One of the toughest challenges facing emerging media platforms and new technologies in search of ad dollars is finding the right creative to fill them.
If you happen to be out there selling advertising for one of these nascent platforms, then you know your biggest challenge is ultimately to sell the media buyer. Then, if you're able to sell the media buyer, the assumption is that the creative unit for your amazing new platform (commercial, video, banner, logo, copy, widget, etc.) will magically appear from the "creative agency" in time to make both your sale and the consumer experience wildly successful.
With media buyers physically cut off from their creative brethren, most sales people are content to take whatever creative they can get to complete the buy. But what smart interactive agencies and marketers must do more of is stop and consider how much more compelling some of these new platforms might be if we just had enough courage and a little more budget to start making creative assets designed for the platform, instead of repurposing the past.
Selling advertising for a nascent platform is no small feat for most emerging media companies. Even if they are able to sell the buyer or even the client, the task then becomes getting the right creative asset to truly demonstrate the power of the platform. Most simply, give up, take whatever asset they receive and "just run it."
Some platforms and technologies that are flush with VC money have gone to great lengths to staff internal creative departments within their platforms to make it easy for the media folks to buy: "We can do the creative." And some actually do it quite well. The truth is that any emerging media platform or new technology in search of ad dollars that's worth its salt probably requires a creative that's crafted for that platform -- not just a repurposing of existing assets.
As an executive creative director who is responsible for overseeing development of digital creative for many CPG, consumer electronics and healthcare brands, let me offer three tent poles. These should guide your logic in making the sale and making sure that you avoid the trap of your unique platform/medium becoming the message instead of the right ad message being the message. (My apologies to those for whom this is sales 101, but I assure you, maximizing the creative part is anything but easy.)
The first question you're likely to encounter from any smart digital or marketing person is: "What's your consumer reach?" How many uniques, homes, subscribers, visitors, downloads, etc. do you reach? Any seasoned sales rep starts his pitch with the reach numbers of his platform/content. But the tough part for new and emerging platforms that haven't accumulated any significant reach is how to get past the junior media buyer who has been trained to simply "reject" based on lack of reach.
The answer in the digital age lies not in your "quantity of reach" but in the "quality of your reach." As the more enlightened agencies and marketers increasingly move from targeting the mass (via traditional television) to targeting the higher quality influential "somes" via the digital channel, the more you can tell them about the "quality" of your viewers, the better.
For starters, once you get the basic demographics of who you're reaching up on the screen, quickly move on to emphasize the lifestyle and affinities of your "viewser" (viewer/user). If you don't know, then it's wise to invest in the research that reveals how influential, maven-like, evangelistic or engaged your particular viewser is with your platform. Don't do the research yourself; it will come off as too biased. Hire an outside source with some currency in the marketplace to determine just how influential or affluent your limited reach just might be. Remember, smart interactive marketers are just as interested in 300,000 highly engaged and influential visitors as they are in three million lurkers who simply come and go.
The distribution message here? For smart interactive marketers in the digital age, it's the quality and influence of reach, not just the quantity of reach, that holds the key to smart buyers saying "yes" to new and emerging media deployments. Sure, there will always be advertisers seeking to bolster their TV awareness buys with horizontal portal buys chock full of rich media banners that try to spout exactly what the TV spot does. But for the more enlightened ones who have moved beyond impression-based metrics on effective frequency measures borrowed from television -- and into time spent/engagement metrics -- quality of reach is what sticks in their book.
2) Creative experience
Once it is established that you've got quantity or quality of reach, then it comes down to the consumer's experience with your platform. Is it immersive, simple, elegant, valued, experiential, rich, user-friendly and open? Or is it more akin to navigating through an electronic program guide struggling to remember or find where your advertiser's content appears?
Simple, open and elegant graphical user interfaces make or break new platforms. Consider Apple. The elegance and simplicity of the Apple family of iPhone, iPod, iMac, shuffle, etc., demonstrates a level of consumer ease and simplicity through a device platform that even your online platform is competing with. When user experience expectations are set -- even by mobile devices -- yours has to be as simple, or at least on par, with the market standard.
As for the ad units themselves, no level of gimmickry, overlays, intrusions or skinning can compare with creating specifically "for" your platform. If your answer is to simply accept cut-down commercials, re-purposed banners or some mocked-up version of a skin that emulates a brand's equity colors, then you need to ask yourself if you're delivering a real creative experience for your advertiser.
The problem for most online, mobile and emerging platform providers is that the RIGHT creative assets simply DO NOT EXIST. And scaling a creative department to create custom units for every platform simply isn't practical or scalable.
What to do?
Make friends with the creative agency, not just the media folk. If you really want to demonstrate what your platform looks like to a brand marketer, partner with the creative agency to produce mockups that will help you help them look innovative and smart. Can't get their attention? Tell them you are planning to show one of their accounts some mock-ups for your platform and you'd prefer they have a look. You just might end up going in hand in hand with them instead of just the media partner.
Every case is different, but from where I sit, it's all about the work -- not the platform. And if your platform is that compelling, and we can create something engaging together, why not move from the media to the message? Sure, you can go on slugging with re-purposed creative designed for another platform, but chances are, your ad sale might not make it to round two.
This one is pretty obvious. You simply have to be able to measure your platform. If you're IP-based, you can nanomeasure, provided you've got the backend data. If you're wireless-based, it's a bit tougher, but still infinitely easier than television. Where most emerging media platforms in search of ad dollars fall short is they "invent" their own metrics, instead of cleverly following established ones. This doesn't mean you have to chase impression-based metrics based on 3X effective frequency. What it does mean is that you simply must have some measure of time spent with your platform to make a compelling engagement argument.
All of this coming from a creative director, you might ask? Titles are irrelevant. These days, digital knowledge around distribution, creative and measurement is a mandatory prerequisite to advancing new and emerging media deployments. As a member of the M&MTC (Media & Marketing Technologies Council), each month I sit alongside numerous industry veterans and VCs and examine new and emerging technologies in search of funding based upon proposed ad sponsorship models.
The amazing thing is -- after staffing, developing and beta launching their initiatives -- how few are aware that without these three essential ingredients, you may get funded, but your chances of engaging advertisers are a long tail away.