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 The Five Platinum Rules to
Online Advertising Creative

By Rex Briggs

Online advertising can deliver platinum results, but just like any media vehicle, under-performing creative can sabotage a campaign. Good strategy and effective creative execution are necessary ingredients to achieve success. Below are five crucial elements of successful online advertising creative.

1)      Know the purpose of your campaign and the psychological mechanism of your ad: The marketer and agency need to agree explicitly on the objective of the ad campaign and the psychological mechanism to achieve the objective. For example sales might be the objective of the ad and the mechanism could be:

  • Reminder: Used to move an established brand up the mental agenda of the consumer

  • Reinforcement: Used to strengthen specific pre-existing perceptions about a brand

  • Reposition: Used to change existing brand perceptions

  • Introduce: Used to launch a new product or brand

  • Direct response: Used to generate leads, sell, etc.

2)      Apply Brand Mark Persistently: Brand persistence should be used no matter what the psychological mechanism of the ad. At a minimum the ad strengthens top of mind awareness of the brand. At maximum, persistent brand presence will ensure linkage of the key visual message back to the brand.

TIP: Use the glance test to determine whether a consumer can quickly and readily identify the brand. Be sure the brand logo is visible in all frames of the ad and in the context of a web page regardless of the format or size of the ad.

The Volvo ad labeled “after” used brand persistence and results in an average lift in all branding metrics of 86%.

3)      Use Simple Iconic Message: Consider for a moment how your consumer is using the Internet. Now ask yourself, what must your ad do to be visible and understood in each of the relevant contexts for your consumer? A common thread in most Online situations is the active control the consumer exerts over the media. In such a context, the advertisement must convey the message simply and quickly to be seen and understood by your consumer. The use of straight-forward iconic imagery and concise messaging is key. What makes for an iconic visual message to the consumer?

People say, “a picture is worth a thousand words” but for iconic imagery, the marketer should aim for the picture to capture the essence of a singular concept. For an ad to reinforce or shape perceptions, a visual message should communicate the essence of the brand promise. Together the logo and the image should be easily understood at a glace. Consider the image of woman used as an icon in Figure 2. This conveys Olay’s straightforward promise of beauty. Yes, the image may imply more, but the core concepts should be clear at a glance.

TIP: After completing the ad development, review it and remove any extraneous elements to limit the clutter a consumer is faced with. For example, the words “Love the skin you’re in” communicate the same message as “Discover how to love the skin you’re in” 

4)      Consider The Format: Find the best Online format for your message.  The most common ad formats are banners and ad boxes. These work well for many situations. When a more complicated message is necessary, such as the introduction of a new product or repositioning an existing brand, there are online ad formats which capture more of the viewer’s undivided attention such as interstitial, gateway, and over the page units.

Page skins like the Coca-Cola skin shown in Figure 3 are effective at reminding or reinforcing in that they can raise the salience of a specific brand or perception by using imagery that the consumer is already familiar with.

Text links are useful for some categories where the consumer is highly targeted and actively seeking the specific information you are offering (such as keyword buys). The text should focus on the product and primary consumer motivators such price or availability.

5)      Optimize Creative: Many of the tips in this paper should help you develop effective creative, but pre testing should be part of every creative process. Pre-testing the creative allows you to optimize around the results. Marketing Evolution has built in a creative testing process to all our major research efforts in order to eliminate ill performing ads. This simple process will ensure that effective ads are being used.

Why bother? Out of a sampling of 5 studies where creative tests were employed only one advertiser had all of their concepts positively influence purchase intent. Two had some ads that were effective and others that were not, which would dilute the effect of the overall campaign. The remaining two had ads that would have failed in the market place had they not developed more effective creative based on the learnings from the test. Shouldn’t you optimize your creative before you spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in media delivery?

TIP: When building ads we become absorbed in the process, a live real-world online creative test is an easy way to get objective perspective and ensure the success of a campaign.

The five guidelines…

(1) Know the purpose of your campaign and the psychological mechanism of your ad,

(2) Apply Brand Mark Persistently,

(3) Use Simple Iconic Message,

(4) Consider the Format, and

(5) Optimize Creative

… are keys to success in online advertising. They are platinum rules that will help ensure consistent platinum results. Advertising is a process of testing, learning and applying the insight. Or, as we say at Marketing Evolution, “Test, Learn, Evolve.” 

Rex Briggs is the founder and CEO of Marketing Evolution and co-author of “What Sticks – Why Most Advertising Fails and How to Guarantee Yours Succeeds.” His marketing theories have being taught at Harvard and published in several books. Rex was named one of the “Best and Brightest” in Media and Technology by Ad Week, and one of the people to “watch and learn from” according to BrandWeek. Rex pioneered the leading methodologies for marketing ROI and cross-media measurement.

[This article is available at no-cost, on a non-exclusive basis. Contact PR/PR at 407-299-6128 for details and requirements.]

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