Across the Industry, Laziness and Inertia are Holding Back Advertising Innovation

LazinessAlmost every week we hear about new ad formats and creative solutions being released by ad tech companies, agencies, or publishers, promising advertisers exciting new ways to connect with their audiences. But developing and selling these new solutions is only the first part of the battle – getting people to actually use them is the second, much harder part.

Whilst advertising as a whole has evolved rapidly over the past twenty years, it can still be difficult to break advertisers out of old habits, or to get ad ops teams to take on heavy workloads. The word ‘inertia’ is one that frequently comes up in industry conversations (or ‘laziness’ as is sometimes more appropriate), yet we rarely talk about it as a standalone issue.

Tom Curtis, executive creative director at MediaCom, a WPP-owned media agency, said inertia is a problem he encounters fairly regularly. “Innovation and creativity are stifled by approaching things the same way they’ve always been approached,” he said.

Curtis said inertia is often the result when a “TV-script-first approach” is the starting point of a plan, where advertisers believe a TV script needs to be created before other elements of a plan can be developed.

This approach may have made sense in the past said Curtis, but we need to see a shift in thinking. “Otherwise, the really clever creative stuff will be left with a small portion of budget at the end,” he said. “We need to create the conditions in which the innovation could become the telly ad, not a bolt-on to it.”

Smartzer, an ad tech company which creates shoppable and interactive videos, has encountered similar problems. Whilst clients like the technology and the possibilities it opens up, CEO Karoline Gross says it’s hard to get clients to use it to its full potential.

While Smartzer finds its clients drive better results with video content which is designed with shoppability in mind, many clients still choose to start using the product by simply taking their thirty second TV ad, and throwing the shoppable overlay on top.

“That’s fine in most cases, but we do see an increase in the key KPIs they look at, like engagements and click-through rates, when brands adapt their content for shoppability,” said Gross. ““We’re trying to work more closely with the video production side and some them data about how they can make their ads more effective, because currently it’s often just a case of them saying “we made this TV ad, can you now make it shoppable?”

It’s understandable in some ways that advertisers and agencies take this approach. It’s easier to test a new technology with an existing creative to see how it performs.

Poor KPIs Strike Again

Sometimes, KPIs can encourage this sort of behaviour. As Russell Ball, Global AV/Media Operations at RB, told VAN earlier this year, when an advertiser is overly focussed on viewability, this can lead them to sticking to formats that conveniently (and cheaply) fit these KPIs. So, for example, an advertiser focused on viewability might be more inclined to serve ads to the ad units which stick to the bottom of a user’s screen, and then follow them as they scroll. Whilst the ad was indeed viewable, it’s quite likely that the KPI doesn’t reward advertising that truly engages consumers. Encouraging advertisers to move away from questionable metrics has been a focus of industry trade group the IAB recently, with its ‘National Anti-Click-Through Rate Day’.

Shoehorning TV Creatives into Online Environments 

But while in some cases inertia may be driven by risk-aversion, in others, it may come down to pure laziness.

Verizon’s CMO Diego Scotti called out laziness in advertising at the Cannes Lions festival back in 2018.  “Advertisers have gotten lazy and must be more creative,” he said, “and if we don’t get more creative, we have no business”. Scotti said he saw laziness in how advertisers would simply try to recreate the TV ad experience online, with ads that run the width of the screen, and end up annoying consumers.

Not Just a Buy-Side Problem

The problem exists on the sell-side too. One industry figure VAN spoke with who works on the publisher side (and asked to remain anonymous) said they’d found numerous times that ideas were batted down by those who didn’t like the sound of the extra workload.

The source said they had spotted an opportunity to use some of their consumer data to enable new types of targeting for some of the companies they work with. “I thought the conversion rate on it would be brilliant. But I suggested it to the ad ops team and they said, ‘That sounds like loads of work, I’m not sure about that’. It didn’t sound like loads of work to me, and even if it was, it would only be because it was working really well and making lots of money!”

They gave another example from a different job where a client wanted to target specific groups with different creatives. “Ad ops complained that it would take ages. In reality, it would take someone about an hour to do, because it was a bit fiddly as you had to upload lots of different creatives. In the end, I had to do it myself because the team wouldn’t allocate the resources towards it.”

The source also said there were a couple of factors that fostered this culture. Overly complex management structures within businesses can mean it can be unnecessarily arduous to push ideas through, while also giving people an excuse to decline new ideas (given the layers of approval they have to go though). 

And for ad ops specifically, there are occasionally managers who don’t really understand the nature of the work they do. This means that if an ad ops team slaps down an idea as being too complicated or difficult, those they’re accountable can’t necessarily tell whether that’s true or not.

Technology Provides Cover

“The whole industry is full of things which obfuscate and confuse people,” they said. And these things give people ways of avoiding extra work if they don’t want to do it.

MediaCom’s Tom Curtis said he’d seen examples where people seemingly wanted to steer clear of too much work. “Few people in the ad industry would cite self-proclaimed laziness for not pushing innovation or creativity, but it’s certainly the case – fairly regularly in fact – that content projects aren’t pursued by brands because they sound like too much effort,” he said.

But he added that he had sympathy for clients who pushed back on projects. “It used to be a telly ad, a poster, and a few print ads,” he said. “Now agencies are asking them to approve hundreds of different edits, copy lines, social posts and SEO articles.”

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