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The Creative Revolution 2.0

The Quixotic quest for iconic internet ads is a perennial call-to-arms for advertisers, agencies and entrepreneurs. Surely there must be a way to make online advertising—specifically display advertising—truly impactful. Yet this somewhat misguided mission overlooks the possibilities of entirely new modes of marketing.

A $50 Billion Missed Opportunity Last Year?

At Web 2.0 Summit last month, Mary Meeker of Morgan Stanley (soon to be with Kleiner Perkins) presented her latest analysis on internet trends. High on her list was the potential, if not the promise, of an online advertising boom.

To support that proposition, she presented data (originally provided by Yahoo! for the May 2010 Investor Day) showing the percentage of time people spend in different media—print, radio, TV and the internet—relative to the percentage of advertising dollars that are spent in those media:

Ad Spend in Media

The oversimplified conclusion is that because people spend 28% of their media time on the internet, yet only 13% of all advertising dollars are spent there, there’s an untapped $50 billion opportunity. Savvy business people should be rushing to fill this “ad gap.” Maybe. But after 15 years of internet advertising—all at internet speed—it might be more important to ask why this gap exists. But hold that thought for a moment.

Waiting For Godot

Another question Meeker asked in her presentation: “Where are the great online ads?” She refers to AdAge’s list of the Top 100 Advertising Campaigns of the 20th Century. It ranks iconic ad campaigns that had a tremendous impact on our culture and were well remembered—in some cases, outright beloved—by their audience: Nike’s “Just do it,” Wendy’s “Where’s the Beef?,” the Absolut Vodka bottle, the Marlboro Man, the Energizer Bunny and so on.

Yet you’d be hard pressed to come up with internet ads—display ads or search ads—that had anywhere near that sort of impact. The dancing animations of LowerMyBills.com ads? Not exactly a high bar.

But this is where the analogy becomes absurd. True, there may not have been many cultural watershed banner or search ads, but the cultural phenomenon of the internet itself—and the way it’s completely changed the dynamics between brands and consumers—blows away any ad in history.

Social media has delivered us many iconic “brand memes”—I hesitate to call them ads, since they’re not primarily based on paid media: Blendtec’s “Will it Blend?,” the revival of Old Spice Man, Burger King’s “Whopper Sacrifice,” the Cadbury Gorilla and more. (See the Forbes article The Best-Ever Social Media Campaigns.)

But as popular and much-talked-about as these viral marketing hits have been, they’re just a drop in the ocean of a much more distributed kind of brand development online.

The Creative Revolution 2.0

Just as the ad agencies of the 1960’s ushered in a new era of marketing with brand positioning and unique selling propositions—packaged with clever vignettes and taglines—we’re witnessing a new revolution in today’s marketing.

There are three principles that define this Creative Revolution 2.0:

First, the canvas for new creative doesn’t begin or end with the ad. While some may lament the constraints of search or display ads as a creative medium, such constraints are myopic. Experiences online are continuous. They may start with a meme in social media, be reinforced with display advertising, connect with specific intent in a search ad, carry through to a landing page and a conversion optimized post-click experience, be nurtured with follow-up, and are ultimately fulfilled by the product or service itself. New creative spans at least two or more of these touchpoints, which are more of an interconnected ecosystem rather than a strict one-way funnel.

Second, new creative is less about a single mass market message and more about the aggregation of many individual, targeted experiences. Each micro-experience targets a particular audience segment in a particular context—deeply and authentically engaging with prospects “in their moment.” Rapid experimentation and testing continually discovers new seducible moments and refines their effectiveness. A overarching creative framework provides brand cohesion.

Third, new creative embraces the fact that the audience is connected. This doesn’t necessarily mean that creative must overtly exploit that connectivity—not every marketing opportunity demands a Whopper sacrifice. It may make sense to proactively facilitate relevant connections via email, Twitter and Facebook. But at the very least, one should be prepared for and open to communication from the crowd. Listen: they’re your references, reviewers and referees.

These principles should seem natural to conversion optimization professionals, who arguably have the most experience of anyone in seeing the holistic nature such interconnected creative.

Back To That $50 Billion Gap…

Because paid advertising is only a fraction of the recipe of the Creative Revolution 2.0, we shouldn’t expect parity with advertising dollars between the internet and other media. But if we more broadly consider the investment made in marketing overall—including social media, post-click experiences, and end-to-end testing and optimization—then the gap narrows quickly.

In the media of earlier eras, advertising was one of the few levers that marketing could pull to impact demand. Now the number of levers have multiplied and fragmented. Selecting and coordinating the right subset of levers is a more challenging proposition. But that’s why it’s “optimizing” not just “advertising.”

That $50 billion gap? That’s the opportunity for conversion optimization.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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