How Not to Suck at Advertising

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Ad Age’s Noah Brier speaks for us when he wonders “how to make display ads suck less.” If some Mad Men (and Women) reading this take affront, just relax — making Web banners better means letting you do what you want.

Many advertisers get this. For those ad execs who delude themselves into thinking that everyone’s scrambling to crack the user’s code, think again. There is no code, and some of your own people know it. They know it because they base their decisions on themselves. Imagining the tastes of this hypothetical consumer is a waste of time; give your best people the ball and let them run. If it fails to hit one of your objectives, hey — at least it didn’t suck.

Of course this approach could be dismissed out of hand by a campaign seeking to target Joe America. If the client aims to dive for the lowest common denominator, far be it for us to stop ’em. But if the brand is serious about reaching those drooled-over “influencers” without coming off corny, they could start by letting some bright art-school grads off the leash. By channeling resources toward unbridled creativity, these companies might stand a chance at reframing their interruptions and distractions as content.

The reality is that a few display ads already suck less — some firms just haven’t caught on. They suck less when they blend into context, responding with both flair and visual tact to the site’s content. But they also suck less when they completely capture our attention. The key is move simultaneously in both directions: make ads more responsive to content, and make ads content itself.