The forgotten art of advertising

By Peter Andrews | product marketing manager

August 3, 2015 | 8 min read

Data has become king. The immensely impressive targeting capabilities that big data has brought with it have created a feverish need amongst marketers to reach ‘the right users at the right time’. Given that mobile DSPs are starting to gain serious ground, ‘the right device’ and the ‘right place’ have suddenly also been added to this ad tech mantra.

Peter Andrews

With some marketers now confident to pay more to deliver their ads to the right audiences than they do for the advertising space itself, the emergence of extreme precision targeting is a sign that big data is beginning to live up to its immense hype. It is no wonder that Sir Martin Sorrell claimed we are now “math men not Mad Men”…

Would a Mad Man have been so wise as this?

Today the ad tech industry can seemingly do it all. Even previous concerns regarding whether marketers could be sure that they were getting what they were paying for have been perfectly allayed with solutions that allow users to check, double-check and triple-check to whom and where their campaign is being served – all in real time...

Advertising has come so far since the days that ‘Mad Men’ is supposed to portray, with new impressive possibilities seemingly popping up every week that turbocharge the industry’s capabilities to new impressive heights. The amazing efficiency, precision and scalability that ad tech offers gives marketers the impression that they can do no wrong. But what about the effectiveness of the ad on the users experience though?

Creative is not (just) a noun

I honestly think ads are boring these days. It is ages since I have seen an ad that really impressed me. With the immense amount of creative tools readily available at advertisers’ fingertips, and the sharp targeting capabilities available, there is absolutely no excuse as to why advertisers are not rousing their target audiences with flawless campaigns. Unfortunately this is by far the case for a lot of brands, who simply release bland campaigns that bypass all creativity and memorability, using the same strategy as every single other brand out there.

Consumers won’t buy something they don’t remember, -people learn that in their first lesson at business school. Today, all advertisers have the same tech tools available them, which does not set anyone apart from others. The differentiation occurs when a campaign is pepped up by a bit of old fashioned creativity.

As the great Dave Trott once said: “Creativity may well be the last legal unfair competitive advantage we can take to run over the competition”, so why not make the most of it?

You work in advertising, your job is to excite people, not herd them. Simply goading users into clicking your ad is simply not enough.

The metrics of success?

Big data has brought with it big responsibilities for marketers, as big data also means 'more data'. So the industry has come up with a range of metrics in order for CMOs to make sense of the plethora of available data in order to optimise their campaigns successfully. However, as American marketing pundit Seth Godin notes:

"Sometimes, we can't measure what we need, so we invent a proxy, something that's much easier to measure and stands in as an approximation. (...) When we fall in love with a proxy, we spend our time improving the proxy instead of focusing on our original (more important) goal instead."

This hits the nail directly on the head. The extreme dependency on metrics and KPI optimization that we see amongst marketers has quashed their willingness and/or ability to experiment with their advertising, effectively ripping any sort of innovation and truly creative thinking out of the equation.

Marketers tend to forget that a user’s brand preference is built on emotional and sociocultural connections. No metric, no matter how clever or precise it is, will ever change this fact.

So, forget metrics for a second, we’ll get back to that a little later. What is needed is creative ads that seamlessly engage and interact with their audience, -and not just in some fancy, high-tech intrusive manner.

So, no more crunching numbers, it’s time to get creative in order to make your online campaign successful. After all, it’s big, new CREATIVE ideas and not metrics, that remain in a person's mind long after the initial experience. Only the most creative ads are what really make a brand stick with the consumer in terms of top-of-mind awareness.

Advertising is simply not fun anymore. Don Draper would cry if he knew that his industry had been reduced to Excel sheets.

Creativity + big data = EUREKA

The old ‘right users at the right time on the right device’ mantra is often missing another component: the right ad. And I’m not thinking 'right ad' in terms of format compatibility. No. Forget ‘mobile first’, think ‘creativity first’. Everything else is secondary.

Your creative agency needs to display your product/service in the best possible way in order for you to attract your target audience, and big data will provide the vehicle to put it in front of them.

Metrics alone won’t improve your bottom line, but a brilliant ad combined with the right technology will. Ad tech providers supply the vehicle to take your campaign and enable it to perform in the best way possible. Ad tech makes your ads viewable, but it is up to you to make them memorable.

With so many premium brands moving towards automated campaigns, the future of the premium ad landscape is changing. If these brands are able to align their big data strategy with their creative potential, they will be on to a winner. However, if they fall into the trap of relying on metrics alone to push their brand, they will fail.

Maybe marketers are coming around after all though, with the birth of the so-called 'Attention Metrics' (yeah, that word again…), which has been released by the Financial Times. Attention Metrics will give brands longer guaranteed exposure time, allowing for more complex creative formats (and thereby campaigns) to potentially opening up a host of new opportunities for marketers to really get creative with their advertising. Whether the FT's initiative will prove to enable the rebirth of creative advertising, I’m not sure. Something is desperately needed though, because consumers are rapidly tuning out.

The fact is, we live in a time where everybody is connected, but precious few actually connect. Let’s move the advertising industry away from right half of the brain towards the creative left half, where it belongs.

Peter Andrews is a product marketing manager at Adform. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent Adform.


More from Advertising

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +