. In addition to the jersey, the system could optimize the ads to also recommend a matching underdog t-shirt and Super Bowl pennant. The goal is to match the right user with the right message based on machine learnings, taking a lot of the guesswork out of advertising.
It’s all about balance. Good creative won’t solve everything. But creative that excites people or encourages a real connection or experience will give a brand the best possible chance to succeed. As brand ambassadors, I hope these ideas will help fuel the conversation in creating deeper connections with our audiences. May we be objective in our goals and ecstatic in reaching them. I challenge us all to get creative.