Three reasons why digital ad campaigns fail, and what to do about it

SONY DSCI’ve worked in digital media for almost 20 years, with 15 of those years working for an online news publisher supported by advertising. I can tell you that 15 years of watching thousands of ad buys of all sizes and campaign launches of all types, and seeing the subsequent click results, gives you a sixth sense about which ad campaigns are going to generate a response and which will miss the mark entirely. Below are some of the typical traps that vendors fall into in their digital marketing. Almost without exception, these will make a campaign tank. If they seem obvious to you, take comfort that many other vendors are still repeating these mistakes. And rest assured: even though I know these truths in my bones, I still need to be reminded occasionally, too.

 “Enough about me, let’s talk about you. What do you think of me?” 

  1. Talking about you. Talking at your prospective buyer — and talking only about your product, and how neat it is — is the most basic of marketing fails. And one of the most common. Remember the old Dale Carnegie truism? The easiest way to make people like you is to let them speak two thirds of the time. People like to talk about themselves! It’s human nature. As marketers, we must restrain that impulse. Since ad campaigns, by definition, are composed of moments where you are doing the talking, this can get tricky. Adapt the truism to make sure that you’re talking about your prospect more than half the time. What are their professional pain points? What do they need to make their working lives better? Find out; and talk about that, instead of talking about you. 
  2. Using buzzwords and clichés.  When I was selling ad campaigns in Education, every vendor was making the claim that they offered a curriculum system dynamic enough to create a customized learning plan — based on assessments — to track students toward individual progress goals; all of which could be monitored in real time by an educator. This kind of individualized learning has long been a kind of Holy Grail in Ed Tech, and by the time I left the industry it had advanced almost to the point of making that long-sought goal a reality. But here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter if what you’re saying about your product is true. If everyone else is saying the same thing about their product, your pitch will fall on deaf ears. Don’t diminish your product by using the same claims made by everyone else. If this leaves you confused about how to market your product, see point No. 1. Also, make sure you know what your competitors are doing. 
  3. Not mixing it up. I can’t tell you how many times I saw vendors buy a big ad program and then run the exact same ad for weeks, even months, in a row. Sometimes I would see them running the same ad in multiple competitor publications. My heart sank every time I saw it, because it usually meant that campaign would perform poorly and the vendor would blame us.  It’s true that recency and frequency matter in advertising, just as they always have, but that doesn’t mean never varying your message. I will tell you this with certainty: vendors who really understand digital ad buying mix up everything regularly. Not just copy and call to action, but ad formats and placement as well. Yes of course, keep your brand consistency — repeat your logo everywhere, use a consistent design scheme, and have a distinct voice. But please, please change your copy. My team had access to campaign data for literally thousands of campaigns, and we could see a drop off for every vendor who ran the same copy for more than 6 or 7 repetitions. Remember, this is a conversation you’re having with your prospect, so don’t bore them. As always, when in doubt, see bullet No. 1.

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