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7 ways to get more out of your creative

7 ways to get more out of your creative Doug Schumacher

What do you do if a campaign's creative budget gets cut by 20 percent? Do you say the creative will be 20 percent less impactful and call it a day?


Sadly, falling budgets, especially in the area of production, are a challenge a lot of companies in this business are facing.

Complicating that challenge is the push for more integrated campaigns. That means more assets spread across a broader range of media environments -- not exactly the route to lower creative costs.

But the best way to maintain quality with a smaller budget may not be by producing assets in less quantity, but rather by doing things differently. As campaign planning becomes more integrated, the increased awareness of how all media are interconnected can open up new opportunities for improved efficiencies.

Here are seven ways that an integrated approach to campaign development can help you accomplish better results with the creative assets you develop.

Simplicity has always been a good approach for effective marketing and branding communications. Logos like Bass Ale (Britain's first registered trademark), fonts like Helvetica, and the classic Volkswagen ads are examples of simplicity that revolutionized the advertising industry.

And if anything, the distinction that simplicity can bring is more important in today's cluttered, over-saturated media environment than ever before. Consumers see an estimated 3,500-5,000 marketing messages a day. They literally don't have the hours in the day to digest all the ads marketers push at them. So if you want consumers to consider reading your message, make it at least appear to be a quick read.

Of all the things you can do to make virtually any form of communication better, this is the most important.

Strong yet simple concepts also tend to work much better across multiple media. And the more a big idea transcends different media, the more efficiently that campaign can be developed, which leads into the next point.

When I was looking for that elusive first copywriting job in advertising, a creative director told me that I could probably get a gig with a portfolio of nothing but good billboard concepts because billboards have the most foundational elements of what good marketing communication is about -- strong graphic images and brief text that pops.

Today, the banner represents that same format. It's highly limited, both textually and graphically. So ideas developed for that format will likely work across a much wider media scape. It's much easier to add production value to a simple concept than it is to take an idea that relies on high production value and boil it down to a stark version of its former self.

When you start with banner development, you'll force yourself to think high concept, yet low production cost. And if you're dealing with budget constraints, that's a good place to be.

It also sets us up well for the next section -- testing.

One of the online medium's most overlooked capabilities is testing strategies and display ad concepts in the most natural environment possible -- a real ad in an actual media placement.

I've talked to numerous researchers and statisticians and have never found anyone who has said this wasn't a legit test, assuming you apply standard controls for messaging and media variables.

You can test messages across strategic directions or creative tactics. And don't rely on production techniques or gimmicks. You're looking for foundational insights that will drive creative development across a range of media. So if what you've developed is specific to online production, you'll skew the results.

Use a single format -- ideally a rectangular format, like the 300x250s, because they have a more universal shape that won't demonstrate a bias toward a specific message type. The results will almost always be relevant and insightful.

It doesn't take a large ad budget to make this process pay off, either. A test can be done for a small percentage of most campaign budgets, and the increased performance across the entire campaign should more than compensate for the testing round.

Early adopters of technology often suffer a lot of headaches while trying out the latest insanely great thing.

In contrast, marketing is where first movers often have significant advantages. The first banners pulled unreal results by today's metrics -- because they were new and web pages weren't so flooded with them. When Flash ads first came out, they almost always drove campaign performance up in large increments because they were the only thing with fluid motion on the web at that time.

Today's new technologies can generate the same effect.

These can be both rich media production technologies and media placement technologies. The reason new marketing technologies work is simple: Almost all of them focus on one of two things. They either focus on improving the odds that your message will get to the right person, or they focus on improving the impact of that message when it reaches that person.

Assuming your message is relevant, there isn't much else that matters outside of those two factors, until the viewer arrives at the destination or conversion point.

So give new technologies a shot. Again, you don't have to spend a lot to get a sense for whether or not they're going to pay off across the larger media spend.

