Online Marketing Is More Than Ads, It's Art

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As the Internet continues to evolve as a creative platform for marketers, it’s developing into a digital canvas which offers marketers a medium that rivals the impact of broadcast and print advertising. In order to unlock the full potential of this online channel for marketers, we can learn some important lessons from these traditional channels. 

The first lesson is that advertising content produced for the Web should be developed as art, just as broadcast and print marketers have done for years. Our industry is at its creative best when we embrace ads as an integral part of the overall media consumption experience. Look no further than the television spots produced for this year’s World Cup, or the high-glamour ad pages of the top fashion magazines for examples of marketers creating artistic content that becomes part and parcel of the overall experience. 

We also need to challenge the traditional conventions of what an online advertisement is supposed to look like, utilising richer and more flexible ad formats. Standardization of formats is important, but the old cliché tells us that we need to think outside the box, and that is literally the case with most online advertising today. When HP premiered its promotion for its latest line of laptops tied into Sex and The City 2, it altered the very appearance of celebrity-focused Web site omg!, connecting with its target audience through an ad format that rotated each of the tiled celebrity photos on the site, turning them into a single movie-style poster featuring its laptop line and the movie’s stars. Evolving and expanding online formats like this gives advertisers greater creative flexibility, and ultimately improves the user experience. By allowing marketers to do more with the entire screen, we are providing them with opportunities to tell their stories in surprising and entertaining ways, enabling them to make emotional connections with their audiences.

Traditional media has also taught us a lot about the value of bringing brands to the table early on in the development of new programming. Our industry’s work in branded entertainment provides some of the best examples. We’ve learned that properly executed brand integration can be immensely valuable to both advertisers and audiences. The key is to develop compelling programming embedded with brand messaging and integration that’s relevant to the overall experience. Take Toyota’s recent promotion for its Avalon line. A branded video entertainment program featured light-hearted content, wrapped with imagery of Toyota’s soon-to-be launched vehicle, providing two to three minutes of exposure for the brand—much longer than a 30-second spot on broadcast television.  With programming developed based on insights into the target audience’s top searches, Who Knew? offered engaging content specifically created with the target audience in mind; within a week, Who Knew? exceeded the viewership of many cable primetime shows. By its second week, the program was on par with network primetime shows. To keep savvy consumers engaged, the user and user experience is put first by developing programs and brand integrations that meet audience demand. Who Knew? recently aired its 100th episode.

While we can certainly learn a great deal from traditional media, there’s an equally critical lesson that our industry can champion: the importance of data, an area in which the digital arena has a distinct advantage. We tend to think about data and targeting as separate from the creative development process. But, the right data, paired with targeting technology, allows online advertising to deliver customised creative content based on audience demographics and interests. For instance, Macy’s took its popular Memorial Day Sale Book, traditionally a piece of offline marketing collateral, delivered it online in advance of the holiday, and made it relevant to each user through the smart use of data. Macy’s also took basic information about consumers interacting with the ad into account and used those insights to deliver a user-customised presentation. The resulting ads catered to the individual consumer’s demographic in a format that allowed them to further share the ads’ content via Facebook, Twitter and e-mail, and also directed shoppers to the nearest brick-and-mortar location. Understanding how to use data to develop exponentially more relevant and engaging creative is a critical step in unlocking all of the possibilities available through the digital canvas. 

Applying these lessons to online advertising will provide our industry’s creative minds with more opportunities to develop ads which are more artistic, entertaining and engaging, as well as more relevant and effective. And as we change the role of online marketing in the advertising ecosystem, consumers will benefit from memorable and surprising experiences personalised for their interests.  

Mitch Spolan is Yahoo!’s Vice President of North American Field Sales.

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