What if the ad impressions you already buy could drive twice as many customers and double the brand impact without one extra dime of media cost?

The few companies that have leveraged creative experimentation regularly find results like these are not only possible, but straightforward and consistently achievable with the right plan in place.

It’s well established that ad creative is the biggest driver of advertising performance. A comprehensive report from comScore states “that the quality of the creative is four times more important than the characteristics of the media plan in generating sales. In fact, creative is the single most important factor and accounts for over half the changes in a brand’s sales over time.” A more recent German study found that “high-quality creative increases ad viewing time [by close to] six times (5.8x) and nearly doubles purchase intent (+93%) vs. low-quality creative.”

So why isn’t every marketer dedicated to creative experimentation? There are two big reasons:

First, amongst those driving the world’s $500+ billion annual ad spend, ad creative has always taken a backseat to buying and selling the media space itself. Media and audience optimization are indeed important, and most marketers are well-schooled in the arena. This level of comfort naturally inclines marketing leads to focus their energy on media buying and demographics, despite the fact that the best available evidence pinpoints creative optimization as actually more effective for generating performance gains.

Second, some marketers and agencies actually do occasionally field a single “one-off” ad creative experiment. They understand that, with frequency and time, ad creative performance decays. However, running a creative test every once in a while doesn’t prevent that decay, so the prospect of further investment in experimentation fails to generate much excitement.

The rub is that having a strategy for perpetual creative experimentation can, indeed, prevent performance decay, and improve overall effectiveness. The trick is to systematize creative ad experimentation. And it’s really a pretty logical proposition.

The Case for Ad Creative Experimentation

Diana Choksey heads up Media Technology and Ad Operations for Microsoft’s US Centralized Marketing Organization (CMO). In autumn 2015, she ran a pilot program wherein her team systematically and continuously experimented with a variety of ad creatives promoting Office 365. The results were both immediate and impressive. Within days, Microsoft was serving an ad that averaged a 66% increase in Office 365 downloads – all driven by better-performing creatives. Within weeks, the experimentation resulted in an ad that produced a 400% increase in Office 365 downloads.

Here’s how it worked. Before launching the first Office 365 experiment, Microsoft hypothesized that ad creatives featuring photos of students collaborating would resonate best with their targeted audience. Using an integrated Creative Side Platform (CSP) to construct, view, serve, measure, and automatically optimize ad creatives for the product, the team launched a series of digital ads featuring a variety of those types of photos. Through a series of experiments where sub-optimal creative was phased out of rotation, Microsoft’s US CMO learned that an ad featuring a single student as the most popular – exactly the opposite of their hypothesis. A subsequent experiment tested five very different looking ad creatives and identified a new best-performing ad—one that didn’t feature students at all! (The ultimate winner, a bright purple creative highlighting the product, drove 400% more Office 365 downloads than any other digital ad.)

For Diana and her team, these results were stunning. In a matter of days, creative experimentation drove five times more downloads for Office 365 from the same ad impressions – without any extra media cost. As a result, Microsoft rapidly expanded ad creative experimentation to all digital advertising campaigns run by the US CMO.

Microsoft’s Centralized Marketing Organization had demonstrated how advertisers can attack a huge and largely untapped opportunity in advertising – unveiling the measurable effectiveness embedded in ad creatives through a process of directed and automated experimentation.

Such insight can not be gleaned by one test per quarter. The real key to unlocking the full potential of ad campaigns hinges on continuous creative experimentation that is automated and always driving better-performing digital advertising.

Systematizing Creative Experimentation

Marketers today usually pick a single ad concept and run with it for an entire campaign. But, if Microsoft had limited themselves to the student collaboration ads, their ad dollars would have produced 80% fewer Office 365 downloads – which might be why their motto these days is “Test, Don’t Guess.” And they don’t stop testing once they’ve identified a high-performing creative concept. Even small tweaks such as colours, buttons, background images, and CTAs can drive big returns. If there’s a corollary to “test, don’t guess,” it’s iterate, iterate, iterate.

Microsoft’s story is just one example of what is possible should marketers shift perspective and explore what can be achieved implementing similar, systematized experimentation efforts. I’m betting that more examples with equally impressive results will soon gain traction in the modern marketing ecosystem. After all, if you could drive twice as many customers and double brand impact from the impressions you’re already buying, without spending one extra penny on media, wouldn’t you do it?

 

By Mitchell Weisman, founder & CEO of RevJet, maker of the first-of-its-kind Creative Side Platform (CSP).





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