Search and display shouldn't conflict, but rather work like tag team partners -- the more seamless the transition between them, the better. In fact, the more successful your entire campaign is, the greater role search will play.


People hear about products in different ways. Sometimes it's in an ad. Sometimes it's in a news article. Sometimes it's a personal recommendation. And when they hear about said product or brand, they typically don't drop everything they're doing and run straight to the point of purchase (if only). That means they go searching for it at a more convenient time.

So make sure that you factor "searchability" into your campaign. If you look at your banner, print, or video ad, can you imagine what the viewer might be searching for after seeing it? If not, you may need to be a little more specific if you want consumers to ever find your product. Clear brand or product names are essential, as are any other key parts of the message, like the name of a special promotion.

This "searchability" is even more important for companies that don't have a lot of brand awareness. After all, if you know the brand well and can recall it, you can always go search its site. And that idea sets up the next point nicely.

If your advertising campaign has worked, it will likely lead the viewer to a search engine. And from there, the consumer hopefully ends up at a page on your website. If that search results link isn't dead on, they'll often jump over to your homepage.

Unless you have the customer loyalty of Apple, don't bet on customers knowing your product's name when they arrive at your site. More likely, they'll only remember your brand name, maybe part of the product name, and have a vague idea of what the ad said.

This is more problematic for companies with a lot of products because they tend to have more marketing messages out there for their various products, all creating noise and confusion. And even if the consumer remembers your product's name, it's going to be harder to find that product among the many featured on your website.

If consumers arrive at your homepage, you want to get them to their point of interest as quickly as possible. Consumers typically spend only seconds on a web page before clicking or leaving. Every second that passes in which they can't find what they want, you're increasing the odds they'll split. If you're spending big money on a campaign, support it with navigational aids on your homepage.

The multipliers of social media simply offer too much potential to ignore. The average Facebook user has 120 friends. With the new Facebook design, it's more likely than ever that if any of their friends are interacting with your brand on Facebook, it will end up within their view.

So at the very least, post product and campaign information on your Facebook page as part of a routine content updating schedule. Offer social media "share" options on key website pages, and consider adding such options to creative assets if there is room, as in an expandable banner.

As was recently pointed out, we're already seeing Twitter and Facebook driving traffic at levels that compete with Google. And whatever other formats emerge in the future, social media seems to be here to stay.

The need to get more out of less isn't a recent phenomenon, but rather a continual trend in the marketing world. So while these tactics may seem like ways to deal with current economic problems, they're actually practices that can simply help you improve performance of your campaigns.

And no matter how creative your shop is, if you're not taking ROI issues into consideration, however you define them, it's likely your clients are. So now might be a very good time to start thinking about them.

Doug Schumacher is the president and creative director at Basement Inc.

Doug Schumacher is the co-founder of social media content strategy tool Zuum. Zuum reveals a number of key insights into what type of social media content will generate maximum impact for a given industry. His interactive career began in 1996...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Doug Schumacher

2009, May 11

That's great, Langston. I don't think a lot of agencies are doing that at this point. And it also combines well with testing various directions.

Commenter: Langston Richardson

2009, May 10


I like your article here. Especially the "Develop Banner Ads First" portion. This is something that we have both brand marketers and creative focus on first as it helps launch good idea thinking and helps narrow down the concept into a pitch bite consumption.

Langston Richardson
ECD, infuz
Twitter: @MATSNL65 @infuz

Commenter: Doug Schumacher

2009, April 29

Muchas gracias on the comments, guys.

Russell, I try. ;) A lot of good writers out there (like you). Helps keep the blade sharp.

Commenter: Russell Scott

2009, April 29

Excellent and insightful advice. ROI is often a difficult value to quantify...but in keeping it in the creative equation as you so eloquently recommend, it is stacking the odds that much more in your (and your client's) favor.

(You are one heck of a good writer, btw!)

Commenter: Matt Wasserman

2009, April 29

Great, great article. A very practical, common sense approach. Thank you.