Digital Breakthrough

10 Best Practices For Digital Ad Breakthrough

With the overflow of content available today, how do you get viewers' attention? Advice on how to break through the noise. by Peter Minnium

With the proliferation of content and the rise of multimedia tasking, it’s harder than ever for ads to break through to viewers. Previously, in “Pay Attention! 3 Steps to Digital Advertising Breakthrough,” I laid out the challenging course that communications must traverse to be successful — in being linked to the brand, conveying a message, changing attitudes and driving favorability, persuasion and action.

The first step is creating an opportunity to see (OTS), which is easy to measure today, thanks to the efforts of the Making Measurement Make Sense coalition and the Media Ratings Council, whose viewable impression measurement guidelines set standards for the industry.

The second step is getting the viewer’s attention, which requires passing from the right-brain-controlled sustained attention to the left brain’s focused attention.

The final hurdle an ad needs to clear is stimulating cognitive processing sufficient to establish a memory, which requires making it through the brain’s impressive “working memory” filtering system that constantly sorts out irrelevant data from everything seen, heard and experienced, allowing only the important pieces to pass.

What does it take to make it through? While there is no one-size-fits-all formula, best practices have emerged over the years. I offer up 10 to consider here, but remember the life principle espoused by WWII flying ace Harry Day, “Rules are for the obedience of fools. And the guidance of wise men.”

1) Be Brilliant

Yes, you read that right. I am starting this list with an exhortation to produce creative executions of such staggering genius that viewers can’t help but be transfixed.

Too often, creators of commercial content at agencies or the media aim too low — and that is where the ads end up.

2) Be Valuable

Inherent in the notion of “paying” attention is that the payer will get something in return.

What is your ad giving them? Be sure your information or entertainment or utility are of sufficient value to warrant the payment.

3) Be Revelant

“Relevancy (90 percent) is the top factor in sparking interest in” the newest form of digital advertising, native, according to an IAB/Edelman study, just as it has driven breakthroughs for all forms of advertising over the years.

The addressable nature of digital raises the relevancy bar, as granular knowledge about the user and context can be known.

4) Be Consistent

Campaign continuity of theme, characters, celebrities or style can all build salience.

Marketers and their agencies are often guilty of becoming bored with a campaign well before consumers; resist the temptation to change, as this can hurt breakthrough.

5) Be Simple

Simple is good, and simple is usually best. Humans simplify, sometimes out of laziness, other times out of need. If the main idea is not obvious, your ad will not work. Consumers do not want to decode ads.

On an executional level, avoid situations, settings or contexts that are not immediately clear; information overload — too many competing messages, words, visuals; off-topic story elements that serve to distract the viewer; discontinuous cuts; and audio that doesn’t go with the visual or is distracting or competing.

6) Be Funny

Humor can generate attention, but make sure it is not at the expense of the brand or message.

7) Be Interruptive

When it comes to gaining attention, it is undeniable that stopping a viewer in their tracks is effective. This is a core tenet in the success of television advertising.

The challenge, of course, is converting this initial forced attention into voluntary focused attention. The growth of skippable video and closable display ads makes this challenge even more important and difficult. The other nine best practices in this top 10 list offer a good starting point.

8) Be Non-Interruptive

Just as interrupting the viewer’s content experience can be effective, so too can being a natural part of it. Native advertising has grown exponentially in recent years based on this principle.

It makes incredible intuitive sense that placing the right brand content in the right media context while the right person is consuming it will work, and numerous studies have proven this out.

Research has also shown clearly, however, that there’s a big risk if the advertising doesn’t pay off the user’s heightened expectation for relevance and authenticity.

9) Be Famous

While this may seem like a circular argument, one of the best ways to get attention is to have gained attention in the past, i.e., to be a well-known brand. This is important to call out, as executions that quickly establish the brand can have a head start to break through.

According to Facebook, “brand colors, themes, and imagery can help people connect the video to your brand, [as can] front-loading lifestyle/product shots and recognizable spokespeople.”

If your digital advertising is part of a cross-media campaign, make sure your digital assets are complementary. Too often, brands will create digital ads that look completely different from the rest of the campaign and wonder why they fail to break through.

10) Be Branded

Breakthrough is meaningless unless it is branded. According to the Ipsos (my employer) database, “Half of all TV ads fail to achieve objectives due to weak branding,” i.e., people are unable to recall which brand they were for.

It seems so simple, but it’s also incredible how often this happens. This is just as likely true for digital advertising, if history is a guide.

While there is no standard formula for achieving good brand attribution, ads that are more successful at communicating the brand name include those which feature:

brand integration — a relevant and integrated role for the brand within the scenario;
brand cues — elements and iconography that help identify the brand and tie it back to what the brand stands for; and
brand presence — recognizable brand shots or mentions.

Beyond Breakthrough

Digital advertising has raised the advertising breakthrough bar considerably. There is an avalanche of more: more content, more media, more devices, more multi-tasking, more ads and more ad types, yet the human brain has not increased its capacity for attention.

At the same time, digital offers the potential for advertising that transcends the breakthrough challenge; the new holy grail is advertising that people want to see and share with their friends.

What moves advertising into this exceptional category? Watch this space for more on that topic.

Peter Minnium is President of Ipsos Connect, where he leads the US team in helping companies measure and amplify how media, brands, and consumers connect through compelling content and great communications. Prior to his switch to market research, Peter was Head of Brand Initiatives at the IAB focused on addressing the under-representation of creative brand advertising online.

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