There’s more potential for deep creativity in advertising than ever before, from interactivity to voice control to AR and VR. Innovations such as Web3 technologies and the metaverse bring a tantalizing new set of potential tools for advertisers to get creative and potentially reach new audiences. But what do consumers actually want, and how can creative and tech teams work together to build user-friendly experiences that scale and generate results, while still being vivid and cutting-edge? It’s a delicate balance between innovation and function.
At a recent Campaign US event, technology editor Jessica Heygate led a discussion between Brian Cullen, VP of strategy at Infillion; Dave Kersey, chief media officer at GSD&M; Megan Trinidad, VP and executive creative director at R/GA; Claire Jordan, creative director at Proof Advertising; and Kirk Drummond, CEO and chief creative officer at Drumroll, about how to create more effective digital brand activations and encourage consumer engagement.
Encouraging consumers to engage with ads
After users opt in, Infillion has a good vantage point to see how they connect to a story. “Introducing the sense of interactive play is the way to boost recall, boost engagement and get people coming back again and again,” Cullen explained. “You want low buy-in from common cultural things from people’s lives and a sense of playfulness.” Explorations, quizzes and games are particularly popular.
Creating a low barrier for engagement is important. In addition, “there’s a lot of value in trying to make a brand show up in other ways, other than one particular moment,” Drummond said. “If you do so effectively in one place, they’ll start to tune in to wherever else you are showing up.”
Media clients often focus on efficiency and CPM. However, there is a cost to that efficiency, particularly with Gen Z, who want experiences specific to the platform and moment. A message sent out across all platforms could result in ad blockers and the inability to connect at all. Instead, create an “experience that brings them from brand identity in each of those distinctive brand assets throughout the journey, but change the message, create educational moments, a storyline, a way to engage, all those things that people want and expect,” Kersey said. “Make it meaningful and valuable so people do connect.”
Proof Advertising has found that “if you offer the right value, people will put the time in to get to it,” Jordan said. Bumps are expected when trying out any new technology. The key is “to have a grasp of the idea that you’re trying to get across, the experience you want people to have and the purpose of the work that you’re trying to do,” Trinidad added. “Technology should be the jet fuel of that idea to rocket it to the moon but the idea should be good enough to run on diesel.”
Look at how the gaming industry tells stories as compared to other platforms, Cullen advised. “Video games have been doing interactive storytelling for decades now,” and have had a head start from the ad industry. And the “stories” can share recognizable themes. For example, The Last of Us, a game on Playstation 5 and soon-to-be HBO series, share common themes of found family, loss and the choices we make to survive, with John Steinbeck’s classic novella Of Mice and Men – but the interactivity adds new dimensions. “It’s the difference between the box of 12 crayons and 64,” he said. “The picture still needs to make sense.”
Delivering a good consumer experience
The best way to engage consumers is to create the right experience. To do that, marketers have to understand the audience as well as their motivations and behaviors. “You can have a demographic profile but that’s not how the world works anymore,” Kersey said. Consumers “want to understand what the brand stands for, why I should care and connect in a more meaningful way.”
The challenge with engagement is the bar is constantly shifting. “Something that was disruptive yesterday is no longer disruptive,” said Trinidad. “Something that came across as authentic is suddenly swarmed by 40 brands and it’s no longer authentic.”
The goal determines whether practical solutions such as reward-based advertising or entirely different ways will encourage consumers to engage. For example, GSD&M created experiences for Pizza Hut for the purpose of fun and branding. The Pac-Man game, a Pac-Man pizza box and a sweepstakes helped connect a new audience with brand nostalgia. For the launch of the single-serving Pizza Hut Melts, the brand empowered people’s desire to go solo by having consumers sign an NDA to not post on social. Within hours, 40,000 people had signed. “It was about creating this brand identity that people want to engage with and be part of versus pushing messaging to sign up,” Kersey said.
Drumroll views brand perception as a mosaic. “Different engagements work collectively to create the image,” Drummond said. Often campaigns are measured solely against the top-line KPIs instead of understanding that each is just “one of many tiles that are going to get you where you want.”
Investing in new areas like the metaverse
To Cullen, brands are in a similar place with the metaverse as when they started building websites in the 1990s. No one knew what to do, they just knew they needed to do it. “If you rush to be first, you may not have any idea what you’re doing,” he said. “But you also don't necessarily want to be too late to the party.”
Drummond’s advice: Follow the example of brands like Nike that intentionally explored the web in the beginning. “Explore early, understand it deeply so that you can eventually graduate your way to something that is highly experiential and meets the requirements that the audience is going to have,” he said.
Traditional metrics won’t apply to these marketing efforts. Which is why it’s important to “adjust the expectations of clients to understand the goals,” Trinidad said. “We need to get the client into the sandbox with us, making things and releasing some of the standards they have, the expectations of what creative quality is because it's different end requirements.”
In the end, “creative parameters don’t shift, technology shifts,” said Jordan. The experience has to be specific to the brand, platform and audience. “Bring the brand’s distinctive assets into an environment in a meaningful way for that audience,” Kersey advised. “To drive a person, not a demographic, to take action and to care about what you're saying, you have to truly understand them as people and build an ecosystem around that.”