How to Create Awesome Ads: The Essentials of Ad Execution

Did you know that the average person is estimated to encounter between 6,000 and 10,000 ads per day?1 This may seem crazy at first, but have a think about all the ads you’ve seen today, however fleetingly, whilst scrolling through social media; browsing online; watching TV or catch-up; or flicking through the newspaper. They pop up on your mobile, they appear on the billboards and bus stops that you walk past when you’re getting your daily dose of exercise. And then there are the ads you’ve heard on the radio, not to mention product placement, branding on packaging, carrier bags… the list goes on!

So the big question is: 

How do we grab people’s attention and get them to engage with our ads?

Through our work with some amazing brands including Honda, CooperVision, PepsiCo, P&O Cruises and NFU Mutual we have tried and tested a number of approaches, incorporated learnings from traditional marketing models and behavioural sciences studies and created a checklist of points to consider when creating your ad campaign. That’s right, we’ve done the hard work for you!

1. Create cut through.

So, getting your ad to stand out from the many messages that are being communicated to people on a day-to-day basis is clearly your first priority. A few lovely bits of theory come into play here:

  • The Von Restorff Effect – This is the tendency to notice and remember things that are bizarre, novel or out of context. For example, in the following list which item jumps out? Desk, chair, bed, table, chipmunk, dresser, stool, couch. Yep, unless you have a furniture fetish, the answer is chipmunk! The same applies if an item on a list is highlighted in a different colour or in bold.
  • The Picture Superiority Effect – This theory refers to our tendency to notice, remember and understand information depicted as images rather than as text. In particular, images that are simple, feature faces or are especially cute (sleeping kittens, anyone?).
  • The Humour Effect – Here we’re talking about anything funny, witty or a bit off-the-wall – you’ll have seen loads of examples of this through recent COVID-19 and Brexit memes. Thank you, Boris!

2. Establish brand identity.

The next bit is about making sure that people know it’s your brand. It’s all very well creating an incredible ad that stops people in their tracks, but if the association with your brand is missing, this is a wasted opportunity.

The important thing here is ensuring that you have taken that step upfront to invest in creating your brand’s own suite of ‘distinctive assets’.2 These can be based on any of the senses but, for obvious reasons, in the advertising and marketing world these tend to take the form of visual or audio assets. 

  • Visual assets – These can be shapes, colours, faces, words, fonts or moments. Think Compare the Market’s use of Alesandr Orlov, the instantly recognisable meerkat, or Coca-Cola’s iconic bottle shape.
  • Audio assets – Usually jingles with words such as Checkatrade’s ‘Check, check, check’ and the Go Compare jingle, but can also be music only. Some good examples of this are Intel’s sound logo or the continued use of a particular piece of music, as with Hamlet Cigars’ adoption of Bach’s ‘Air on the G String’ in their TV ads.  

3. Set your brand building objectives.

This is where we look at long-term ways of building awareness of your brand with your target audience.

  • Decide on the category you’re targeting. Which category is your brand competing in and in what context does your brand have relevance to your customers?
  • Brand building is all about building mental availability so that the brand comes to mind easily in purchasing situations (this is known as the Availability Heuristic or Availability Bias).3 What can you do to keep your brand front of mind?
  • It’s not just about the point of purchase, though. Associating your brand with the relevant category’s entry points is another way of increasing mental availability. On what occasions/at what moments in their lives could your brand spring to mind for consumers?
  • One of the most effective ways of building brand associations is by making the audience feel something in a quick and automatic way. Ready for a little more theory? Of course you are! This is called the Affect Heuristic4 and refers to those gut feelings we can get in response to something – good or bad. Can you use characters, incidents or places to create a story that resonates emotionally with your audience?
  • Aiming for fame is another great way of building mental availability – think Cadbury’s Gorilla advert for this one. How could you find fame for your brand?
  • For your brand communications consider an emotional benefit proposition that taps into people’s subconscious ‘System 1’ brain.5 How can your brand speak to one of our key human motivations – Excitement, Autonomy or Security?

The positive, relevant mental associations that you’ve built in people’s minds in connection with your brand can also be capitalised on when we run sales activation campaigns. Which is what we’re going to look at next…

4. Set your sales activation objectives. 

Sales activation campaigns tend to be shorter-term, more targeted and more action-based than brand building campaigns.

  • Instead of focusing on a whole category we are now looking at targeting a particular audience segment so the messaging can be more single-minded. Who exactly do you want to target? Where’s your sweet spot?
  • The proposition here needs to be much more rational for the ‘System 2’ brain to understand and consider.6 What’s your USP? What functional product benefits can you feature?
  • Reduce as many barriers to conversion as you can. Is it simple to understand, free from risk and is there a clear and easy call-to-action?
  • Consider using nudge marketing7 techniques which are subtle interventions designed to influence people’s decisions. Examples of these are:
    • Priming – using sight, sound, smell or touch to trigger an association e.g. the colour green to imply health
    • Framing – focusing on the gain/loss option for consumers from a decision e.g. 90% fat free 😀 instead of 10% fat 😞
    • Signalling – announcing a process in advance and inviting expressions of interest e.g. waiting list registrations for an event
    • Social proofing – using people’s tendency to copy others’ behaviour e.g. 20 people just bought this item!

What can you use to tap into people’s FOMO and get them to click BUY?

5. Bonus round! What happens next?

Like (most!) humans, ads don’t work to their best ability in isolation. To get the most out of your investment and to make sure your creative works as hard for you as possible, there are a few further points worth considering:  

  1. Can the concept be used for sales materials as well as in comms?
  2. For global brands – will the concept work across different markets?
  3. Will the concept be affordable to roll out into multiple markets?
  4. Is the concept used in the advert campaignable?
  5. Could elements of the advert become distinctive brand assets?

We know there’s a lot of information here to digest and a lot of potential techniques to consider, so first try focusing on the approaches that fit the most naturally with your product or brand. Trying to shoehorn a particular approach into your campaign simply so that you can tick that box is unlikely to resonate with your audience. 

And, as with most things in life, we test and learn. Test one approach and take the learnings from that test forward into the way you tackle your next campaign. 

Questions? Need some help? Give us a shout!

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