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Forget the hero ad – integrated creative is the new hero

By Scott Everett | Senior Creative Director



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August 15, 2023 | 7 min read

The 30- or 60-second TV spot – the ‘hero ad’ – has long been the prestige center of ad campaigns. Is it time for that approach to die? PMG’s Scott Everett thinks so.

A lego figurine of Batman, in shadow on a ccolorful background

Hero ads: not the hero marketing needs right now? / Ali Kokab via Unsplash

This might be controversial on the tailwinds of celebrating Cannes Lions, but it’s time to stop making hero ads the hero of every brand story.

The almighty 60- and 30-second spots that we have long revered as the centerpiece of every brand campaign are no longer the most important components of the marketing mix. That’s not to say that TV advertising and brand-building storytelling are not important, but it is time to acknowledge that advertising has fundamentally evolved. Today’s brands need a more nimble and data-driven creative model that recognizes live TV audiences are shrinking, streaming and social viewership are on the rise, and our creative canvas is exploding with opportunities to make advertising work harder and perform better.

Creatives have long put their faith into hero ads for building brands, but right now, we have an opportunity to embrace the power of integrated creative in telling stories and driving business impact. With audiences and engagement more fragmented than ever, customer journeys aren’t linear, and our creative strategies can’t be either. That means creative must be more unique, more complete, more agile, and in more places than ever before.

In media agencies, creative teams are benefiting from the innovation and inspiration that come from creative, strategy, and media working together. We are serving an increasingly complex and competitive marketing landscape, informed by new behaviors, artificial intelligence, and breaking through in new mediums ranging from Netflix to TikTok and Reddit.

Never before have we had more audience signals or indicators of intent helping us move people along the journey from awareness to purchase. Equally, never before has the journey been less of a straight path than it is today.

Mastering this creative flywheel is the hardest and most important job ahead of brands and creatives working together to build high-performing marketing strategies. Here’s how we can better align for the full-funnel future.

1. Build a flexible and robust story platform that fuels a high-performing media plan

Brand versus performance. Data versus instinct. Creative versus creators. Super Bowl spots versus Performance Max ads. It’s not either/or, and we all must embrace the healthy tension of building a plan together.

A flexible creative storytelling platform is a comprehensive, consistent library of stories that fuels a smart media plan, facilitating real-time iteration, optimization, and learning. When everyone is operating from the same blueprint and playbook, creatives can flex into any opportunity, planned or unplanned, and advertising works harder to deliver more for the brand.

2. Plan for speed and agility

While our creative palette for building cultural relevance has expanded, speed to market is critical. Everyone must work together across strategy, insights, creative, and media to adapt to where consumers are and what they expect from advertisers. Once everyone is aligned on the brand’s objectives, teams can be empowered to deliver impact in real time. This can be anything from partnering to accelerate the media and creative working hardest to leaning into emerging opportunities like AI, the metaverse, first-mover advantages with creators and platform partners, and any number of new ways of bringing creative ideas to market.

3. Embrace the white space between brand and performance

While TV ads are great for building broad awareness, product ads can be untapped opportunities for creatively engaging with a brand’s audience. Too many advertisers continue to bridge brand-to-conversion with discount messaging rather than creating a cohesive storytelling strategy around building brand and product love. The middle funnel is the creative frontier that makes all marketing work harder, and it’s beckoning us to think beyond the creative approaches of the past.

Technology advancements in this area are particularly exciting. For example, at PMG, we’re using AI to determine real-time creative insights that tell us what creative is performing best in any given moment, based on creative elements ranging from color to product types to backgrounds or the use of models.

Once we let go of making hero ads the hero, creative can work harder across the full customer journey. Integrated creative can then truly become the hero of helping businesses meet their goals and accelerate into the future.

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PMG is a global independent digital company that seeks to inspire people and brands that anything is possible. Driven by shared success, PMG uses strategy, creative, media, and insights, as well as its proprietary marketing intelligence platform Alli, to deliver Digital Made for Humans™. Our team is made up of over 900 employees globally, and our work for brands like Apple, Best Western Hotels & Resorts, Dave & Buster's, Experian, Kohler, Nike, Sephora, and Shake Shack runs across 85+ countries and has received top industry recognition from Cannes Lions to Adweek Media Plan of the Year. Ranked by Deloitte, Inc., Entrepreneur, and Adweek as one of the fastest-growing companies in the nation, PMG has grown because of its commitment to continuous improvement, business integrity, cultivating dynamic relationships, and putting people first. Named 9X Ad Age's Best Places to Work, 5X Best Places for Working Parents, Fortune's Best Workplaces for Women and 2X Fast Company's Best Workplaces for Innovators, PMG has also been named to Ad Age's Agency A-List, Adweek's Breakthrough Media Agency of the Year and 2X MediaPost's Independent Agency of the Year.

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