Can’t Outspend the Competition? It’s Time to Get Creative

Light bulb rocket taking off stock photo

By Anthony Lamy, VP EMEA Client Partners, VidMob

Every year, once Halloween is over, brands face the ghoulish task of making a successful marketing splash to ensure Christmas sales enhance their bottom line. With some major retailers having already rolled out their holiday campaigns this year, panic is likely to be setting in among others that are looking to stand out to customers at this key time. Yet, despite the festive season being a ‘must win’ period, many advertisers continually apply the same stale marketing techniques year after year.

To create Christmas campaigns that really sparkle this year, brands will need to get creative. Most would be challenged to outspend the likes of M&S and John Lewis, but in the months since June’s relatively optimistic advertising spend forecasts, fast-rising living costs and the spectre of a global recession have seen next year’s projections downgraded to just 2.5% uplift and led to considerable unease about near-term prospects.

Ad creative is one of the most powerful and underestimated performance drivers, giving marketers opportunities to optimise their assets using data and drive ongoing innovation that sets them apart, even in the face of economic uncertainty. In order to level the playing field with the brands that typically dominate at this time of year and increase the chances of advertising success, brands must refocus and build their competitive advantage based on measurable, data driven marketing strategies which allow for consistent improvement.

How creative can keep sales ringing

Continued marketing activity is the best way to yield consistent long-term results and retain consumer favour. The Institute for Practitioners of Advertising’s Come Back in a Year campaign perfectly demonstrates this point. 87% of consumers expect brands to remain consistent with their marketing — or even increase their activities — during this time of economic uncertainty.

Therefore, cutting marketing budgets when the going gets tough is not a wise move. It’s especially imprudent to do so ahead of a peak sales period such as the holiday season. However, the unfortunate reality is that many marketers will soon have to achieve their targets of consistent visibility and connectivity with less budget to work with.

So how should they make the most of the budget remaining? One obvious route would be to refine their targeting practices, putting their media planning, spend allocation and delivery under the microscope with a view to increasing efficiency and reducing wastage. But there’s a more effective way to optimise limited resources — the impact of ad creative on advertising performance is underestimated by as much as 64%, according to recent research. Creative drives almost half of sales, which is nearly three times higher than media agencies and advertisers perceive.

Marketers should, therefore, be working to pinpoint and harness the creative elements that best resonate with their key audience. In turn, brands will gain a much better chance of getting themselves noticed in the competitive festive environment, as well as forging meaningful and lasting ties with Christmas shoppers.

Finding a formula for festive success

When it comes to optimising creative output, marketers must recognise the need to adapt to specific environments, particularly on social media. This means going further than just using channel-level insight; while marketers should of course ensure messages are fit for core platform requirements, it’s also important to align with the evolving needs of target audiences in order to hit the right note.

Content should therefore not only be created in line with specific platform requirements, but also for the different stages of the consumer journey — awareness, consideration, purchase, loyalty. In addition, customers are demanding brands be sensitive to their needs, especially when the sharp rise in the cost of living is hitting many of them hard.

Advances in AI mean that it is possible for brand marketers to dissect and evaluate the DNA of each ad, using machine learning to automatically detect and analyse every component in static and video content — from logo placement and background music to the eye gaze of featured talent — and, crucially establish the effect these have on their desired outcomes. Just like Jack Skellington in The Nightmare Before Christmas, marketers can use the scientific method as a way to understand and “explain this Christmas thing”.

By taking advantage of AI and machine learning capabilities, marketers can accurately track and prove their contribution to the bottom line of the business. They can also identify the right mix for specific environments and audiences in real-time, and make in-flight adjustments accordingly.

Embracing the spirit of experimentation

Another significant advantage of informing creative decisions and adjustments with data is the possibility to perform experiments, with very little risk. While tried and tested content might appeal to more conservative brands, those willing to take a chance can create a competitive edge.

Among all of the sentimentality typically seen at Christmas, there is room for risky, experimental and forward-thinking ads. With intelligent tools measuring real-time performance, marketers have more freedom to use insights about current consumer tastes for testing different and diverse ideas.

Anything that doesn’t work can be scrapped or tweaked, and the best performing ideas can be further fine-tuned to ensure their potential is maximised. This real-time analysis removes the limitations that lead to tired, repetitive creative themes and enables innovation that can allow brands to add fresh sparkle to their ads.

We’re very used to hearing the term ‘creative’ immediately after ‘data-driven’. With the capabilities of AI and machine learning, it won’t be long until the phrase ‘data-driven’ is completely redundant, as any brands that aren’t using data to inform their campaigns will be obsolete. Creative is already becoming data-driven, and marketers that understand this can gain a true competitive advantage — even against brands with much larger budgets.

This festive season, some of the best performing ads will not necessarily be those that cost the most, but the ones that focus on the optimisation of creative. Brands that show they understand the needs of their audience and a willingness to experiment will create the biggest impact. So while belts might be tight this Christmas, creativity should abound.