IAB Member Q&A: Effective Digital Creative Part 1

On August 27, 2020 Research & Resources

The latest hot topic for Q&A is the role of creative in digital advertising effectiveness and why it’s important to invest in creative, apply best practice, test it and create a brands own benchmarks to continually strive for optimal creative design and messaging.

This member Q&A is a two part series. In part one this week contributors cover best practices for designing digital creative that stands out and gets cut-through. In part two next week contributors will discuss ways to optimise digital creative including optimising attention, achieving integration across touchpoints and customisation to platform and how to cost-effectively test creative for learnings to optimise in future campaigns. Many thanks to contributors from Neuro Insight, Ipsos, Kantar, Inskin Media, Eardrum, Facebook and Unruly.


Peter Pynta, CEO APAC, Neuro Insight

What best practice learnings for digital ad creative are least consistently applied across the industry and what’s the risk for these advertisers?

Creative Credit Where it’s Due:

Creative execution is widely regarded as the single most powerful ingredient* in the mix (vs media rates, number of channels, product mix etc) that is responsible for driving advertising profitability. So we cannot underestimate the crucial role of great creative – if anything, with the proliferation of consumer choice and attention, the central creative idea and it’s executional variants will become even more indispensable. Advertisers that are serious about ROI, will therefore be inextricably linked to leveraging creative as the centre-piece of campaign success.

What’s Digital’s Role in the Media Ecosystem?

With highly integrated campaigns – where the of role digital isn’t a standalone channel, but one within a multi-media buy. One insight that isn’t fully appreciated or consistently applied is the fact that assuming the original creative storytelling is successful, then following exposures can work very effectively by leading with a consistent, powerful trigger that exists within the original (and usually) longer piece of storytelling. This is can be a moment, an image, colour, word etc that simply ‘pops’ when replayed through multiple exposures. Yes – this is very much about creative consistency, but the point here is that the ‘right’ trigger can be profoundly powerful as a mechanism that re-plays the original story.

Message Evolution.

This will be increasingly more important to successful creative storytelling throughout the whole media ecosystem, however digital’s measurement and delivery offers potentially more control. This requires a deep understanding (and respect) for the relationship between campaign reach, frequency and creative exposure. At it’s worse, it’s a high frequency exposure to the same ad. At it’s best, it’s a well-structured campaign that is designed to graduate the creative with a (slightly) evolved execution over the course of the campaign. Perhaps building on the previous exposure/s. This ultimately respects the consumers’ time and attention….it’ll make every exposure count for something more meaningful than straight exposure KPI’s.

*Data2Decisions. Top 10 Drivers of Ad Profitibilty.


Jemma Lightfoot : Head of Brand Tracking and Creative Excellence ANZ, Ipsos

How do creative professionals combine best practice rules with developing creative that stands out, gets cut-through and provides meaningful difference for the brand?

From the work we have done on tracking and assessing digital creative, the following learnings and  best practice tips provide, a core basis on ways to develop creative in the digital world :-

  1. Focus on building an emotional connection. Brand campaigns that use emotional priming to connect with people on a personal level are more likely to drive long term brand growth than those with more rational messaging’*
  2. Respect context or fail. In most cases it is not effective to port over our linear TV ad to the digital environment. With a multitude of platforms all delivering different viewing experiences, to be successful you need to respect and master the different contexts;
  3. Be a content creator not an advertiser.  Across all contexts’ attention is in short supply and brands have an increasingly short time to capture attention. Creative needs to stop people in their tracks and be seen as content, rather than advertising delivering messages. Where possible move away from category norms and instead focus on unique, non-conforming creative that engages and entertains, becoming part of the content viewing experience;
  4. Use the Power of YOU : Whilst advertising should entertain and tell stories, to be effective it also needs to have strong links to the brand.  The best way to drive brand attention is to use strong brand assets.  Ipsos research has identified that characters or sonic brand cues are much more effective than assets that are leveraged from wider culture such as celebrities and music.  Use the brand assets that you have and weave them into your creative in intelligent ways aim to achieve strong branding without blatant or obvious ‘branding’;
  5. Sequence your story : Building emotion takes time and within digital world we do not often have a full 30s to tell our story in one short piece of creative. Using sequencing and iterative communications, with a longform ad followed by a planned sequence of ads that tell a story to customers across their purchase journey has proven effective.**

