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19 Takeaways About Ads, Creativity and Design from Ad Designpalooza

Team Superside
Team Superside
13 min read
Ad Designpalooza recap

We recently held a huge online event, all around the topic of advertising and design. With 6+ hours of sessions and 15 rockstar speakers, Ad Designpalooza was chock-full of engaging fireside chats, actionable presentations, thought-provoking panel discussions, and much more.

Here’s a quick preview of what this event was all about.

Advertising design is a topic that we’ve recently become quite obsessed with. Heck, we even wrote a guide on it! The world of digital advertising is constantly changing, with new trends, creative brands and innovative apps leading the charge. But no matter how much you optimize and refine your targeting, your ad design still ends up being a key driving force.

If you couldn’t join live or missed out on some sessions, don’t fret. We know everyone is busy with work, family and life, so we made this 6+ hour event free and easy to access on-demand. Simply pick and choose which sessions you're interested in most, and watch on your own time.

And now, let’s get to our hot takeaways from the live event

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1. Get Creatives and Marketers Working Together in the Same Room

In our opening Keynote with Mike Duboe, Partner at Greylock, he stressed the importance of having design in the room with marketing when working through solutions.

If you’re just simply devising a plan, then assigning tasks to design, you’re doing it all wrong. Or, at the very least, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to drive your advertising into hypergrowth, something that Duboe is an expert at.

Rather than having growth marketers write a brief saying 'hey, I need these three ads by Tuesday', get marketers and creatives in the same room working on the same team, and in the feedback loop."
- Mike Duboe, Partner at Greylock

When you marry your data with your creative, bringing design into the strategic conversation, that’s where the magic happens. This is something that became ever more prevalent through our many speaker sessions. It’s also something that Superside fundamentally believes in!

2. A Great Explainer Video is Like Having a Great Teacher

We’ve all had those few teachers in our lives that really made an impact.

Picture this. You’re sitting in a classroom, and the teacher is explaining a new concept to you. Whether it be luck of the draw, you get one of the below scenarios.

  1. Scenario 1: Teacher A explains the concept to you in a dry, straightforward, boring and characterless way. They told you all of the facts, but it just didn't stick.
  2. Scenario 2: Teacher B explains the same concept, but they convey it with passion, dedication, and deep knowledge and respect for you. Your life has now changed a little bit, and you move forward knowing the power of this concept and how to apply it.

Good explainers are like good education.

This little nugget of wisdom came straight from the mind of Adam Lisagor, Founder of Sandwich. And trust us, he and his team know a thing or two about explainer videos and video ads. See this WFH inspired ad they made for Slack in 2020:

3. Digital Privacy Updates Will Keep Coming, So Don’t Fight It

This may be a hard pill to swallow for growth, digital and paid acquisition marketers.

It doesn’t seem like the increase in digital privacy is slowing down anytime soon. In a way, it’s a good thing. It’s better for users to have more control over who has their personal data, and it can also help level the playing field in many ways.

This trend appears to be just getting started. Don't fight it. Do better, make more engaging stories and focus on your creative."
- Andy Levinton, Performance Marketing Manager at Superside

We get it, people are a bit worried about the future of advertising with these big privacy updates. But, there’s no point in sitting there and thinking about the good ol’ days when audience targeting and getting in front of people was a piece of cake.

It’s important to adapt and double down on your design/creative—now more than ever, it’s the key driving force in the success of your campaigns.

Digital privacy stats

4. All Stakeholders and Departments Need to Align on a Source of Truth

When it comes to data, there can be many sources of truth. Your Marketing team may be looking at data source X, while your product team is looking at data source Y—both coming from different tools. Having this data disparity makes it hard for everyone to be on the same page, working towards the same goals.

When you’re able to align on that truth source, it actually makes employees and teams much happier. People feel like they’re working for a reason—everyone is laddering up to the same purpose."
- Ashley Lau, President at Peasant Media Inc.

