Creative Best Practices

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High-quality creative acts as the foundation towards the success or failure of any campaign. Oftentimes, more focus and significantly more dollars are allocated towards media with the intention of ensuring your campaign maximizes reach and hits target impressions but without good creative your ad won’t be memorable, making your impressions irrelevant. Because of this, it’s crucial to develop a holistic campaign both with high-quality creative that will make your brand stand out in today’s cluttered digital environment, paired with a comprehensive media mix.

Although there are no magic tricks for making great creative, there are several proven best practices that you can employ to increase the chances of your ad being memorable.

Keep it simple

Keep your creative simple and straightforward. Research suggests that it’s important to focus on simplicity rather than cleverness or complicated visuals. This is because advertisers have only a fraction of a second to gain the attention of the target audience and simple ads are much more effective at capturing that attention than complex ones.

According to eye-tracking research when applied to digital ads, it’s been proven that people actively try to avoid ads in today’s cluttered digital environment. In one study from the University of Maryland, researchers tested viewer reactions to ads over periods as short as 100 milliseconds, i.e. less than a full glance. Ads for the study were divided into 3 categories: upfront ads, presenting the product in a straightforward and expected way;  mystery ads whose visual complexity required the viewer to think more in order to decipher; and false-front ads, which used one clear image of something to sell something else. Testing these 3 types of ads determined that upfront ads, such as a digital banner of a car to sell a car, were understood by viewers in just 100 milliseconds, and continued to be regarded by visitors positively over 5, 10, and 30 seconds. Alternatively, the mystery and false-front ads did not perform as well. One of the mystery ad examples shown to study participants was an advertisement for apple juice in which a ninja was depicted severing a rope that held up a fridge that was about to fall and crush the apples, creating the apple juice. The mystery ads weren’t initially viewed as positively as the upfront ads but gained in approval over time once viewers had more time to decipher the message. Examples of some of the false-front ads included in the study were a headshot of a blonde woman to sell wheat beer and ads that looked like news articles at first glance. False-front ads, when compared to the mystery ads, were initially received positively but the more time the study subjects looked at them, the less favourably they were viewed.

Make your message ironclad

It’s imperative that creative development starts off with a solid strategy to solidify your messaging, ensuring compelling content. Once there is a solid content strategy, you can then begin to develop your creative plan, in which you determine exactly how your content will be communicated to your target audience. To do this, one of the most crucial steps in any advertising campaign is an effective and concise creative brief.

As part of the creative brief, there are several key items that need to be determined prior to the commencement of creative development. In the brief you’ll need to determine the below:

  • What is the brief for? Make sure you are clear on the final output and what you’re advertising
  • What is the opportunity or challenge? In your particular category, what are common challenges faced by your brand and the competition? Is there untapped opportunity you can take advantage of?
  • What are you trying to say? What’s the one key message you hope to convey to your audience?
  • Who are you trying to target? Determine your key demographic as creative will need to be tailored to appeal to this particular group
  • What do we want our target to believe and/or do as a result of our communication efforts? How do we want our audience to change their thoughts or behaviours after they see our ad?
  • What is our S.M.I.T. (single most important thing)? This should be a short sentence that summarizes the key message or an actionable insight. If the creative team takes away anything from your brief, this should be it
  • What’s the tone of voice? For example, is your ad meant to be fast-paced and exciting or melancholy and heartfelt?
  • Outline any specific requirements as well as any other considerations for the team to take into account
  • Timing and budget. Although ideally this should not dictate the creative idea, it’s important your team works with an understanding of exactly how much budget and time they have

If your brief succinctly and effectively conveys all of the above points, you’re then in a position to formally brief in a creative team and can rest assured they have everything they need to develop engaging content and an effective creative campaign.

Use animation to generate engagement

Visitors typically only spend about 8 seconds on a webpage before deciding whether to explore the page further and with an abundance of digital content inundating consumers every day, it’s important for brands to catch their attention quickly and effectively. As such, brands should consider investing in animated digital assets in order to stand apart from the competition and ensure conversion optimization, or in other words keep people on their site for longer to help hit their business objectives. Research has shown that static ads stand no chance in the digital environment. Animation is inherently more engaging than their static counterparts and more likely to catch the eye of consumers as they scroll through a webpage, increasing ROI.

Keep the following tips in mind whenever developing an animated digital asset:

  • Ask yourself honestly if you would tap on your banner and get input from colleagues. If the answer is no, think about how you can optimize the animation or creative to make it more appealing
  • Move, fade, scale, and rotate objects to create a more compelling animation that will draw in consumers
  • Ensure your animation loops in case it doesn’t immediately catch the attention of your target
  • Be careful to not overdo it – while animation is key, you want to make sure it’s not overwhelming and that the key message still comes through clearly. Animation should supplement your message, not overwhelm it

Preview and test

What might sound obvious can sometimes be overlooked and result in your ad not working for a particular platform. Be sure to test your creative directly on the devices for which it is intended. In doing so, you’ll be able to determine if there are any elements that are not essential and can be removed, thus optimizing creative for that particular device, maximising the ad’s efficacy.

Testing is especially important in today’s mobile world in which people typically consume media on mobile devices at much higher rates than desktop. Despite this, creative is typically developed and produced using desktop devices. As a result, it’s not uncommon for a desktop-designed ad to become reformatted on mobile in such a way that was not initially intended. Whether your creative becomes too cluttered on mobile, due to limited real estate, or your key visual doesn’t translate, it’s imperative that you ensure your creative works on any and all relevant mediums. Thus, be sure to always test your creative on both desktop and mobile devices to ensure a good user experience, no matter the medium in which your ad is consumed.

Lastly, A/B testing is a fantastic method of devising new learnings to leverage for future creative. By pushing live two versions of the same creative with minor differences in copy or visuals, you can better learn over time what works and what doesn’t for your brand. In doing so, you can apply these learnings directly to future campaigns to ensure you’re putting out the best creative.

In conclusion

In today’s hectic digital environment, it’s more important than ever to develop high-quality creative to pair with a well-rounded media mix. Even if you have a great media plan in place, without the foundation of high-quality creative, the working dollars spent to improve your KPIs are wasted. Your ad can be seen by millions, but if it’s not memorable, it’s ineffective. The next time you’re looking to produce high-quality creative, be cognizant of these best practices and try to leverage them wherever possible to increase your chances of success.

9 de febrero de 2021


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