Insights on Winning (Digital) Creative

What IS good creative and how do you make it? Does winning creative change in an increasingly digital world?

Question’s like these have tormented marketers for hundreds of years.  From the Wanamaker’s department store print ads in the early 1900s, straight through till 2020 every time we launch a YouTube ad.  For this blog post, we asked Mary Ventresca, VP Marketing & Business Development at Pattison Outdoor Advertising and Heather Ilsley, VP Client Services at Vovia to share their insights about what makes winning creative and offer some tips on how we can build it.

CMA: What do you think makes for good creative?

Mary: Good creative should draw us in, hold our attention and make us feel something.

Heather: It depends on the goal of the campaign. If the campaign is meant to inspire, educate, drive action, etc then the creative should deliver on that goal.

In all cases, good creative has these elements

  • Is relevant to the user
  • Is aligned to the medium
  • Is clear and concise
  • Is viewable – for OOH distance testing would be relevant here, for digital it’s sized appropriately for the placement
  • The brand is clear in most cases. There may be the odd times say in a teaser campaign when you intentionally exclude the brand.
  • In most cases, it includes a call to action (CTA)

In part, this is why we see responsive ads working so well.  The creative isn’t necessarily beautiful. But by meeting these criteria, the performance of the creative is much stronger.  This also helps to explain why infomercials can actually be good creative.

CMA: As the world is becoming more digital, does the definition of good creative change?

Mary: I don’t believe the heart of what makes good creative changes just because digital becomes a more prominent media channel. However, to get to that goal of good creative we do need to rethink how best to stand out in a sea of digital ads and reconsider how the medium is consumed.

Heather: No. Focusing on objectives and relevance is timeless. What will change is how creative is adapted to various medium/formats. With more digital formats, there is the opportunity to be more precise in developing user journeys and good creative will consider that.

CMA: What is an example of a standout creative or a best-in-class marketing campaign? And why?

Mary: I hold one campaign near and dear because I was fortunate to work on it from a media planner standpoint back in 1997 (in Toronto) and that was the Apple “Think Different” campaign. Steve Jobs had returned to Apple and with that campaign let it be known that a new era was beginning at Apple by having this incredibly simple (visually) but hugely emotional and inspiring campaign.

Heather: I love the simplicity of the Get a Mac campaign. By having Mac and PC as friends, Apple was able to “attack” Microsoft using humour.  Dollar Shave Club is another one that did an amazing job. They solved a real problem, created an experience, and made it dead easy to buy.

CMA: With all the different inventory available and shorter campaign lifecycles, how do you scale content production to meet those needs?

Mary: I may be biased but in today’s world, people spend more time outside their home and that parallels their exposure to out-of-home whether it be digital boards, classic posters, bus sides or an LRT wrap. OOH is part of our public spaces and high levels of scale can be achieved quickly as a result.

Heather:  There are many many different tools that have made creative production a much simpler process. Leveraging a creative management platform (CMP) can allow for mass customization at scale, real-time creative insights, testing capabilities, dynamic creative optimization, and the ability to tweak assets from the platform without the need to re-traffic (in some cases). CMP’s can be expensive, but there are many tools that allow you to deliver customization at a lower cost.

CMA: Here are a few to consider.

Google’s Directors Mix



Adobe Advertising Cloud

CMA: Do you think content needs to be mass customized or is relevance enough? Why?

Mary: I lean towards mass customization. You only have so much time to capture attention and content that’s more on-point and customized for a broader group of people can get you further down the purchase funnel in a shorter period of time.

Heather: The biggest predictor of campaign success is the relevance of the creative to the audience. The more you are able to deliver a customized message to your audience, the better your performance will be. We leveraged a dynamic creative strategy for one of our clients and saw a 1500% increase in conversions and cost/conversion decreased 78%.

When it comes to the debate of customized versus relevant creative, what really matters is how the creative performs.   We shouldn’t assume to know which is better so it’s important to always be testing.   For example, take these YouTube Ads that IKEA ran.  They used the time of day as a signal for customizing the creative message of the audience during that time.

Improving Your Creative Brief

If you’re looking to improve your next creative brief, here are 7 considerations that summarize the main actionable items from our experts above.

  1. Define your business goal
  2. Think about how and where the customer will see and interact with the creative so that it can guide how each asset will be customized in each platform.
  3. Clearly articulate the outcome you want to have on the viewer. Is it a change in how they feel? Do you want them to click through? Would you like them to show up somewhere?
  4. Consider the customer’s experience – what stage of their journey are they in? Is what you’re asking them to do reasonable for that stage? Is it hard for them to do what you’re asking? How can you make it easier for them?
  5. Draft the creative and ensure the elements and messages are consistent across channels and buyer stages.
  6. Go through several rounds of approvals to ensure it’s clearly delivering on the intended goal and reduce the risk of miscommunication.
  7. Launch and learn through A/B testing the creative against its intended objective.


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About the Author

Marc Binkley is the Managing Director and Digital Strategy Lead at Anstice Communications. Marc and his team use digital tools and technology like search engine optimization, paid ads on search, social & display, content strategy, site optimization and predictive analytics to help clients adapt to modern consumer behaviour and grow their business.