*Source : The Long and Short of it – Learning from the IPA Databank, Les Binet and Peter Field

**Source: Think with Google YouTube Ad Sequencing and Ad Recall


Sam Walters, Head of Creative Development, Kantar Australia

How do creative professionals combine best practice rules with developing creative that stands out, gets cut-through and provides meaningful difference for the brand?

Whilst the effort and skill to deliver extraordinary creative requires great talent, the best practice rules that guide the journey need not be difficult.  There is no magic formula, but three main areas of focus will leave creative professionals in good stead to deliver optimal advertising and content:

–      Drive Branded Engagement – creative needs to have something that will grab attention, be it a storyline that is viewed as enjoyable or something interesting or distinctive that will engage the viewer.  Crucially that engagement should be intrinsically linked back to the advertised brand – an amazing creative story is wasted if people play it back without mentioning the brand

–      Convey meaningfully different associations – long before the creative is created a marketer must know what message is going to drive meaning and uniqueness for their brand, elements that will make it stand out from competitors.  This insight needs to be well developed to ensure any ads communicate the right articulation of that message.

–      Create short and long term predisposition – if an ad gets delivery on the first two areas then it should naturally deliver in driving short term returns, that is making people more likely to buy or consider the brand, but crucially it will also drive brand equity and long term appeal.

These rules hold true across all creative, but in digital there are additional rules to consider.  The context of digital means the brand should play a role very early in the ad, we’re always battling against the 5 second skip.  Equally the execution should be tailored to the environment – a good TVC is no guarantee to good digital engagement, developing and optimising the creative to fit the specific platform will help ensure maximum ROI for your campaign. And of course, researching the creative at an early stage helps steer the ad development and fundamentally ensure the ad cuts through and is delivering on strategy in the most efficient way.


Robert Leach, General Manager, APAC, Kargo

What best practice learnings for digital ad creative are least consistently applied across the industry and what’s the risk for these advertisers?

In their Thought Piece on Creativity, IPSOS told us that, “75% of an ads ability to form brand-linked memories is down to creative”. Two years later Nielsen’s imaginatively named ‘Thought Piece on Creativity’ confirmed this, saying, “half of an ad’s impact can be attributed to creative quality – your creatives are the single most impactful lever you can pull to increase the overall results of your brand campaigns”

Despite this in mobile advertising creativity is almost always ignored and overlooked.

So, my best practice learnings for mobile advertising that are most consistently ignored are:

Creative matters: Standard banners do not perform on mobile. Humans have developed selective banner blindness. 70% of standard mobile banners are simply not seen. We instinctively know where those adhesion units are and we chose to ignore them, unless they are created in such a way as to grab attention.  Better creative is not ‘high impact’, it is just how mobile advertising should be! Why would anyone want ‘low impact’ advertising? The industry has become so obsessed with data and measurement that we have forgotten the most important element of any advert – creativity! 

Create for the device:  Know what works for your KPIs. Either invest the time & effort into pre-testing so that you learn what creative performs, or work with a partner that is doing this with their ad units for you.

The Optimise for Mobile Eyes research from Media Science showed that Kargo’s scroll reactive, made for mobile, display ads were 80% more effective at driving unaided recall than standard banners on mobile phones. Be sympathetic and understanding to your environment and to your audience – Understand the impact that different advertising has on the consumer. Another Media Science research piece, Captivate v Aggravate, showed that ad units like the interstitial that take up the full screen or that push content out of the way are obviously noticed by the consumer.  However, eye tracking showed that the viewer was looking for the ‘X’ to remove the ad. Heart monitors & sweat sensors indicated that the consumer was agitated and aggravated by the ad. Questionnaires demonstrated that the consumers felt extremely negatively towards the brand because the ad was intrusive and prevented them from carrying out their intended activity – reading an article. So by not tailoring the creative to the environment and the consumer, an apparently impactful ad completely turned consumers of the brand and actually drove down brand favourability and purchase intent.

