Tuesday, May 26, 2009

why most web ad creative still sucks


Brian Morrissey of Adweek posed an interesting question the other day: Are designers to blame for bad web ads?

(Of course not everyone thinks they're bad. But if you're reading this blog, you probably agree that with a few notable exceptions, they are pretty awful. For you (and me) there's now Ad Block Plus-an app that replaces online ads with images from curated photography collections (!)

I think the fault for lame web creative lies not with designers, but with old agency constructs. As long as creatives see web campaign components as add-ons, as long as we're willing to throw them over the ropes to "guys in interactive" and as long as "interactives" work in isolation, kept out of the club where briefings, strategy and creative executions take place, web ad space will continue to be a place where designers try to out-flash, out-code, out-animate each other. In other words, ads will remain tactically-focused, failing to forge emotional connections basic to the power of advertising's persuasiveness. Imagine what print ads or TV spots would look like if created by only those in production.

Recently, IAB chief Randall Rothenberg argued for putting creatives together with web designers (or creative technologists or digital experience strategists or whatever is the au courant title of day) to form a new creative partnership as transformational to our business as Bill Bernbach pairing copywriters and art directors. (Fact from the wayback machine: until the 60s, they worked apart. Writers used to slip copy under AD's doors, with requests for illustration and--because the requests were coming from writers-- often didn't make sense from a visual perspective. An oldtimer once told me he received a yellow page of aspirin copy with the request for drawing of "man without a headache".)

I agree with Rothenberg that before creative change in web advertising can take place, we need to change the way web creative is done. (Bob Greenburg of R/GA has been saying this for a while.) We have to stop segregating web advertising from advertising. If the state of online creative is to improve, we have to take what we've learned in decades of doing offline advertising and, working with new rules of consumer engagement, take back creative in the digital space.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

But who really does this anymore? Is there any agency out there that just throws an idea over the fence to some interactive designer and lets them do their thing in a vacuum?

Nearly every art director I know also does the concept, layout and animation for web banners. The only thing they throw over the fence is the actual programming, and even then they still approve everything along the way.

The reason web banners suck is simple: agencies don't think they're sexy and don't demand fresh thinking; clients don't really want to spend the money to do something cool; media people make the same tired buys before the creatives have even begun; and too many sites still only allow small K sizes.

This post is kind of like asking "Why isn't all the junk mail I get really cool?"

Carri Bugbee said...

I think the real reason Web ads suck is because they’re not created by traditional ad agencies at all – they’re created by search marketing firms, which dominate the online advertising space.

Most search marketing firms don’t have in-house creatives. Indeed, a lot of search marketing is at odds with so-called good creative because so-called bad creative actually gets good results. SEMs live and die by analytics (and in many cases, multivariate testing), so there is little incentive for them to explore more creative options if click-throughs are good for crappy creative.

So, I’d say the reason there are so many bad ads on the Web is because people like ‘em! It must be the same basic reason there’s so much reality TV programming these days. There’s just no accounting for taste. :-)

@CarriBugbee

simon billing said...

Completely agree that the silo approach to web work is a problem but I also think defining it as a medium tends to be misleading.

The web is a parallel universe wherein all traditional media and marketing activities (ads, PR, promotions, events, direct/database, brochures, et al)are available to us - except that creatively, we are freed from the shackles of formula dictated by mass media.

Frances Webster said...

Okay, this is shameless self promotion, but here is an example of a web ad that does not suck:

http://walrusnyc.com/work/?cat=14

Created by Walrus, a "traditional" advertising agency, for CW-X, a sports apparel company. The campaign is currently running on runnersworld.com

Since the launch, viewers have spent an average of 51 seconds on the banner and over 50% who expanded the banner have clicked through to the website.


Enjoy.

Anonymous said...

Carri, I don't know what agency you work for, but in the last 10 years I've worked at or freelanced at probably 30 different "traditional" agencies and every single one of them does their own banner ads.

You can't blame search agencies for the bad banner ads out there.

Ad Broad, oldest working writer in advertising said...

@Anonymous Congrats. You work in an admirably enlightened environment. But I believe there are still plenty of ADs who don't/can't do their own banners. Couldn't agree with you more on your other points, though: agencies don't demand fresh thinking on web banners b/c they're not perceived as sexy; clients don't want to spend $$, etc. It seems to me that (virtual) junk mail will never be cool, unless we start asking ourselves why it isn't. ;)

@Carri Bugbee You bring up an important question, one as relevant to offline advertising as it is to online: why bother to do good creative when crappy creative gets results? I can't agree that "the reason there are so many bad ads on the Web is because people like 'em." I don't think CTR can be interpreted as the best measure of interest or engagement. In fact, studies show people are more likely to click through on ads that annoy them. Just like millions of people bought Charmin when research showed Mr. Whipple irritated the hell out of just about everyone. What made him so effective was repetition. (Coincidentally, Alan Wolk posts excellent thoughts on this subject today.) I grant you that bad creative can prove effective. But my (perhaps wildly optimistic) hope is, we can be just as effective, if not more so, by entertaining people instead of annoying them.

