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The Fall and Rise of Useful Advertising

Remember when programmatic was going to effortlessly turn DDA (digital display advertising) into a push-button instant revenue generator for clients, agencies and media owners alike? As we all know, this prophecy hasn’t quite turned out as many would have hoped. But fear not. As Joe Hoyle explains, the digital world is well-served by opportunities to fulfil everyone’s and every brand’s qualities and ambitions.

Programmatic tools were widely deemed to be the promised land for digital display advertising (at least that’s what the media industry wanted us to believe).

However, it didn’t count on the power of consumers to deploy their own new set of powerful tools, effectively enabling them to ’cock a snook’ at the advertisers and their agencies who were producing a glut of ubiquitous, lazy creative that followed them around the web like a bad smell.

And it’s a real shame, because brands can most certainly advertise, entertain and sell products and services, whilst still delivering useful customer experience as added value that will engage the audience.

Back in 2008, online display advertising was starting to get really interesting – both technologically and creatively. There was an opportunity to start delivering real, tangible super-rich customer experiences inside new, larger-format display units that could be targeted to specific users and even personalised in terms of their content. In parallel, programmatic media buying was gathering pace.

Things were looking up for advertisers. They were about to be armed with tools that would allow them to buy media on the fly at much better value, target more accurately and progressively re-message to encourage consumers further into the purchase funnel. We were even starting to look at producing commerce-enabled campaigns.

A step back

However, things didn’t go exactly to plan. It quickly became obvious that the new media technologies couldn’t serve or interrogate the more advanced and intelligent creative that was being produced. As a result, the industry ditched creative innovation in favour of simply following the media money until advertisers became disgruntled with the return to basic creative messaging and a meaningless 0.01% CTR.

The stark legacy of this practise is an industry that has clearly become more and more inward-looking over the last few years. Also, it has completely disregarded the audience and, in turn, its clients’ needs. What it also precipitated was a general widening in the gap between the creative and planning departments.

An integrated approach

So what’s the answer to this? First and foremost, we need to adopt a completely new creative approach to digital advertising… one that intelligently combines all tools at the disposal of creatives and planners and encourages them to work more closely to realise digital’s true potential. Hopefully, campaigns will then become much more integrated, using a combination of channels and mobile devices as a enablers rather than standalone channels.

Putting users first for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes

In our experience, the best results come when campaigns put users’ needs at the forefront of the strategic planning phase.

When the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes F1 team approached us a few years ago, they initially wanted us to stream a selection of HD videos inside our proprietary display unit. They wanted to create a distributable channel inside a media unit that could be seeded in paid media and blogs then shared across fledgling social media and earned, free media.

This was all well and good (not to mention also being a media first) but something was missing. We felt that the audience we were targeting would be more engaged with another data set that was available. So, we set about taking the difficult steps to persuade the racing team to provide is with the live telemetry from the two McLaren cars of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button. And it worked.

Over an extended campaign of four years using essentially the same unit with updated functionality and content – much like an app these days – we delivered 10% interaction rates and astounding 32-minute interaction time during practice, qualifying and race sessions.

Lessons we’d all do well to learn

There are several key take-outs from our work for Vodafone Maclaren Mercedes, and subsequent campaigns that still ring true.

First, campaigns don’t just have to advertise, they have to engage and fulfil.

In the campaign for Vodafone Maclaren Mercedes,  the content channel was as critical as the content itself. As someone once said, “if no-one can hear you scream, you may as well whisper for help!”.

Secondly, programmatic and fast-pace retargeting deliver highly-sought efficiencies for clients and their brands – the real challenge is to reignite a passion for innovative and successful advertising that engages within this landscape.

Finally, and possibly most importantly, people – be they customers or marketers – will always find a way around limitations. The best way to make this work is to collaborate, co-create and re-imagine together.

Read the full Vodafone McLaren Mercedes case study

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