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This will sound like an exaggeration, but it’s not: when it comes to advertising and the Internet, user experience is the biggest opportunity in front of us. The past 20 years have seen the rise of a new media that enables almost limitless new ways to entertain, inspire, inform and serve people. The Internet allows anyone to be a creator and a critic, a performer and an audience member, an individual and part of a community, all at the same time.
Yet user experience is also the great marketing and media industry crisis of our time.
Our endless fascination with new technology and our desire to keep costs as low as possible has led to a form of consumer abuse in digital advertising. Frustrated users have responded by adopting ad-blocking software at an alarming rate. By ignoring a founding principle of the Internet—that consumers are in control—we have made advertising an outcast among the consumers we want to reach.
That’s because when we look at the tools at our disposal, too many of them define what we do creatively—simply because they exist.
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Creative technologies evolved because things became vanilla and boring. Animated ads come from underperforming static ads. Then from animated ads you get multimedia with video and audio. And then from that came highly impactful game ads. But while the technology has become more sophisticated, the experience for users hasn’t necessarily gotten better—in many cases, it’s gotten a lot worse.
They all started from a place of what we could do with technology. Creative technology has evolved to a point that allows for faster creation and bigger ideas, but it hasn’t evolved to the point where it can displace creative professionals or human ingenuity. Even worse, technology has determined what we do instead of what we should do.
During this year’s Super Bowl, a lot of money was spent on funny ads that cost millions of dollars to create, let alone run. Yet the most successful ad was the simplest: a QR code bouncing across the screen. Why? Because it was different, it didn’t look like other commercials that are typical of the Super Bowl, and it cut through all that noise. Coinbase’s ad wasn’t even a very targeted buy – but the very fact that it was different and new made it work.
Coinbase’s ad was low-tech (a little ugly, but in a fun retro way) and genius — and it takes us back to our roots, when advertising was a source of inspiration and delight. A 2017 Nielsen study looked at 500 internet ad campaigns and found that when the ad message is good, it’s an incredible driver of success: up to 89% for digital ads. This is remarkable. Yet in the digital industry, we’ve taken history right back, and we’re paying a heavy price for it.
Related: How Much Should Entrepreneurs Care About User Experience?
Instead of making technology a necessary enabler of great user experiences and advertising messages, too many of us are putting technology first, looking for more and more ways to automate marketing decisions, lower prices, mine data and increase impulsivity – ignoring user experience and what users want.
- Don’t be too disruptive to the UX. Your ads and messaging should be disruptive, but if your placement creates a negative experience, you risk creating a negative association for your brand. Think about the context in which your ads will be placed and what users are there for. Native ads are a great tool; contextual targeting can ensure that your ads are not inappropriate in their placement.
- Provide something unique. Your users are people. Think about who they are and what they value. Use creative and authentic brand messages that will appeal to the right audience. Use interactivity with high impact advertising messages or even humor if appropriate.
- Consider how you apply creative ad technologies. Creative professionals know that you don’t take advantage of ad tech just because you can—smart strategy and smart design should lead the way. They can effectively use the latest tools by understanding when and how to apply them to represent brands effectively.
Related: Marketers Need to Address These 3 Things to Beat the Great Resignation Talent Exodus
This highlights what I believe are some ground rules for what makes great creatives in a world filled with technology but inhabited by real people:
- Users are not a set of data points. They are living beings with intellect, emotions, ideas, wants and needs that must be understood in order to be served.
- Platforms are always changing. Social media, mobile devices, connected TV — technology is constantly evolving, and our creators must evolve with it. But it has to start with the user first, not just what is possible with the technology.
- Technology is critical to meeting the heightened expectations of new audiences. But technology should enable creativity, not dictate it.
We need to get back to basics and put the user experience first — and this year’s top-performing Super Bowl ad was a great reminder of that. You can accomplish something with remarkable simplicity if it’s right. A good idea and well-executed advertising message, when combined with a smart media strategy, can generate performance and lead to a successful campaign, and this is especially true when it is carefully integrated with all the advantages that ad technology can offer.
Now let’s get to work.
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