3 ways to increase ad engagement, conversions, and ROI

(Originally published in iMediaConnection, June 2011

We’ve been at this online advertising thing for about 15 years now — give or take a few years. And we’ve seen time and again all sorts of tricks, tools, approaches, and technologies that can be used to increase ROI from the advertiser’s perspective and yield from a publisher’s perspective. I’ve written tons of articles saying what we should do as an industry to improve advertising from a policy, approach, and technology perspective. But today, I have a nice little article about how to improve your results as an advertiser.

In 1997, I started one of the first rich media advertising companies. Many of the ads we built — back in the days of 56K modems, before broadband, and when creative file size limits were tiny — would win awards today and still be recognized as groundbreaking. As an industry, we’ve gone backward, not forward.

Disrupt your own creative approach
My overall recommendation is to “productize” your advertising. You can do this by creating standardized ad units with preconfigured types of interactivity and with one defining trait from a creative perspective that immediately connects with the user. This last element is important — and is the trickiest to pull off — but once you nail it for one set of campaigns, you’ll be done with that work.

Example: For an advertiser selling cleaning products, surround the border of each ad with a froth that animates little popping bubbles.

Whatever that unifying theme is, break it down into the simplest graphical treatment that doesn’t overwhelm the rest of the ad, but that is both noticeable and engaging. Work with your rich media vendors to find out what is possible across the publishers you want to work with — and make it real.

Since our display advertising space is small, and the units make up a tiny non-disruptive portion of the screen, you need to force the issue about space. That might mean you need to create very compelling creative that somehow creates interaction between multiple units on the page, breaks outside the boundary of the border of the creative unit, or just uses simple and arresting copy or images to capture the user’s attention.

I realize this is a bit of Advertising 101. But we spend too much time in this industry running ads that don’t differentiate from each other, don’t capture the user’s attention, and are just plain old boring ads in standard IAB-sized units.

Every rich media vendor out there offers a variety of simple solutions to the ad mechanism, whether the mechanism is a 300×250 banner that breaks outside the boundaries of the creative, or whether it enables an over-the-page experience in which the ad expands and is not rectangular.

Create multiple engagement opportunities within the ad
Even within standard ad units that run on a significant number of sites, many opportunities for engagement exist. Whether we are talking about a 300×250 ad unit, a 300×600 half-page unit, a 728×90 leaderboard, or 160×600 wide skyscraper, all of these formats are large enough to create deeper opportunities to create content — not just an ad.

Ads that just offer a click-through to a landing page are very straightforward and miss out on massive opportunities. My recommendation is to always offer at least two — if not three — specific and clear opportunities for engagement with the user. One should be the primary execution; the others should be highlighted but not overwhelm the primary.

Example: For a cleaning product, the primary creative should be an engaging brand message with eye-catching graphics and a simple story. The second opportunity should be more direct-response driven (e.g., print out a coupon or request a free sample by mail). If a third opportunity makes sense, it should pull in a different direction (e.g., sign up for a cleaning tips newsletter or go to a store locator for places to buy the product).

In any case, this should always happen right within the ad itself, not requiring the user to jump to another website. Conversions within an ad unit tend to be much higher than those that require leaving the site that the user is on — and the larger ad units certainly have enough room to put some simple forms in front of the user and capture data. Every rich media advertising vendor out there has ways to do this for you; just work with your vendor to see what’s possible.

Tie online ads to the physical world (ideally locally)
Every ad should be a combination of engagement opportunities — driving brand engagement and brand metrics, but also offering quick-twitch direct-response opportunities.

Users are not going to buy a car or a washing machine from an ad. But they might well be willing to sign up for a test drive or visit a store for a scheduled demonstration of a large-ticket product. Working with opportunities that are localized is very smart, if at all possible. Frequently the possibilities exist, but they are outside the normal consideration set for an online component of an overall advertising campaign. So don’t use normal considerations — break outside the boundaries of the norm and drive change.

Examples: If you are advertising a product that is sold by dealers (cars, agents, etc.), retailers, or resellers, create engagement packages with them to drive customers into their stores. In some cases they might be willing to share some of the expenses for successful engagements, or at the least could be willing to participate in a broader proposal. These could be as simple as setting up a special event at their location that ties to the lifetime of the campaign, such as having food grilled at a car dealership on a specific weekend, or offering to give product demonstrations one evening a week.

Getting your online creative to pop outside the box of the ad unit, to drive deeper engagement with the customer, to offer some kind of outcome driver as part of every unit, and to tie to offline (physical world) engagements in the local community will completely change the game and drive much greater ROI for the advertiser.


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