How to beat the algorithms and let ad creativity shine

hannahEnthusiasm for automated technology in marketing has never been stronger. Gartner’s latest study forecasts that tech will take the lion’s share of budgets this year as marketers use smart tools to boost efficiency, enhance customer experience, and reduce costs. But alongside the upsides of automation, there is one key downside that can’t be ignored: algorithms are ruining creative, especially when it comes to digital ads.

Today’s digital ad creative rarely features much creativity; with brand messages becoming increasingly similar and more focused on fuelling click-through rates than anything else. The root of this issue doesn’t lie with brands or creative teams; it springs from the way leading tech giants – namely Facebook and Google – have built their algorithms.

By prioritising ads containing elements that typically perform well, such as certain calls to action or multiple retargeted products, algorithms are delivering a tide of lookalike ads. Add in the the tendency to measure performance on clicks and viewable impressions and it all ads up to brands having a limited understanding of real ad impact. Just as achieving viewability isn’t the same as being seen, clicks don’t guarantee engagement or conversions.

Clearly, this problem needs a solution. So, what should marketers be doing?

Make first impressions count
The window of online advertising opportunity is small. Eye-tracking research from Lumen and Ipsos Mori shows over 50% of “viewable” digital ads aren’t actually seen, while those that do capture audience eyeballs only hold them for two (non-consecutive) seconds at most. Success hinges on instant impact and marketers must therefore ensure their ad creative stands out by including immediately recognisable assets.

This can cover any sensory element, but in the image-centric web environment, the best option is to leverage visual cues such as colours, shapes, logos, fonts, and words; think of the distinctive Sainsbury’s orange or Nike’s tick. Simple but effective, these triggers can help marketers seize the moment, as long as they take the right minimalist approach: just one or two assets and no distracting clutter.

Give campaigns creative unity
Digital ads have their own value, but they are most impactful as team players. Used in combination with other media that drives awareness at the top of the funnel — such as TV — they can provide powerful online reinforcement; with a focus on specific offers or products helping to push consumers towards interaction and conversion.

What’s needed for an effective ad campaign, therefore, is continuity. Marketers must make it quick and easy for audiences to connect the dots by deploying creative assets that unify ads. Once more, small references go a long way, including taglines, audio, and visual prompts. For example, John Lewis’ “Excitable Edgar” character was used across the store’s various Christmas ads in 2019, providing an immediately recognisable point of reference that created synergy throughout the campaign.

For all the benefits of automated tech, marketers must be careful not to let over-reliance on algorithms ruin their creativity. It’s crucial to remember that good creative has a significant and lasting effect, and much of its power comes from elements that are too often overlooked; the brand assets that spark instant recognition and connection.

Hannah Thompson is media account director at Tug

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