Why (Some Of) Your Ads Should Suck

Oct 13, 2019  |  By Ron Wesson  |  

Ah, the advertising creative process. It’s why we do our jobs. Who doesn’t want to spend their days coming up with exciting, challenging, clever words, concepts, and images that impress our friends, make our moms proud, and delight our clients so much that they want to kiss us on the lips?

Of course, all of this usually needs to be accomplished in a lot less time than we would like to get the job done. We can even pull off all of that and still fail in the one area where our ads really matter. That one area is with the customer the ad is intended to reach. Why? Because we either: 1) forget to truly consider the customer in our ad creation; or 2) assume we know what makes the customer “buy.”

The first reason is the most unforgivable.

Let’s face it, I want to love my ad. I want to be proud of it. I want it to win awards. I want grandma to point to her phone and show her friends that awe inspiring pre-roll video. I want my tiny HTML5 banner ad to end world hunger and bring peace to all nations.

The client wants to love my ad. They want it to be their ad. They want to impress their boss. They want to make sure it contains all 17 brand colors, all three company taglines, 110% proper grammar, and a logo that can be seen from outer space.

The only problem with all of this? I am not the one who is buying this product or services. The client isn’t the one who is buying this product or service. And honestly, even if I asked the exact target customer to help me create the most effective ad for her, she doesn’t really even know what makes her do what she does. She may know what she likes, but she doesn’t truly understand what makes her actually reach for her wallet on a purchase or elicit some other change in behavior. More than once, I’ve been surprised at what a focus group insists are the most important elements of a purchase or decision, only to see them go an entirely different direction when it comes to spending their real money in the real world.  Let’s be honest, a lot of times the ads that end up being the most effective are the ones that kind of sucked— or at least we thought they did.

So, what are we as advertisers to do?

Luckily for us, this is the digital age. We have at our disposal an unprecedented capability to identify customers and interact with them; and then test, measure, and pivot based on those results.

Trying to make one perfect ad is purely inexcusable in today’s world.

Technology now allows us to test a huge array of headlines, body copy, images, sounds, and video with real audiences. With computer learning and artificial intelligence (AI) systems, we can reach each potential customer on an almost individual basis, and measure millions of data points, determining which exact combination of creative elements is most effective for each scenario. No, seriously, we can. It’s just that usually we don’t. Because we want to love our ad.

This technology exists for banner ads, native ads, paid social media ads, and even video. Video ads can be computer-analyzed in real time for viewer engagement by each video segment, and we can create new videos using the individual elements most effective for each ad medium and customer group.

We can use these techniques to test online what will eventually be our offline ads (billboards, magazine ads, etc.) by running dynamic creative testing first. This isn’t perfect, but it beats rolling out brilliant but non-effective advertising.

Assuming that your client truly wants to appeal to their customer base, here is your (and my) checklist to make sure at least some of your ads suck. While this may not get you on the cover of AdWeek, or bring fame to your family for generations, it will assure you are doing all you can to make your ads the most effective they can be to the right individual at the right time. Which, hopefully, is the name of the game.

Get Out of Your Own Way
Remember, you’re not the one responding to these ads. Even if you are in the target demographic, you’re only one person.  What you love/hate/fear (clowns anyone?) may or may not translate to your peers in their environments. Your talents and value come into play in how you use your client’s objectives to push the creative boundaries in both directions:  the fabulous and the mundane. Remember, the best ad is the one that works.

Educate Your Client
It’s all well and good until it’s time to actually roll these ideas in front of the client. They very likely won’t understand the process at first. But it’s important to keep pointing them back to the strategy and objectives of the campaign. It can certainly be an uphill battle, but at least go down swinging. Let them know you’ll do a few ads “their way” but you also want to try a few other options, and let the customer decide which he or she prefers.

Create Enough Variations
The biggest errors in creating multiple variations are keeping them too similar or creating too few of them. Try to push this as far as you can within the brand standards and established “guard rails” (if you are subject to them). Don’t just make three tiny variations of the same thing! Elicit different emotions, use vastly different imagery, use different lengths of copy, try a few different styles. You’ll very likely be shocked at which combinations hit that sweet spot and resonate with the audience.

Monitor the Results
Don’t just set it and forget it. Observe how things are progressing. Yes, AI is awesome, but you still need to make sure you are teaching the computer brain the right things from the start. Double-check your settings to ensure you have properly instructed the system of your objectives. Are you looking for overall brand awareness, quality website traffic, form submissions, email addresses collected, purchases, etc.?  After a brief learning curve (depending on the volume of impressions) you should start seeing some clear trends and often very obvious winners.

With your new-found knowledge, take another crack at creative. Observe what really seemed to resonate with the audience and what appeared to fall flatter than a thin crust pizza. You may be able to do more of the same if you mined some real gold, or you may need to push those boundaries out a little more in certain directions. That’s the art to this science.

Rinse, Repeat
Now that you’ve done it once, drink a Diet Coke and get back out there. Each iteration of the process should bring you just a little closer to advertising nirvana. When the great results start rolling in, that “sucky” ad doesn’t look quite so bad anymore. It’s a new world, we might as well get used to it.

Besides, your grandma doesn’t really understand what you do anyway.

All Blogs