Ashley Lau data drivenm marketing

Ashley refers to this as “truth alignment”, and it’s something that not a lot of companies are doing well. In order to get to this state of centralized truth, companies need:

  1. Clear communication on the source of truth
  2. Alignment on an attribution model
  3. KPI visibility across each team

5. Designers Need (and Want) to Understand the Impact of Their Work

We need to move away from these silos that plague so many companies today. Designers are not, and should not be, just a task taker. They need to get a seat at the table, or at the very least, be brought into the conversation.

The designer hands it off to marketing, marketing hands it off to biz dev, biz dev hands it off to sales, sales hands it off customer success... and rarely do these streams reunite.

From the planning to the results, it’s important to bridge this knowledge gap and allow creatives to better understand their impact. This will only allow them to create better designs and better results for the company.

And it goes both ways. If you’re a designer reading this, and maybe feel out of the loop when it comes to the performance of your creative, ask the questions! Did we sell more stuff? Did we close more deals? Did we shorten the time to a closed-won opportunity? Take that step forward to learn more about the impact of your work.

If you are a great designer and you want your work to find purchase and ultimately have impact, you need to be great at sales."
- Kristian Andersen, Partner at High Alpha

If your eagerness to learn more is not well received, then maybe you’re not in the right place. Marketers and other departments should welcome this curiosity and bring you into the fold with open arms.

You might also consider assigning the same milestones and KPIs to your design team as you do your marketing or product team—after all, they are working together towards the same goals.

6. There are Times When You SHOULDN’T be Testing Your Ad Creative

Data informing design stat

Although the speakers and audience at Ad Designpalooza agreed that data should inform your ad creative (see the poll results above), there are times when data just isn’t going to make a big enough impact on your creative decisions.

When the sample size is too small and there's not enough budget to get that sample to a statistically significant number, there’s no need to test."
- Hakim Garuba, Performance Marketing Manager at Square

There are some baseline benchmarks to follow when it comes to sample sizes and data, which you can read more about here.

And if you're making a change to your ad creative that’s just based on your brand/style guide, there’s likely no need to test it—unless the test will make you revert or change that update. Look at the metrics and make sure there's no big drop, but otherwise, these are changes that simply need to be done for your brand consistency.

7. Advertising Can Be a Form of Escapism During Hard Times

Beyond just the creative trends, advertising is often a reflection of the ever evolving current events, social movements and challenging times happening all around us. Our very own Markus Botha and Helene Burger tackled this topic during their session at Ad Designpalooza.

Just think about Covid-19. One week you’re told by the government to stay at home and stay safe, and the next you’re seeing pandemic focused ads left, right and centre from food delivery apps, airlines and more. We saw this same thing happen during every major global (and local) event since World War II.

What ad agencies and brands have realized, probably by learning from the past, is that warmer ads that encapsulate escapism resonate more with consumers who need a break from reality. When times are tough, people don’t want reality reflected back at them.

With escapism lifting people out of their difficult realities, it creates an emotional bond between the company and the consumer, which in turns ensures brand loyalty. So, when things do start to look up again, your brand will be top of mind.

8. Try Something and Be Scrappy. Rinse and Repeat

This one liner was from Hakim at Square. When it comes to advertising, you truly never know what will land. You can spend weeks perfecting the most beautiful ad, only to find out that it falls flat… or who knows, maybe it will be your best ad yet! The point is, you’ll never really know until you test, try different things, collect that data, and do it all over again.

It’s more about what you do after learning that something doesn’t work that helps to set the business apart.

The whole goal of a performance marketer is to chase the silver bullet - but you're never going to catch it."
- Brent Stirling, VP of Growth and Sales at Shoelace

As a performance marketer, or someone who looks after paid media, you’re always searching for better—but it’s an uphill, wavy battle. Maybe more like a rollercoaster, really. You’ll knock some stuff out of the park, but you’re going to fail—a lot. And that’s okay. That’s why testing and learning is key to the success of any advertising strategy!

9. Don’t Think of Your Audience as Simply Numbers

Hopefully all brands have their audience personas fully built out before they start spending big on ads, but regardless, many marketers still fall into the trap of seeing their ad performance as purely numbers.

