Digital channels are often looked upon as a world of metrics and short-term thinking, but there are opportunities for brands to be creative if activity is underpinned by branding basics.
It can be tempting to see digital as a highly measurable, metric-driven environment that does not require the flair and emotion of above-the-line advertising.
However, while counting clicks, impressions and views can help marketers gauge effectiveness, injecting creativity into digital can take an advert from noise on a web page to thumb-stopping content in three seconds flat.
Pizza Hut UK CMO Beverley D’Cruz argues that just because digital is highly measurable doesn’t mean it should be boring or mundane. It is crucial for the pizza delivery giant to stand out in digital given 80% of its business comes from consumers interacting with the brand online. For Pizza Hut, telling a strong story makes a difference, but the story must add value to people’s lives.
“As much as digital is a measurable space, it is a space where consumers are coming to be engaged and entertained in lives that are so busy and so stressed,” D’Cruz points out.
“I use my phone as a mechanism for stress relief from everything else happening in the world. So, yes it’s a mechanism to drive a sale, but it’s also a mechanism to engage the customer.”
There is, for example, creativity in the way marketers use a channel like programmatic to deliver a targeted experience for consumers. Creativity is not just about aesthetics, but about reaching the right people at the right time, with the right message, agrees Zoe Harris, CMO of GoCompare parent company, GoCo Group.
While there are certain channel-specific things to take into account and technical acumen needed in digital, Harris believes all these considerations should come second to a great creative idea.
“A poor story can’t be helped in any channel, no matter the spend that’s put behind it,” she states. “Working in tandem with an effective above-the-line campaign is where digital can work at its best, providing a consistent and identifiable message wherever people come into contact with it.”
Whatever the creative might be, D’Cruz urges marketers to remember that digital is not a “world of robots” and behind every programmatic ad is a real customer waiting to be engaged. This thinking was applied to the launch of Pizza Hut’s digital-only campaign ‘Now that’s delivering’ at the beginning of the year, aimed at highlighting the brand’s distinctive tone of voice.
The tongue-in-cheek ad, which takes a swipe at rival Domino’s, was designed to drive awareness about Pizza Hut’s delivery service, loyalty scheme and speed guarantee.
The combination of clarity, simplicity and humour struck a cord with consumers. D’Cruz says she was “amazed” by the response, especially the fact 3.9 million people watched the 90-second YouTube video to the end.
“If you don’t have an idea, it’s not going to sell,” D’Cruz states. “The creative idea was that we’re taking our gloves off to our competitors, having a bit of fun, being a bit irreverent and tongue-in-cheek, and people responded.”
Not only is there plenty of room for creativity in digital marketing, it is essential if you want to stand out in an increasingly crowded market, adds Matt Stockbridge, growth analytics manager at Mondelēz International.
“Destinations for digital marketing are growing by the day, and the sophistication of what you can buy on a single platform and how you buy it is also increasing,” he notes. “Everyone has these choices to get their message across and with the cost of entry so low, it’s a much more even playing field.”
Stockbridge defines creativity in digital as something that gets people talking. He singles out Oreo’s biscuit-themed recreation of the Game of Thrones title sequence designed to celebrate the start of the final TV series. On YouTube alone, the #GameOfCookies video has been viewed more than 900,000 times since it went live on 2 April.
Stockbridge is convinced digital is a brand building and storytelling channel, especially because so many brands now start life online. However, if your brand is not a digital native, it could be a good idea to build a network of advocates.
“You need to invest time, effort and money in building relationships with enough people so that eventually you have hundreds, or maybe thousands, of advocates who will keep your story going and also defend your brand on your behalf,” he advises.
On mobile it takes something special to stop consumers scrolling past your ad. That’s why Carly O’Brien, Shop Direct’s customer management and performance marketing director, believes that despite having the same fundamentals as all creative, there are two big differences when it comes to digital.
“Digital marketing needs to capture a customer’s attention in a smaller window of time and a smaller format. A TV ad lasts 30 seconds. On social we’ve got just seconds to inspire the customer. That’s a huge test, but we rise to it by constantly challenging our creative thinking,” O’Brien explains.