@Simon Billing Interesting point. But being freed from the shackles of broadcast media formulas presents a far greater creative challenge, don't you agree?

@Frances Webster I didn't mean to imply that all web ads suck. Congrats for being in the minority.

@Anonymous Hello, fellow migrant. No doubt, we've crossed paths. I don't think bad banner creative is necessarily a function of the type of shop...more a function of the type of creative.

bob hoffman said...

The reason most web creative sucks is the same reason most off-line ads suck, most tv shows suck, most movies suck, most novels suck, most art sucks and most music sucks. It's because talent and creativity are rare and precious things.

adchick said...

It's still a new medium that must be mastered. Geeks shouldn't be doing this work...creatives should. Apple did it right...it's the best I've seen so far!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=smMgXH295zM

Anonymous said...

adbroad,

Don’t even get me started. The comments on this thread demonstrate the true issue, although no individual here probably gets it. That is, digital is handled in a diverse range of ways. While traditional advertising, direct marketing, experiential marketing, promotions, etc. have certain best practices and standards, digital is all over the map. The problem is, everyone thinks their way is right, and they diss all the other ways. Additionally, another problem involves traditional advertising practitioners’ penchant for putting value judgments on all non-traditional advertising – i.e., advertising is the lead, everything else is below-the-line and bullshit. There will be no integration so long as the current regimes retain their political power. The inability of advertising to integrate with digital is no different than their inability to integrate with any other discipline. Places like Draftfcb and Euro RSCG are shining examples of the problem, despite their self-hype saying they are pioneering something. You need to consider another issue preventing integration: the different disciplines are working off of different business models and making money in different ways. No one (besides small shops that started as integrated enterprises) has managed to create a single P&L. So the divisions remain for billing purposes too. The clients are segregating the budgets, and they’re segregating the assignments. Your observations and suggestions are basically correct. But the hierarchies and structures make it impossible to realize the ideals.

Ad Broad, oldest working writer in advertising said...

@bob hoffman Ha. Can always count on you to get to the heart of a matter ;)

@adchick Great example. Hadn't seen this one. Thanks.

@anonymous#3 Thanks for weighing in with this considered response. Good point about different shops working off different biz models. For instance, ever since 15% went away, many ad agencies have charged for creative but thrown in strategy "free." A precedent that's created problems in billing for other disciplines, some of which require far more emphasis and resources on strategy than on creative (as it is traditionally defined and compensated) Clients disgruntled about paying for what they're used to getting for free sometimes partition this business to other shops where price structures revolve around strategy...and where clients suddenly value strategy because they're paying for it...exemplifying your point that present structures make it hard to realize goals--but impossible? I guess I hold out more hope than that for an industry where survival depends on ability to reinvent.

Teenie said...

Even though I work in advertising--and even though I pay attention to newspaper ads, TV ads, radio ads, billboards, guerilla ads, and so on--I still find on-line advertising annoying.

Perhaps because it's all pretty bad, or lame, or for an audience that's too wide, or because I'm busy... but I can't remember a single online ad I've looked at with any interest, unless someone sent it to me purposely.

Is it fair to say ads have no place online? Or maybe we haven't figured out how to create ads that fit the medium?

Anonymous said...

To be clear, I don’t think the solutions are impossible. I’m just saying the current structures and hierarchies make it impossible. There seems to be little indication that traditional advertising will quietly relinquish its power. They’d prefer to try and take over the digital functions. Catch-22 is they are nt qualified to do so – and once they realize how digital works (i.e., fast and cheap), they really can’t manage.

Ad Broad, oldest working writer in advertising said...

@Teenie I don't think the problem is that you're too busy. I think that the problem is, most online advertising is ;)

@Anonymous Thanks for the clarification. Your last point is echoed in Bob Greenberg's article. He claims even if the industry rebalances itself, there's a talent hole at traditional agencies where lack of digital skill is exceeded only by lack of free parking spaces ;)

Anonymous said...

maybe we just need to bust our asses and have fun doing it. is there an app for that?

Ad Broad, oldest working writer in advertising said...

Ha. Great app idea. I'd download in a sec.