We need to stop thinking about ad budget in a binary way. Instead, we should bring a human approach forward into our direct response ads and into other key areas to create a full-funnel experience."
- Eka Chareonlarp, Global VP, Media Innovation & Marketing at GroupM

Stop and remember that this ad you’re paying for is going to be pushed in front of a real human, who has real feelings, ideas, and opinions. We need to be thoughtful with our advertisements, and earn that trust and respect.

Change perceptions with ads

An ad gone wrong can totally destroy your brand perception—it’s happened before and it’ll happen again. Take the effort to shape this perception through your many touchpoints—particularly in the top of funnel (tofu) area where people are less familiar with your company.

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It's a live, interactive series on the intersection of design and company growth, where we talk about topics like this! Each session features advice from creative and marketing experts, with live Q&A at the end.

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10. Companies Who Invest in Channel Diversification Will Win

There will always be one or two channels that drive the most amount of conversions for a business—there’s no getting around that. But that doesn’t mean you should put all of your eggs into one basket.

This has become ever more important after the recent iOS 14 update, where many marketers are now scrambling to get their Facebook advertising numbers back up.

Not only does channel diversification provide somewhat of a safety net for advertisers, but it can also open up a whole new pool of potential customers. That doesn’t mean that every brand should jump onto the TikTok bandwagon, but it does mean that marketers need to test, iterate and scale where possible.

Mike Duboe recommends having a 10% experimentation budget. This allows marketers to really test and try things that they may have otherwise ignored.

11. You Need a Creative Testing Framework So That Your Data Does Not Strangle Creativity

Back in the Don Draper days, there was a lot of bias in advertising. Advertisers had only a specific set of people who they thought the ad would appeal to, without really understanding where the true returns were coming from. We’re now on the other end of the spectrum—we’ve got data coming out of all areas, and it can be tempting to rely only on the results, rather than your gut/intuition.

So, don't let data squash creativity! They both just needs to be considered at the same time.

Smart leaders need to know when and how to use the data. Sometimes the data is taken out of context or is showing just a slice of the ad-pie—you need to have a human checkpoint. To do this, it's imperative to setup a solid creative testing framework. It’s the only way to really do these tests well, and have some structure.

12. Marketers Should Seek Ways to Compound Growth

Taking a step back from just the ad design, marketers get stuck thinking about their funnel as something that’s linear. We see these reverse pyramid diagrams all of the time! We run top of funnel ads, get leads into the funnel, nurture them with content and sales, then close the deal.

But by looking at your funnel this way, marketers are potentially missing out on a huge revenue driver: growth loops.

It’s easy to build your team by stages of the funnel—it’s a common thing. “The traditional concept of a marketing funnel is inherently linear, but if you look at most successful growth stories, they have come from some version of compounding."
- Mike Duboe, Partner at Greylock

Growth loops not funnels

Businesses shouldn’t view the bottom of the funnel as the end success metric—instead, they should conceptualize how recurring usage drives some input back into the top, creating a loop that further drives growth.

From content, to referrals, there are a ton of loops that can be built to drive a business forward, and advertising is just a piece of the puzzle.

13. A Good Creative Culture is About The People

Paul Woods, Author and CEO of Edenspiekermann, had an entire talk just about this. In the creative agency world, long hours, chaotic workflows and egotistical colleagues are almost celebrated (and expected).

The reality is, this type of toxic culture is the enemy of creativity.

So, what is a good creative culture?

  • Does culture mean physical space?
  • Are snacks culture?
  • Cool chairs = culture?

These don't equal culture.

At the heart of every company is its people. Culture is not about stuff. Culture is about people.

So, what are Paul’s tips for developing a positive, creative culture?

  1. Work normal hours
  2. Stop micromanaging
  3. Give clear direction
  4. Give credit where credit is due
  5. Fire a**hole clients
Don't work for assholes

14. Brand Guidelines are Important, But it Might Benefit You to Stretch the Rules

Designers and brand managers, close your eyes and ears.

There are times when you may not need to adhere 100% to your brand guidelines. That’s not to say you should completely flub the design and make your ad look off-brand, but rather some flexibility can actually benefit your company in certain situations.

