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A creative director’s guide to making art with data


By Amy Houston | Reporter

April 21, 2022 | 6 min read

Digital advertising often has a reputation for being data-driven, metric-focused and a little lackluster with its creative output, but it doesn’t have to be. As part of our The Drum’s Digital Advertising Deep Dive, we catch up with AKQA’s creative director Florence Ng to gain insight into how brands can use this space to engage with audiences in more interesting ways.

The digital landscape is saturated with unremarkable ads. Click on any website and you’ll no doubt be faced with some kind of banner, image or video that you pay zero attention to. But with so much media at our disposal, how can advertisers ensure their campaigns pack the same punch as more traditional methods?

Eleni Afiontzi

How can advertisers make digital ads more remarkable?

The answer, says AKQA creative director Florence Ng, is to “dig deeper into the data, pull out insights and then use that as fuel to think about new ways of attacking advertising”.

Ng, who is also a judge of The Drum Awards for Digital Advertising, tells us: “There’s a lot of creativity that we see in digital advertising already, but in most of what we see it seems like they are just plugging in data, plug and play, instead of like really thinking of interesting ways to play with it.”

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Last year, social media giant Meta generated $114.93bn in ad revenue and next year Instagram is projected to reach roughly $40bn in annual ad sales. The scale is huge and the audience targeting options are powerful, but users’ attention spans have decreased over the years, resulting in less memorable campaigns, to say the least. So how can advertisers start to make digital ads more creatively well-executed?

“We need to explore more ways of leveraging digital and think beyond the medium itself. Maybe look at inspiration from other places to see how we can apply it to digital advertising.

“Sight and sound are things that we want to start to play with a little bit more. How can we use all this data that we have and make it a little bit more personal and resonate with the audience?”

With so much data at advertisers’ disposal, it’s important to focus on what the audience wants, the message that needs to be conveyed and the purpose of the creative elements to make the ads exciting. It all boils down to what makes the user want to engage in the first place.

“Sometimes we get a little bit like too overcomplicated for technology for technology’s sake or engagement for engagement’s sake,” notes Ng. “We know that people’s attention spans are very, very limited. What is the one thing that really can trigger them?”

Noting that this comes down to working closely with a design team to create simple, easy-to-understand messages, Ng adds that the most important creative move is to “take a step back“ and look at things from an audience perspective to see if you are grabbed by it. Put yourself in the consumer’s shoes and question if it gets you excited. “What is that extra step that we can take to talk to them?”

Digital ads are a huge part of integrated marketing campaigns and being consistent in your tone of voice across all channels, including social media, out-of-home (OOH), TV or print, will ensure lasting value. Visually, that means the art direction, copywriting, message and storytelling all needs to be in sync or digital ads can end up just being noise on a website.

“People don’t think as much about the overall creative any more,” says Ng of social media influencer advertising. “Once you get the message out, maybe through an influencer, how do you sustain it and complete that story? That’s where those creative ideas need to come in, in terms of building on that story, that awareness and building that long-term affinity to the brand.”

Of course, with a creative project, it’s good to take stock of how far you should push the artistic boundaries. With any marketing plan, the audience must be at the forefront, but with so many tools are our fingertips it could feel overwhelming.

Think back to some of your favorite ad campaigns, advises Ng. Whether ‘Got Milk?’ by Goodby Silverstein & Partners or Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ by Dan Wieden, ask yourself what made them great and how that can be applied to digital advertising. “Don’t overcomplicate the creative,” she says.

“What are the things that can actually bring a little bit of smile to someone’s face for a couple of seconds?”

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