Measure results and don’t mistake hygiene metrics for KPIs: Metrics like viewability and video completion rate demonstrate that an ad was served, not that it was effective. Just because an ad is viewable does not mean anyone saw it and VCR is simply a measure of time. Tobi’s research, Viewability v Memorability, demonstrated that highly creative made for mobile ads from Kargo and Instagram were only 50% viewable, by the IAB standards, but scored anywhere between 3 and 10 times better than the 90% viewable standard adhesion and gaming banners. It is key to work with partners who can measure the things that matter to brands – awareness, favourability, purchase intent, etc.


Elizabeth Grant, Operations Director and Jay McCalla, Head of Design, Inskin Media

What best practice learnings for digital ad creative are least consistently applied across the industry and what’s the risk for these advertisers?

We only have a small window of opportunity to grab the user’s attention and generate engagement, and within this time, advertisers need to display clear and consistent brand messaging. It may seem obvious, but oftentimes we see creative that doesn’t clearly indicate who the advertiser is and the message they’re trying to convey.

There are many factors that influence attention when it comes to digital advertising; creative execution being one of the most important, so a lack of obvious branding is a huge risk as users should be able to relate the ad back to the brand within seconds. It’s essential that when investing in creative, advertisers are confident that it is going to be seen and that there will be brand recognition, across all channels and platforms. When it comes to developing creative, designers and creative professionals need to keep the design and messaging clear and consistent across the campaign to drive brand recall. This is something that needs to be encouraged across the industry, as we see a positive correlation between attention and conversion.

Capturing attention doesn’t mean we need to be intrusive or overcomplicate creative. We need to follow a narrative across all channels that tells a story of the brand and creates awareness, rather than inundating the user with mixed and unclear messages, running the risk of a wasted investment because the campaign wasn’t memorable.


Ralph Van Dijk, Founding Creative Director, EarDrum

What best practice learnings for digital ad creative are least consistently applied across the industry and what’s the risk for these advertisers?

Clever ad tech can often be prioritized over engaging creative. Consumer’s aren’t moved by programmatic efficiencies and dynamic ad insertion. But if you have an ad that gets them in the feels, and an algorithm that delivers it at the most relevant time, the impact is dynamite.

Successful campaigns start with a solid consumer insight, what are the essential ingredients in getting from an insight to the big idea?

The criteria our agency strives for is ‘relevant cleverness’. By focussing on the consumer benefit, the product or service becomes relevant. But it takes a clever big idea for them to notice it in the first place.


Andrew Eckford, Measurement Lead Marketing Science, Facebook

How do creative professionals combine best practice rules with developing creative that stands out, gets cut-through and provides meaningful difference for the brand?

We’ve known for some time that creative plays a major role in digital campaign effectiveness; creative quality often makes up at least half of the total digital impact in cross media analysis (Kantar showed 50% of brand salience driven by creative in 223 studies; Analytic Partners found 62% of ROI was driven by creative in online video campaigns). Creative is at least as important as a well-designed digital media plan. When buying ads through an auction model like Facebook, creative is even more critical – ads which consumers respond to are given higher weighting, which reduces their cost in the auction and makes them cheaper to buy. Conversely, poor performing creative can cost more in an auction – so putting the best ad forward is a key part of an effective campaign.