Adherence to brand guidance becomes more important the more exposure your advertisement gets. Here are some basic guidelines from Shanee Ben-Zur, CMO of Crunchbase:

  • Billboards should 100% be on brand
  • Top-of-funnel should also be on brand
  • Look-a-like targeting could benefit from some brand flexibility, as the creative should be more tailored and unique

Nobody's going to die if we get it wrong, so don’t be precious about it. Have fun, play, get wild, and explore."
- Olly Farshi, Head of Design at Kiva

15. Don’t Do What Everybody Else is Doing

Unless your goal is only to make money, then think outside of the box.

Using visual references is good, and it’s a strategy that many successful designers and creatives live by. BUT, don’t fall into the trap of stealing creative ideas from others.

The key here is to not get stuck in today—look to the past, look at different genres and industries. If you’re pulling ideas straight from your competitors' most recent ads, then you’re never going to stand out.

A sucker for nostalgia, Adam Lisagor gets a lot of his inspiration from movies, TV, and old 70s to 90s commercials. He claims that sometimes without even knowing it, you’re pulling on those memories and inspirations to create something fresh and exciting (and actually NEW).

Your creative brain is just a pile of memories and associations of things you’ve seen and experienced in the past."
- Adam Lisagor, Founder of Sandwich

What are you feeding your creative brain? The Sandwich team often make their way through the YouTube archives to find nuggets of inspiration that fuel their clever commercials.

16. Data Should Work for You, You Should Not Work for Data

Another zinger from Shanee Ben-Zur! Marketers have a surplus of data at their disposal—this is a good thing, until it isn’t.

If you’re relying only on what your data is telling you, you’re doing it wrong. Marketing is a combination of left and right brain, even if you’re someone who runs programmatic ad bidding all day.

Marketers can’t put their thinking caps away and let computers do all of the hard work, or worse, become slaves to the numbers. Data is empowering, and when used in the right capacity, can drive an ad strategy into hyper-speed.

So next time you’re doing data analysis on your ad campaigns, consider whether the data is working for you, or if you’re simply letting it run your show.

17. The Best Ads are the Ones that Inform, are Welcome, and Provide Value

Our closing keynote speaker had a lot to say about how to keep focused and do your best creative work, but he also has a strong opinion around what makes a great ad. The creative plays a huge role in this, but so does the intent behind the advertisement, and the considerations of the target audience.

Ads that simply get in your way are not effective, and they don’t benefit the audience."
- Nir Eyal, Author of Hooked and Indistractable

Advertisements are constantly being fired at consumers—and sometimes in the most private spaces (ie. scrolling on their phone while sitting on the toilet). It’s important for marketers and designers to consider how their ad is being received, and ensure that they are providing some sort of value, entertainment, inspiration, or alike, rather than just asking for the click.

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18. You Truly Don’t Need High-Production Video Ads to Succeed

Even the big guys have been experimenting with user generated video and low-fi content for years. And with the popularity of TikTok and IG reels, we feel that audiences are actually hungry for this style of more authentic and biteable content.

TikTok is taking over. You don’t need high quality production as long as you grab attention."
- Erika Gaebel, Art Director at Prime Gaming

What do you need to have a successful video ad? Here are Erika’s tips:

  1. Make sure your brand is right up front
  2. Short and to the point wins
  3. Optimize for brand awareness - even if they don't click, it's building a sense of awareness

Similarly, Adam Lisagor, Founder of Sandwich, points to creativity, directness, respect, brevity and conciseness as the ultimate video concoction. It has to be balanced and a mix of the right ratios, though. Too creative, and the concept may get lost. Not concise enough, and people will get bored or drop off.

19. Even If Somebody Doesn’t Click-Through on Your Ad, They Should Still Know Who You Are

We can all recall those commercials that are charming and stand out, but for whatever reason you just can’t remember what it was for, or who it was by. Don’t let this happen to your digital ads!

Even if you’re running a campaign with the goal of driving more clicks to your website/landing page/app, you still need to consider how your brand is being received.

Everything should help to build your brand in the way that you want it to be built."
- Brent Stirling, VP of Growth and Sales at Shoelace

Published: Aug 2, 2021
Team Superside
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Team Superside is comprised of writers from all over the globe. We love making stuff, telling stories and sharing fun, nerdy ideas with the world.

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