“Digital has also removed the shackles of traditional media through things like gamification, tilt motion, filters and AR. Innovation helps us be more creative.”
This creativity came to the fore at Christmas when Shop Direct’s marketing, buying and creative teams collaborated on a Facebook Messenger chatbot featuring Elsie, the main character from the Very.co.uk festive campaign.
The chatbot featured a combination of 255 product choices overlaid with more than 50 different conversational user interfaces, enabling the customer to discover a range of toys or ask Elsie to suggest a present. Shoppers could then click through from the platform to complete their purchase.
While TV was once the “hero of storytelling”, O’Brien believes digital makes the experience more immersive through gamification, interaction and targeted content designed to fit the customer’s channel of choice.
At furniture giant Ikea, digital marketing plays a role across the entire spectrum, from brand building through to shorter-term, commercially-driven activity. Iain Neal, one-to-one marketing leader at Ikea UK and Ireland, believes this application of creativity across the whole spectrum of marketing enables Ikea to deliver effective results as a wider business.
“At the performance end, our primary objective is landing the conversion to sale, so the creativity lies largely in the thinking to find the audiences, dissecting their behaviour and understanding exactly the right message and the time and place to serve it,” he explains.
“For brand activity in digital, we are looking to ensure that every interaction capitalises on its full value, deepening the relationship we have with customers, so that ultimately we can legitimately sell them into other product areas than they’re currently buying into or new collections and collaborations when they launch.”
Ikea’s latest campaign, designed by Proximity London, used creativity to break down the barriers to sustainable living. Based on the Swedish philosophy of ‘lagom’, meaning using not too much or too little, the content series on social and email offered consumers tips on how to give existing Ikea products a new lease of life.
Consumers were targeted based on their levels of engagement with Ikea’s sustainability initiatives, previous communications and purchase of products with sustainability elements. The messages were then tailored so they were relevant for the consumer, with a view to growing their long-term value to the business.
When it comes to testing the effectiveness of creativity in digital it is crucial to analyse the positive and negative drivers, Stockbridge advises. However, while benchmarks, trends and baselines can help make better decisions, he is clear there is no algorithm or formula for creativity.
O’Brien suggests it is a good idea to have an ‘always-on’ testing framework, which accounts for creative changes, such as replacing a creative overlay or website skeleton known as the wireframe.
“Even in paid search where there is arguably less scope for creative excellence than other channels, it is important to constantly test copy variants and extensions,” she explains. “The incremental benefits of creative testing in performance marketing add up over time.”
While programmatic metrics help Shop Direct measure cost-effectiveness, optimise performance and form short-term campaign objectives, the company believes it is important to measure all activity to better understand the role programmatic plays in brand building.
“In this sense, programmatic metrics give context rather than a measure of success or failure, and insight from other campaign areas should help to influence the creative and strategic direction for programmatic,” O’Brien adds.
While it depends on the channel and campaign objectives, GoCompare’s Zoe Harris believes effectiveness ultimately comes down to whether the creative drives traffic to the site and this traffic converts, with minimal cannibalisation of other channels, as well as providing a good return on ad spend.
“There are instances where we are happy with engagement and positive sentiment but this activity, too, is sales-focused, it just happens further up the funnel,” Harris adds.
For Pizza Hut’s Beverley D’Cruz everything comes down to the fact that if you can’t measure something, it’s not successful. The fact 3.9 million people watched the campaign film signifies engagement, which for Pizza Hut is a key measure of success. Effectiveness then must be linked back to sales, driving impressions and creating revenue, as well as helping the brand maintain its distinctive tone of voice.
D’Cruz uses attribution studies to understand how different channels perform and how many sales a piece of work has driven, compared to other pieces of creative run throughout the year. She then works with her agency to “codify” the campaign and decide how it can be extended over the next 12 to 18 months.
Success, for Pizza Hut at least, is being able to take the creative idea from digital and extend it to everything on the brand from paid search to content marketing. To make that happen, the creative idea must be strong enough to go the distance.