Top data and creativity tips: Art for ads’ sake!

Rather than tracking down victims like a ruthless serial killer, it’s time to dial down the data-fuelled ad tech machine and think more creatively and relevantly, says Collective’s Creative Director Alex Burn.

There’s a great David Hockney quote that says “art has always been shaped by technology” and that’s increasingly the case in the digital advertising space, but it’s time for creativity to push back.

Being “shaped” is one thing, being dominated is completely another. And unfortunately it’s the latter that we’re currently facing in advertising with the rapid growth of ad tech and big data.

There’s an ever increasing focus on technology and data in terms of how to target ads to the nth degree and deliver them as quickly and efficiently as possible. It’s like cranking the handle on a sausage machine, spitting out masses of generic ads and hunting down consumers who simply aren’t treated like humans anymore.

To really engage with people online we need to look beyond the classic demographic labels. Rather than simply directing ads at ABC1 Females because they are supposedly the target audience, we should be thinking in more real terms, such as how can we help mums solve a key problem they are facing.

Targeting has become ruthlessly efficient to the point of creepy intrusiveness on the one hand and annoying disruption on the other.

Below are four areas we try and keep front of mind in our digital work to ensure we are actually engaging with our audience rather than possibly creeping them out or alienating them:

1. Put the creative idea first and format second
According to recent research by Google Media Lab 70% of campaign performance is down to creative. You need a great creative idea at the heart of your campaign.

So it’s vital that you think about the story you want to get across from the outset rather than jumping straight to the format. Understand your audience, find out the challenges they are facing and figure out the best way your product can help them.

You don’t want to be shouting at them or dictating to them. You want to be entering a dialogue; building a two-way relationship.

Once you have a compelling story to tell your audience, then it’s time to talk to the experts about delivering it in the most engaging way.

2. Make it relevant

Recent research by Forrester reveals that 42% of consumers say relevance is key to their positive ad experience. So if you’re delivering an ad that you’ve identified is of interest to them and you’re presenting it in the right contextual environment, then you’re going to have a much more positive experience and so it will be more effective.

This is where data and ad technology really help. Rather than simply using data to target your audience, it’s important to drill down into the frame of mind your ideal consumers are in when they see your ad. Serving in the right context, at the right time of day, for example, can make them more receptive. What’s more, if the format and creative treatment is not intrusive, but sympathetic to and supportive of their viewing experience – ideally actually adding value to it – you’ve hit the jackpot.

Using today’s innovative and interactive ad formats placed in a premium editorial environment, this is more than achievable.

3. Be cross-device, cross-screen… and cross-worlds

We all know that consumers access the internet on a wide range of devices. They are predominantly on mobile phones in the morning and evening, while during the day they tend to use laptops and increasingly tablets. We can talk to them across these devices, but it becomes really interesting when you start to link up the digital and real worlds.

A recent cinema ad, for example, warning people about the dangers of using your mobile phone while driving, put the audience in the place of a man getting into a car and going for a drive. A few seconds into the journey, everyone in the cinema receives a mobile text. Then when they glance down to view it, the car swerves off the road and crashes, delivering a highly shocking and memorable experience.

Remembering rules 1 and 2, then adding a pinch of immersive technology like VR or AR can create some incredibly rich brand experiences that will both thrill and entertain your audience.

4. Create video for the digital environment

The traditional rules for TV advertising don’t work online or on mobile. This means repurposing TV ads for use in digital media is a wasted opportunity.

TV ads commonly present a narrative that unfolds with a cinematic build to the swell of the main part of the story, before fading out into an end frame with branding, commonly lasting 30 secs, or more. It may be beautifully crafted, but it won’t cut it with digital consumers.

First, on mobile the aspect ratio is wrong as most people prefer to watch their phones vertically. Second, for an online ad to really deliver, it’s got to be a ‘thumb stopper’. As people are scrolling through their content, you’ve got to be able to stop that thumb.

To do this with video you need to deliver something that is high impact and attention grabbing within the first 1-2 seconds. Then once you’ve hooked them you can flesh out the story. It’s almost like flipping a TV ad on its head delivering the punchline first to catch attention, before revealing more information.

We have all this amazing tech and data at our disposal and by thinking creative first, focusing relentlessly on relevancy, merging the real and digital worlds and designing with the end user in mind we can deliver interesting, entertaining and ultimate engaging digital brand experiences.