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Innovating Advertising Content

August 26, 2013

If you take a look out at the evolving landscape, we are currently in a transitory phase in the advertising business. In this post I am talking about creative advertising content, not the business as a whole, just the formats of advertising.

Today, we are living in a hybrid advertising world; where centuries old advertising forms co-exist with new channels and truly new forms have yet to fully emerge, so there’s a feeling that it’s not all quite in-sync. This is happening because these old-school approaches continue to prove be effective enough, the incumbent media owners are reluctant to encourage change and the channels and technologies haven’t yet fully evolved.

Most ad experts say it’s important to start with the strategy first; the idea should drive everything, which is true, but ideas have to run on and in media channel and those formats are fairly fixed because of the infrastucture and because of general reluctance to try something new. However, if you are looking to identify pockets of opportunity for advertising content innovation, a simplistic look across the media landscape is a pretty good place to start.

1. Online Video Content: How Do You Get Attention?

There’s no denying the power and explosive growth of video content,  it has something that no other media has- at its best, it has the power to be emotionally captivating.

However, with decreasing production and distribution costs, it’s become a very crowded space. The best ads are now forced to compete for the best music videos, which in a good week, according to Unruly, generate 1 million shares, the best brand effort in the world can only manage between 1/5th and 1/10th of that number, probably with support from a significant online media spend.

Brands will continue to develop virals that try to capture attention in the ever-expanding sea of online video content, but they will have to become more realistic and sophisticated about determining their success measures. They will explore measures beyond views and look for brand effects against more tightly defined audiences.

Innovation Opportunity: Go beyond the mass viral hit- get realistic, get specific and go after focused targets

2. Big Live TV: Still Huge, but Prohibitively Expensive

The Superbowl, The Oscars, big live entertainment and live sporting events  continue to command massive interest (The Superbowls with the highest audience ratings of all time were 2012, 2011 and 2013). Because of this, there are only a few brands have the budgets to be able to afford to play on the big TV stage. The scale of audience for these events and the desired social water cooler effect, means you need to develop advertising that looks the part and delivers the entertainment consumers crave and that’s expensive.

Innovation Opportunity: Go big or go home and if you go big, maximize your investment with long running social efforts. How do you bring the second screen into play? How do you reframe the Superbowl experience with technology?

3. The Rest of TV: Advertising as Usual?

Beyond live events, TV content is bifurcating into very high quality content like Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, etc. At the other end of the scale, you’ve got cheap reality TV that continues to morph and attract audiences. Within these formats, it’s either 30 and 15 second TVadvertising as usual, or ad-free experiences like Netflix .

Innovation Opportunity: As the quality of TV content improves, TV ad quality should improve accordingly. How do you integrate the second screen?

 4. Online Video: Not TV Ads Online

Advertising on online video is basically repurposed television advertising, that’s proven to be far from ideal from the medium.  This industry is clearly going through something of a boom time as more TV dollars shift online, but it has a lot to do here to evolve beyond the existing model.

Innovation Opportunity: New ad formats for online video

5. Print: Is it dying?

The big magazine publishing business is having a tough time and this places the future of print in question. Despite attempts to make print advertising more interesting by incorporating digital and mobile technology such as AR, none of these efforts has taken hold.

Magazines aren’t dead yet, there’s still something in the appeal of reading a tangible and tactile medium that’s encouraging younger publishers to launch new titles. This new world is about niche and the almost artisanal- it’s highly focused content for very distinct audiences. It’s about quality over volume, which is not publishing as usual.

On the technology side, we’ve seen the rapid growth of the tablet, while magazines are present in this space, they have yet to take of and really deliver the experience that the technology provides and the same is true for advertising.

Innovation Opportunity: Re-define print advertising- make great tablet advertising

6. Out of Home – This is not your grandmother’s billboard

The world’s oldest medium is about to become the most modern as screens replace boards and transform the outdoor landscape. With the ability to display moving images and specifically geo-targeted and personalized messaging for users, this medium will evolve from a creative perspective remains to be seen, but it’s likely going to be more like digital advertising, than TV.

Innovation Opportunity: More technological experimentation with OOH creative

7. Radio- Is this Radio Advertising As Usual?

Radio moved online and Pandora and Spotify are the new models, but with advertising is basically the same as the old model. Surely, we can do better than this? Apple’s  iTunes radio is launching later this year and at least encouraging brands and agencies to bring more creativity to the table.

Innovation Opportunity: Radio advertising that engages, rather than interrupts- get beyond the announcement ad

8. Online- Richer and Smarter

It’s becoming a two-tier world divided into complex, ever richer and ever deeper experiences on one side, and highly targeted mesaging driven by big data insights around behavior and intent on the other.

Innovation Opportunity: Deeper more immersive digital experiences- where is advertising’s equivilent of the Chrome Experiment?

9. Mobile- What is it?

No one wants advertising as usual on their phones,  so this is a whole blank slate opportunity for the industry to come up with experiences and formats that add value and engagement. One innovator in the space is Kiip, who’s flipped the ad model on its head, by embedding branded rewards in mobile games, but advertising’s mobile future has to be more interesting than that.

Innovation Opportunity: An advertising medium

10. Social: Real-time creative?

Social is an evolving medium with all communication disciplines from PR to promotion all in the playpen together creating conversational content and buying eyeballs. There’s great opportunity for new content in the real-time conversation, but it’s early days as no one has found a consistent way to crack the code.

Innovation Opportunity: Creative ideas that lead and maintain conversations

11. Experiences- The Unknown

Not specifically the domain of advertising per se, but a world where the brand engages the consumer. This is an untapped area that currently is just about the place, space and environment, but it will be transformed by technology to change the interaction and engagement between individuals, brands and spaces.

Innovation Opportunity: New digitally enhanced experiences

It’s clear from this simplistic assessment that there’s a lot of opportunity for innovation with advertising content. Media owners have no incentive to innovate with the form and seem only too happy selling eyeballs, rather than engagement. It seems that the mandate for innovation could be easily applied and focused specifically on one area. Most of today’s advertising is very one sided, it’s a brand’s view of the world and despite the technical feasibility of interaction, very little advertising truly delivers it, many of the opportunities identified above demand it.

As technology becomes more sophisticated, it’s safe to assume that interaction opportunities will increase dramatically. People will find interfaces that allow them to play and interact with advertising content. Just think about Microsoft’s Kinect for a moment, the new X-Box is going to make it possible for brand advertising to use it.  Just today, Intel announced plans for an emotion-tracking camera on laptops, which has obvious applications for interactive digital advertising.

Overall, this is a whole new opportunity for creative advertising, one that fuses the best from the old world of creating emotionally compelling content and from the new world of experience design. It will evolve existing formats and create entirely new hybrids. It’s clear we might be some years away from fully achieving this vision, but we should be doing a lot more experimenting on our way there.

How we get there is by challenging ourselves to not to accept the status quo of the moment and that good enough is good enough. We need to persuade our peers, clients and media owners that experimentation is how we will learn how to deepen engagement and start to create the new future of the business.




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