Deutsch LA's Van Praet: Digital Creative Isn't What You Think

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When ad industry discussions turn to data, it's usually about how to target ads, not create them. But Douglas Van Praet, EVP/group planning director at Deutsch LA, speaking at Wednesday's ANA Creativity conference, offered up some ideas of how science can influence the artistic side of advertising.

Following a presentation Van Praet did with Justin Osborne, GM, Advertising and Marketing Communications for Volkswagen of America, he spoke about the need for marketers and creatives to approach online, mobile and tablet-based advertising much differently than the way it is done on TV and print.

"The recognition that behavioral data is important to the online media buying process is a given, but it's not used enough in terms of creativity," he told AdExchanger. "The best use of it is A/B testing [which tests the effectiveness of two versions of a web page or a marketing e-mail to determine which execution produced better response rates or sales]. A/B testing is hard to set up, but it’s the best way to understand what worked and what didn’t."

During their presentation, Van Praet and Osborne showcased a number of Volkswagen TV spots from the past 40 years. Most were humorous and a few were of the heart-strings tugging variety. At a time when online is viewed as starting to see a greater shift in marketing dollars flowing to the web from TV and not just newspapers and magazines, the prevailing thought is that digital needs to present something more akin to the brand awareness and affinity-driven campaigns that traditional ads have provided.

Van Praet and Osborne said that while entertainment values tend to rule in TV and print, consumers tend to be in a different mindset when using their computers, smartphones and tablets.

Osborne noted that at this point, the tablet tends to be more similar to the lean-back mindset of consumers, but that doesn't mean repurposing TV commercials and print ads in a different format.

"Mobile is all about the shopping process," Osborne said. "If you want facts and figures on deals, we can do that. Tablet is where we’re starting to evolve. We can see a greater opportunity to have consumers tell the stories of owners of how it fits into their daily lives. That's different from what we would necessarily do on TV."

"The future of creativity online is rooted in being able to solve people’s problems, as opposed to trying to come up with a ‘viral’ or funny video," Van Praet added.

There’s a misconception that the only way you can capture someone’s attention or provoke an emotional connection online is through a funny video, but only works in a narrow set of cases, he said. The best way you get a deep emotional reaction online, especially if you’re selling something like a car, in Van Praet's view, is to "solve a particular business problem." For example, the process of buying a car is a major consumer decision, it’s difficult and can be annoying and inconvenient. If we can make it simple for someone to get the exact car they want, at the exact price and exact location, the marketer will get the emotional response they were looking for.

Secondly, Van Praet warned advertisers against trying to figure out more ways to interrupt consumers on the web with "more clutter." He pointed to using Google as a model of what brands should strive for when trying to strike a clear affinity with the people it wants to appeal to.

"Google is still one of the most powerful brands online and that’s continued because they continue to respect consumers by giving them a lot of white space, a lot of place to breathe," Van Praet said. The  reason is that Google does one thing very clearly: it serves as a good way to search the web.

"One of the things Google is doing right now is discovering real-time frustrations so they can have the best answer when someone does a search," Van Praet said. "The web is all about someone trying to get from point A to point B. Advertisers need to help consumers they want to reach do that more effectively. And they have  to realize that advertising is no longer just about ‘advertising.’"

He said the goal of creativity online starts with making sure interactions are mutually beneficial to the marketer and consumer: "Online brand advertisers need to figure out how to do the same thing."

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