Online marketing's creative worst practices

  • 2 of 8
  • View as single page


One of the biggest challenges of email advertising is creating emails that can be viewed. Every email service, from Hotmail to Lotus Notes, features applications that disable email images, thereby making it possible that users will see an email devoid of images. The creative solution is to design emails that communicate with broken graphics and add HTML text next to the images. "The brand and offer should be stated in text, not graphics, so if the images are off you can see the offer," says Richard Evans, product marketing manager at Silverpop.

Full-scale emails with text and graphics don't always work. For example, an email for Bath & Body Works (below) was so overburdened with offer copy that it couldn't be read in one sitting. "An email is like a retail store window," says Lisa Harmon, principal at Smith-Harmon. "You should put enough in the store window to interest them to come into the store, but not the entire store. There should be a balance between enough info and so little they don't know what they're looking at."

Besides the body of an email, advertisers must prepare the subject line, which will fail if it doesn't include the brand name. You have a 32 to 60 percent higher chance of having a business-to-consumer email opened with the brand name in the subject line, Evans says. Use of certain words, like "free," in the subject line could result in spam filter blocks -- but "free" isn't necessarily banned, so use it carefully.

A common email creative problem results when print or direct mail ads are repurposed. "It makes no sense," Harmon says. "People are in a different mode with email, their box is cluttered, and you only have two to eight seconds to communicate the message to elicit a click."

Email copy should be short and to the point, and images should be real life, which produces more clicks than clip art, Evans says.

Another unsuccessful move is to include a limited number of links, which impedes response. "Having one link button is harmful; you should continue to provide links throughout the message as image and text links," Evans says.

Another creative problem arises when emails are created quickly, with little forethought. "The fast hit-send nature causes people to think less and put less time into the creative," Harmon says. "Email is one of the few channels that continues to perform in the bad economy, so people should put more time into the creative execution."



Tom Cunniff
Tom Cunniff July 16, 2009 at 2:40 PM

I believe that creative in online media works in a fundamentally different way than traditional media. This is because online is primarily a "do" medium, while traditional media is almost entirely a "view" medium.

Task-focused people can have what is known as "inattentional blindness". I've blogged about it here:

Lee Freund
Lee Freund July 16, 2009 at 12:07 AM

The problem with display ads is that most creative agencies do not know how to create successful ads. Poorly designed creative, with ambiguous calls to action and little to no connection to campaign objectives - do not work. For those of us who work with digital agencies on display creative development, the work we see is quite shocking. Agencies currently build display ads based on gut, not actual campaign objectives and prior success learnings. Millions of dollars are invested in media yet just pennies in creative. Until marketers and agencies begin to focus attention and resources on creative, we will continue to hear that "display ads do not work". Unfortunately, the main driver here is the current agency business model which yields maximum revenue from building web sites not display creative. Here's a start... "Learn More" is not a call to action.
Jump to »

JR Hopwood
JR Hopwood July 15, 2009 at 11:40 AM

RE: Banners

I would just like to add that we have found (and I have found at other companies as well) that static banners actually tend to work better on media sites. When I say 'work better' I mean the analytics on the back end, because any Digital Marketer worth their salt knows CTR is a somewhat irrelevant metric. I think the reasoning behind this is that rich media type ads distract the user from their ultimate goal; reading a story. However when a static banner (obviously well-timed, good logo and product placements, good message and fresh) is displayed it may peak my interest as I'm reading the story, or after, but never deters me from what I'm doing (just there, saying hello). We tend to get more qualified leads through static vs. rich media/video/etc and I think the only reason is the distraction theory. Because when it comes down to it, I'd rather have a low CTR but through the roof conversion, versus a High CTR and low KPI conversion. Just depends on your industry I guess...