Creativity in advertising can make or break brands.
From the classic Budweiser Frogs adverts to Old Spice’s viral Smell Like A Man ads, when creativity is done well, it can propel your brand into the mainstream.
However, some companies very much miss the purpose of ad creatives, favoring arcane humor, boring features, or the comically surreal over emotive benefit-led messaging and calls to action.
Having a purpose behind your ads is imperative. And this purpose needs to be tied closely to your business objectives.
What are you trying to achieve? Who are you targeting? What’s the benefit to them and to you?
Digital advertising can be expensive, and you want to be able to see returns on that investment. This article will summarize why injecting a purpose into your ad creative is so important.
There’s no shortage of competition for attention
The days of simply having a competent ad campaign on the air being enough to bump up sales are long gone, and there are two big reasons for this.
Firstly, there are more businesses than ever before, each armed with the rich research possibilities of the internet and the capability to use any and all of the numerous available online advertising channels, so standards have been driven up.
And secondly, a combination of the ad industry’s tricks becoming increasingly exposed and the average consumer having more ways than ever before to avoid ads has made ads in general less potent.
With more companies looking for exposure, advertising being highly-accessible, and programmatic networks ensuring that every last online ad space is filled, everyday life has become an advertising minefield.
It’s no surprise that people have moved from seeing them as entertaining novelties to considering them infuriating inconveniences.
A nice product photo and a simple message can go a long way for someone who rarely sees ads, but for someone who sees hundreds of nearly-identical ads every day, you need to do more. You need your message to be more consequential than that.
You don’t get long to stand out
Much has been made of shortening attention spans in the digital age, with some claiming that we’re essentially goldfish at this point and others questioning that notion — but even if we had lengthy attention spans, it wouldn’t change the way we browse social media feeds or surf the internet.
It isn’t a weak attention span that leads to someone swiping idly through hundreds of Facebook updates. It’s an absence of anything different. It’s sheer boredom with the lack of variety.
The same old post types, the same old image galleries… even the same old shocking clickbait titles start to blur together after a while.
The average internet user is looking for something to shake them away from that monotonous browsing experience — to draw them in somehow and let them know that, yes, this is something worth their time.
Is that easy? Absolutely not. Depending on the audience, it can be incredibly hard. But that’s just the nature of the challenge. The alternative is to give up on advertising altogether or just keep running ads that may be cheap to create but will never accomplish anything significant.
Consider it an adaptation of the “if you’re not first, you’re last” approach. Either you win the click or you get left behind and forgotten instantly.
Today’s formats allow condensed storytelling
There’s one other vital reason why you need to inject more purpose into your ad creatives: because you can, much more easily than ever before.
When smartphones first arrived on the market, their creative options were limited. You could have basic ad images, and perhaps some gaudy animated GIFs if you wanted to slow everything to a crawl and annoy people.
But the smartphone of today is rich with content potential.
If you want to use autoplaying HD video, you can. You can implement a slideshow, or a high-quality GIF. You can gamify elements of your advertising campaign, incorporating polls into your Instagram stories to create extended ad experiences that build purpose-driven narratives piece by piece.
Don’t just tell someone what your product can do for them: show it across a visually-powerful tale.
You won’t get a vast amount of screen real-estate in any social media feed or in any ad placement on a website, and if you find your way into a YouTube video, you’ll have next to no chance of drawing someone in for a 60-second ad right off the bat.
By treating your first point of connection as a first chapter (or even a prologue), you can stand a chance of compelling someone to actively seek out the next part of the story, getting that valuable attention and making them considerably more engaged.
How to inject purpose into your advertising
So, having established why you should put your time, effort and resources into making your ad creative more purpose-driven, how exactly do you do it? Well, here are some general tips you should follow:
Focus on the benefit to the prospective customer
Imagine you were advertising cars to new parents.
Do you think they would be interested in the speed of the car, or how fast it could accelerate from 0-60? Probably not. It’s more likely they would be interested in the safety of the car, its comfort, or its space.
As much as you might think you know the great features of your product or service, your potential buyers may be motivated by something completely different.
If you’re going to understand how they think, you’ll need to learn more about them. You may have looked at these questions before, but there’s no harm in going back to them from time to time:
● Are they male or female?
● How old are they?
● What do they like?
● What do they dislike?
