The importance of creative in today’s data driven marketing industry

Nineve Van Zyl, Design Lead at Sprout, shares some guidelines on what to consider when crafting compelling and effective programmatic display creatives.

The majority of browsers visiting an e-commerce website don’t convert on their first visit. There are several reasons for this, but none as critical as context, i.e. understanding where in the customer journey the browser is, and delivering a message that is relevant and effective, through beautifully packaged creative.

Ecommerce marketers and advertisers need to understand the behaviour of online consumers in order to remain competitive and increase conversion rates, and data driven advertising, bought programmatically[1]1, affords them just that.

In fact, it is no longer about the publisher’s website that marketers buy their media on, but the audience they reach through this website. And because browsers visit many websites on a daily basis, advertisers can target them at any given time, by optimising towards the most cost efficient placement, with the right message at the right time and for the right price.

In South Africa, where internet advertising accounts for less than 10% of the total advertising market, programmatic media buying is still in its infancy. But when marketers measure the contribution an online campaign can make to monthly online sales, it becomes difficult to ignore the benefits of buying programmatically.

Over time, more advertisers, and as a result more agencies, will shift to buying media programmatically. And, with remarkable conversion rates and online return on investment, performance display advertising is challenging the theory that banner ads don’t work.

Catalysing responses from online browsers to click on a banner ad is far more effective when the creative is beautifully crafted. As a leading digital media buying agency, Sprout Performance Media Partners operates across paid search (SEA), paid social media, performance display & video and offers SEO consultancy services. it differentiates itself from other agencies as it understands how these various channels work in conjunction and which KPI’s should be applied in order to assess their performance. Nineve Van Zyl, Design Lead, shares some guidelines on what to consider when crafting compelling and effective programmatic display creatives.

Context and timing is important

In order for your ad to communicate your message effectively, it needs to reach the right person, at the right time, in the right context. The more insight advertisers have about their target market, the more effectively they can target an audience that is likely to convert. There is no need to show the same generic ad to everyone multiple times, as it is possible to craft and adapt creative that is specifically relevant to different audiences at a certain time. Technology helps us here.  With a wealth of data and digital toolkits, creative teams and marketers can create more engaging and effective campaigns.

 From Awareness to Information that results in Action

What is critical in applying effective creative is that the right message is displayed in the right phase of the campaign. At Sprout Performance we apply a phasing model that translates the above into a TOUCH, TELL and SELL methodology. In the TOUCH phase of a campaign (the first few times a browser sees a banner or online video of the same brand) the emphasis should lie on introduction of the brand with beautiful lifestyle images that creates a sense of connection between your product and your brand. In the more information and intent phase TELL (the 4th or 5th time a browser sees a message of the same brand/ product/model) there is more focus on the product and additional information around use or the value proposition. Eventually in the final phase (SELL) there is a clear call to action that is aimed at changing behaviour (apply/ download/ buy etc).

Some guidelines:

Maintain the Hierarchy

Digital design needs to communicate a message quickly and effectively in minimal space and time. This makes a clear hierarchy of elements a vital part of guiding the audience through your message.

 The core components of any display creative are the value proposition, the company logo and a strong call–to–action. The key in maintaining the hierarchy between these elements is by creating emphasis through contrast, emphasis and relative visual weight.

The value proposition showcases the service/product a brand provides and calls attention to itself with attractive products, special offers and prices, i.e. high quality, 50% off, limited time offer or free. Ideally, this message should take up the bulk of the ad space and it should be the first thing that viewers’ eyes are drawn to.

The logo must be included to build brand awareness, and while advertisers need to ensure that it’s visually dominant, it should not dominate the other elements.

The call-to-action should be straight forward and directly communicating the next step that the consumer will be taking on consumer journey – “Buy now”, “Sign Up”, “Shop now”, are a small amount of examples that are commonly used on call-to-actions. It should be a standout focal point, prompting viewers to click on it.

Digital Design Principles

Banner ads need to be eye-catching and compelling to attract attention. The design should bring a sense of visual urgency to the text by using contrasting, bold colours. Animation, the use of faces, brand colours, and clear text help banner ads stand out, too. And, having a clear focal point in the ad is essential to communicate with the audience quickly and efficiently. Here are some other pointers;

Images in Display Creative

In our growing online culture, visual elements have become an important messaging tool in online advertising. An eye-catching, contrasting element or high quality lifestyle image can communicate an instant connection between a brand and their audience. This is especially effective when the creative illustrates someone interacting with the brand, demonstrating the associated benefits.

Given the limited space available within a banner, and depending on the brand, this use case may not be a viable option. But, a well-designed ad with a brightly coloured

background or simple artwork is also effective. In fact, bright colours and vibrant artwork are often more eye-catching than a photo.

Retargeting creative is often more product focused and should avoid being overly cluttered to emphasise a product. High quality product images can also create a sense of quality and trust in the brand, while using some accompanying close up images of details or textures can create a more engaging experience with online shopping. A great tip for achieving the best quality product image is to use a neutral background colour that compliments the products being showcased.

 Simple, Familiar Design

In order to create a familiar experience for viewers throughout their online journey, it’s ideal to mimic the landing page the brand is advertising on. The text should be easy to read and the design shouldn’t overpower the message.

Call–to–Action Buttons

The call-to-action button serves as the ending point of most digital advertising, this small but extremely helpful tool is where the consumer action takes place. The size of it needs to big enough to grasp the viewer’s attention but not too big to take over the message the design is conveying. Making the call-to-action stand out and give the design a more 3D look will allow the call-to-action to look more like an “actual” button which will entice the viewer to click on it.

Simple animation is a great way to take your call-to-action and make more visible with in the numerous designs that might surround it.

Legible text. Short and Simple.

A clear and concise message is one that your audience can easily read and understand without over-thinking. Banner ads should not have cursive, script, or extremely thin fonts. All uppercase copy or smaller than 10pt font (unless it’s a disclaimer/copyright notice) should also be avoided. The headline and body copy should be different sizes and each shouldn’t be longer than four lines.


Simple animated ads usually out-perform static banner ads, and can be very effective in banner design, but a word of caution… these must not detract from the message. To avoid an overly repetitive animation, banners shouldn’t be longer than 10 seconds, and they shouldn’t loop more than three times. The call–to–action should ideally appear within three seconds of the animation starting.

Finally, customers don’t experience the on– and offline presence of brands as two separate entities. It’s part of a bigger customer journey. Advertising that seamlessly integrates brand message, consistently and with clarity will work harder to acquire prospects, engage and communicate the actual product/service/pricing of the brand, and move customers towards a conversion to drive purchases.


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