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Why online advertising is killing creativity

Recently I looked through various ‘greatest Ads of all times’ lists, and one thing struck me. They are largely all TV-led. For example, the biggest global advertising event is arguably the Super Bowl in the USA, where every year agencies try to outdo each other creatively.

These ads hit the headlines worldwide; with a casual Google search, one can bring up a stack of features on Super Bowl advertising.

If you didn’t know any better, based on those articles you’d think that traditional channels, in particular TV, still eat up the lion’s share of brands’ advertising budgets.

But that is not so. For example, if you look at the UK, digital advertising overtook TV advertising spend as far back as 2009. Other markets have been slower to catch up, but according to Zenith, globally, internet advertising spend this year will be worth $205 billion compared to $192 billion for TV. So why aren’t we seeing the same kind of creativity online as we are in traditional media? There are a few reasons:

Social media is the great leveller but it has also reduced quality

First of all, the growth of social media has lowered the bar to allow anyone to advertise, but it has also seen a decrease in the quality of online ads.

A recent Digiday article talked about Snapchat loosening its ad criteria and as a result opened the floodgate to “bad ads.” The article points out that “a drift to low-quality ads seems to go along with a platform’s maturity.”

So for example, Instagram founder Kevin Systrom used to approve every single ad that appeared on the platform to make sure it had the right quality and fit. Now, you can put anything out on Instagram provided you abide by Facebook’s ad guidelines.

A knock-on effect is that where brands used to engage creative teams at ad agencies to come up with ad concepts, often a social media or PR agency is now briefed to knock up something quick and cheap using nothing more sophisticated than free online tools such as Canva.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a good thing that digital advertising is so accessible. But at the same time, there should not be a trade off in creativity. After all you might ‘only’ spend $100 or $1000, but if it’s a bad and low quality ad, it’s still a waste of money.

As a result, I believe there’s a need for creative agencies to reassert themselves as brand guardians on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.

A lot of online advertising tends to be formulaic and project based

Related to the last point, an opinion piece from The Drum in May points out that projects are killing creativity. Essentially the focus is often on tactical executions rather on creative themes and campaigns.

For example, brands scramble to get ‘something viral’ out around events such as Mother's Day where the only success metric is the popularity of the video, and as people reading this blog will know, a video view for Facebook has been as little as three seconds, which is arguably worthless. As a result, focusing on one-off projects means there’s a lack of an overall creative theme.

The Facebook / Google duopoly means other options aren’t considered

According to the most recent Mary Meeker Internet trends report, 85% of online advertising growth is driven by Facebook and Google, leading to what the Financial Times last year called an online advertising “duopoly."

There are good reasons for advertisers to like Facebook and Google. Facebook gives you a lot of user data and all marketers understand the power of Google search. But the focus on Google and Facebook, and its associated businesses such as YouTube and Instagram, means a lot of other options aren’t considered.

We’ve worked with a range of leading media buying agencies that are aware of the possibilities that rich media advertising offers, but for many others it isn’t yet on their radar.

More choice and some of the new ad formats we offer enable a more creative scope. Rich media ads have demonstrated strong results for brands, and this means more effective advertising overall.

As a result, my advice for brands and creative agencies is to get a tighter reign on the creative direction of an online ad campaign — to look at overall creative themes that span across different channels. Then break out of the Facebook / Google duopoly to explore other ad formats that provide more scope for creativity and more tangible results.

Eric Visser is the founder and chief executive of JustPremium

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