Build for Basics:

  • As the vast majority of consumer platform time is spent on mobile, the most core principles are to deliver ads that make best use of the small screen. Ads have been shown time and again to perform better in experiments on recall and awareness metrics (and ultimately conversions) when they:
  • Work without sound: most people will default to having sound off on their mobile, so communicate with imagery, text overlays and even captions.
  • Framed for mobile: a horizontal ad only uses about ⅓ of a mobile screen when held normally – formatting ads to at least square if not portrait gives more real estate for the same ad.
  • Highlight the brand: remind consumers “who” – ensuring there are clear visual brand cues, which include colours, typefaces or personas that reinforce what people already recognise.
  • Message focus: focus on 1 overarching message – and keep this as simple and concise as possible.
  • Showcase the product/offering up front: don’t wait until the closing frame to put the product or service in shot. Make it early and often.

These might sound very simplistic, but many TVCs copied straight to mobile will fall short on a number of fundamentals. Ideally, building custom creative to media channels will outperform non-integrated campaign messaging by 1.67x (Kantar/ARF, 2016); however even making remedial changes like adding text/captions to allow for sound off can lift ad performance by 8-10% on mobile at negligible cost. Ads that perform well on mobile will cover most (if not all) of the above – but within this framework can also add their own distinctiveness and flair.

Design for Differentiation:

While there isn’t a single formula for building a great ad, there are a number of practices that creative minds can add to the above fundamentals to help enhance and differentiate. On the small screen, consumers give us permission to be bigger, bolder and faster in how we communicate. You don’t need to show the whole car when we can zoom in on key features; and we can jump into a story mid-action rather than warm up for 10 seconds.

Ads which perform well on mobile have dialled up at least some of…

  • Motion: add motion to a static image; faster cuts in a video help focus attention; add action from the start
  • Contrast: high colour & contrast; vibrant visuals
  • Focus on details: zoom in on key features or close ups
  • Call to action: for direct response – be super clear on what consumers need to do
  • Repetition: bite sized message told in a few different ways
  • Interactivity: using elements unique to digital like polls, expanded ad units
  • Connect on emotion: (which is easy to say…)through laugh, learn or surprise.

At the core of a great ad is still a strong idea or a compelling offer… none of the above concepts replace that. However, making the great idea work effectively on mobile (or any channel really) can always benefit from taking advantage of what consumers most respond to – and as a result see that translate into more effective ads with lowered media costs.


Adam Mugridge, Global Creative Product Lead at Unruly

What best practice learnings for digital ad creative are least consistently applied across the industry and what’s the risk for these advertisers?

Although digital ad creative has come a long way, many brands still miss the mark when pairing creative with distribution tactics. Many advertisers  are still stuck in the archaic one size fits all mindset when it comes to creative production , focusing all our attention on creating a strong 30 second TV spot and then, almost as an afterthought, repurposing it for other screens and placements without considering how it will be received.

When looking at the percentage of sales contribution by advertising element, almost half (47%) of the effectiveness is attributed to the creative (source). However, when it comes to crafting media plans, we are still trying to force a square peg into a round hole. By falling into this trap, advertisers risk missing out on quality engagements and outcomes by ignoring the power of digital-first creatives.

However, all is not lost. There are plenty of solutions you can apply before launch to set your ad up for the best chance at success. It’s no secret that consumers react strongly to personalized advertising. 91% of consumers are more likely to shop with brands who provide relevant offers and recommendations (source). By simply adding custom overlays or end cards to include targeted messaging to each audience, your ability to increase relatability and engage consumers increases greatly.

It’s also important to remember that user behavior changes from screen to screen and by using placement specific optimizations, you can design experiences that are simple, effective and tailored to your user’s journey. Whether that’s through simple interactive experiences at the fingertips of mobile users or custom branded CTV solutions that take advantage of the largest screen in the room, you can open up a whole new layer of insights just by making some very minor adjustments to your creative. 92% of mobile videos are now watched with sound-off (source). Adding subtitles to your creative is another easy way to increase engagement and boost emotional resonance across muted environments.

These optimizations shouldn’t be an afterthought. The earlier in the campaign cycle that we can align media goals with creative strategy, the more impact our digital campaigns will have on consumers.