● Where do they shop (e.g. online, in store)?
● What are they worried about?
Remember that people (and demographics) change over time, so even the best buyer persona won’t deliver value indefinitely and must be periodically revised.
And if you manage to retain an audience long enough to advertise various products, remember that an ad doesn’t exist in a vacuum — by playing on previous successful ads, you can take advantage of that lingering power and show people that your marketing as a whole is purpose-driven and not the result of a scattergun approach.
Build everything around emotion
Creative language is great, and often very fun. Everyone loves low prices, too. And then there’s luxury presentation. In fact, there are numerous things that people like to see in ads — but they don’t sell the way that emotion does.
Whether you’re bringing up a negative emotion that your product can remove, or introducing a positive emotion that your product can provide, having an emotional core to your advertising makes it memorable and compelling.
To find this emotional core, think carefully about how your customers live, using the persona information you’ve already revised.
How can you preserve what already makes them happy, or offer something new and wonderful, or equip them to overcome their troubles?
From their perspective, the purpose of your product is to do at least one of those things, and it’s up to you to show that it can not only live up to that requirement but also do it in a unique way.
If you’re not convinced about the power of emotion, think why you buy brands over supermarket own-brand equivalents.
Take a surface cleaner like Lysol.
A supermarket equivalent is chemically identical, doing exactly the same job, yet you may well prefer Lysol. Why? Because its ads focus on protecting your family. Its website even has a dedicated section for parents looking to keep their kids healthy.
By bringing up the emotional core that drives people to buy surface cleaners — the perception of dirt as unhealthy and a risk to happy family life — Lysol’s advertising presents the brand as caring and understanding.
And if you’re going to trust a company to make effective cleaning products, aren’t you more likely to trust the company that recognizes the major consequences of not cleaning properly over the company that seems to view cleaning as merely a pragmatic endeavor?
You may start out with an assortment of practical reasons why someone should buy your product, but if you think about it very carefully, you should be able to identify the emotional core and work in a connection.
Stick to emotional purpose, and you’ll be able to engender brand loyalty.
Bring everything back to action
So far we’ve looked at the composition of purpose-driven ads, but we can’t wrap up without touching on the practical side of things and reminding ourselves that advertising must be actionable.
It can be easy to let this slip away from your mind when you start figuring out all the interesting stories you can tell, thinking that it will suffice to make your brand look good and let prospective customers take it from there. It won’t.
In the end, you’re advertising because you want to improve sales, increase sign-ups or generate leads.
Creativity is laudable but it doesn’t pay the bills, and an ad campaign can be a hit with people without making you even a single dollar. How?
Because it can be like putting on a show in the street but forgetting to ask for donations. If you don’t ask for something in return, people will assume you either don’t need anything or are already getting return on your investment in some unknown way.
Take a look through these examples of creative ads. How many do you think resulted in a sales increase? What do you think their objectives were? It’s important to consider this before you even start your creative brief.
Every ad must lead up to a powerful CTA that (ideally) results in you making money — the more compelling the ad, the bigger the pitch can be. Blow people away with a confident and emotionally-compelling narrative and you can sell them your high-value products.
And with so many channels available, it’s important to keep everything closely integrated.
A modern ad strategy might include Facebook advertising, Google Ads, programmatic PPC networks, Snapchat ads, Instagram influencer marketing, blog post writing and infographic production, to name just some methods.
If you use ten channels, ensure that you can meaningfully follow all of them to know when and where your ads are proving effective.
Each platform has different emotional significance: Facebook is better for familial matters, while Pinterest is great for the excitement of interior design.
But keep in mind that you don’t have to use every channel that’s available.
Some messages won’t work on all platforms (a long-form video marketing campaign isn’t going to be great for Google Ads), and some businesses simply aren’t suited to organic traffic-building (seasonal store are perfect fits for scalable PPC traffic and wholly unsuitable for the arduous long-term traffic generation of organic SEO).
Temper your purpose-driven creativity with practicality and you’ll thrive.
There’s no doubt that creative advertising can be powerful. It’s been around for centuries and drives more of our buying decisions than any of us would like to admit.
But without a purpose, you’ll spend money without seeing a return. You need to know your audience and find a way to reach it with compelling, emotive messaging.
Then, when the creativity is added, you’ll really see your brand take off.