The future of advertising creativity in retail

One of the questions that I get asked time and again is: What is the future for advertising creativity in a retail world that is more and more being driven by data?

It’s a tough one to answer but a guy called John Wanamaker – who was a US merchant in the 19th to the early part of the 20th Centuries – summed it up perfectly and his musings still ring true today: Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.

His underlying insight is that you have to do more than just the minimum to get a return. However, efficiency in advertising is complex because fundamentally we’re dealing with human behaviour which can be messy, emotional and irrational. Take those factors into account and efficiency doesn’t get much of a look in.

The tech giants, however, would have you believe that you can beat this human monster at the click of a button, but I’m not so sure that’s entirely true.

Take Google, for example; it recently trumpeted the success of travel metasearch engine Skyscanner through the use of its programmatic advertising tools. It claimed to have delivered six times revenue yield over standard display advertising which sounds like it could be too good to be true.

Maybe it is but the figures seem to suggest that if you change how you do things then you can often get a better result. Taking this at face value leads to a simple conclusion and action: change up to the latest technology and reap the results – easy as that. Well, no – not in my opinion anyway.

The biggest conundrum for me is if everyone is on the same level playing field what happens next? Do we all simply become slaves to the next technological platform delivered by the media owners? And the next one? And the next one after that? I believe that is the ultimate aim of the tech giants as their business models are based on volume. They want everyone to be using their platforms and their latest tech, but there’s just no competitive advantage in being first to market if the media owner is ensuring every other brand and retailer is too.

My advice is to make the most of technology and absolutely ensure that you’re competing on a level playing field. But – more importantly – don’t just rely on that alone as truly successful organisations do more – and that little bit more is what gives them the competitive edge. You can do this in your advertising by bringing together behavioural truths, insights, common sense, disparate ideas, words and imagery that actually excite people and make them communicate with other people. That can never come from subbing your creative out to an algorithm.

Each idea, image, copy line, call to action and how they are visually combined must be based on a powerful creative platform. Technology can deliver your ads but cannot replace the great idea, the visually stimulating layout, the well-crafted image and the compelling copy line.

If all of this sounds a bit technophobic then I can assure you it’s not. Hand in hand technology and creativity can be a truly amazing but the key is to make sure that your programmatic advertising is based on a powerful and consistent creative concept. Do that and it will be the winning combination.

So, what’s the future of creativity in a data world? Well, it could easily be crushed under the wheels of progress but the truly savvy brands will continue to embrace advertising creativity as the one true differentiator that really does deliver results. And guess what? John Wanamaker is still hitting the nail on the head: Don’t just try and make your advertising more efficient, make it more effective.

Joe Chetcuti, director of design and ad agency Front

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