Don’t underestimate the power of creativity in digital advertising

Marketers are finally waking up to the fact that creativity is the missing element in far too many digital campaigns, writes Azerion’s Dominic Tillson.

Dominic Tillson

Marketing Director Azerion


As a professional marketer, it’s interesting to observe how the phenomenal growth of digital marketing has led to a strange schism between the role of creativity in traditional advertising channels and its place in digital advertising campaigns. 

While creativity is still valued highly for campaigns delivered via non-digital media, for some reason, the level of creativity dedicated towards digital advertising campaigns is often lacking by comparison. Consider what we generally think of as an ‘award winning’ campaign. Every year, the major industry awards show us impressive creative campaigns in the form of 48-sheet posters, double-page spreads and 30-second TV spots. Yet it's rare to see creative agencies pick up a Cannes Lion for a mid-page unit (MPU) or a leaderboard. 

But, why does digital tend to get the short end of the creative stick?

The creativity deficit

One major reason is that the digital media conversation can often take place independently of the digital creative one, i.e. digital media planning and buying activity happens without significant forethought being given to the creative that will be employed. In addition, in  the world of programmatic advertising, speed and flexibility are sold to brand advertisers as plus points, allowing them to literally book a digital display campaign one day and go live the next. As a result, the creative is often an afterthought or near the bottom of the to-do list.

By comparison, newspapers, magazines, and mainstream TV channels have longer lead times for advertisers, and hard deadlines, which help to focus creative and media teams on delivering creative assets specifically designed for that format, much earlier in the process.

The digital ad industry has evolved in a way that has served the interests of publishers, advertisers and their agency and adtech intermediaries, with practically no thought given to the consumer experience along the way. As a result, to this day, we see way too many examples of over-crowded, slow-loading pages bloated with cheap ads of low quality, that deliver little or no effectiveness for the brand behind the campaign. 

In addition, the world of ad tech has encouraged marketers to measure the success of their digital marketing campaigns based on factors such as frequency, scale and an ever-shifting range of vanity metrics. The latest industry focus on data in the face of the final deprecation of third party cookies is just another conversation that, in effect, downplays the crucial importance of creativity in the success of digital advertising.

Ad tech has encouraged marketers to measure the success of their digital marketing campaigns based on factors such as frequency, scale and an ever-shifting range of vanity metrics.

Dominic Tillson, Marketing Director, Azerion

The case for fewer, better digital ads

According to a often quoted study by Nielsen, creativity accounts for nearly 50% of a campaign’s effectiveness, for both online and offline campaigns. Think about that for a second - almost half of a digital ad’s effectiveness is down to the quality of the creative and yet creative is so often overlooked and downplayed within digital media planning. 

In terms of a digital media strategy, instead of  focusing on scale, frequency and reach in their digital planning, brands would be better served by adopting a more strategic approach to creative  to gain the consumer’s attention. Leveraging premium platforms that deliver a more creative and impact-grabbing message is critical to improve the quality and effectiveness of digital advertising. 

While it may sound counter-intuitive to digital marketers, the reality is that fewer, better ads drive improved campaign performance, with high-impact formats delivering 15-20 times more attention than standard formats, according to Azerion’s advertising attention insights report 2022. In addition, they command bigger CPMs, and require fewer ad calls, resulting in lighter, faster page loads. 

Not only does this improve the customer experience, increase dwell times, and reduce the use of ad blockers, it’s also better for the environment in terms of the volume of energy used and carbon emissions created. The ‘fewer-better’ ethos of digital advertising is a rare occasion where the needs of the industry, the customer, and the environment are in perfect alignment.  It’s a genuine win-win-win.

In 2023, marketers are finally waking up to the fact that creativity is the missing element in far too many digital campaigns. By shifting the focus back on to creativity and the consumer’s experience of digital media, we can unite the past and future of marketing and serve fewer, better ads, in contextually relevant, premium environments that truly work for everyone.

Guest Author

Dominic Tillson

Marketing Director Azerion


A true industry veteran, Dom is leading Azerion UK’s mission to highlight the importance of attention and creativity in ad tech, educating the industry and powering it with insights. He built the business development and insights functions at InSkin Media, and spent a period as Head of Industry Initiatives at the IAB, where he worked with leading players in the ad tech, mobile, DOOH and CTV ecosystems. He has been known to sell a banner and button or two, having held media sales roles at Microsoft, Orange, Bebo and BBC Worldwide, working across titles such as Top of the Pops, Top Gear and Good Food.