Q&A with KANE: How to Advertise on Amazon

Cassandra King
Former Head of Content & Community
Published23 Mar, 2021
Q&A with KANE: How to Advertise on Amazon

For consumers looking for everything from A to Z, Amazon.com is where they go to shop. According to a study from BloomReach, more than 55% of consumers start their online shopping searches on Amazon. As a designer, how do you stand out from the crowd?

To find out, we went to the people who wrote the book on it at Amazon—KANE's Mike Kazantzis and Steve Susi. KANE is the world’s first and only creative network founded by former Amazon advertising leaders. These two Amazon ad experts shared their insights on the importance of being customer-centric, working within Amazon's constraints, and how customer insights helped shape their successful (and awkward) campaign for Axe deodorant. Keep scrolling to learn about how to advertise on Amazon.

Are there things designers should consider when creating ads for Amazon versus other eCommerce platforms?

Steve: Before we even get to specific ecommerce platforms with our clients, we recommend getting all fundamentals in order. It may not be sexy, but if you start paying money to drive people to a terrible product detail page (PDP) experience, you're actually spending to damage your brand and its equity with your customers. We recommend following all PDP design best practices first, because that's where the sale happens. Conversions are sexy. It’s the moment of truth.

Mike: There are so many components that go into a design because, with Amazon, an ad's success doesn't necessarily come from its execution. It comes from all the setup, strategy, process, assets, and communication. Getting down into the core components of the ad itself, the customer must have a clear understanding of what the product is that they're buying. They have to know what the brand is. You should always include the logo when possible… and if you can, the logo should be visible on the product itself. The placement of the logo actually affects ad performance, believe it or not. Even background colors impact click-through.

Source: Amazon

Working within the constraints of an Amazon product details page is a challenge. What tips or strategies do you recommend?

Mike: You need clear and concise messaging within a very solid communication hierarchy. When we were at Amazon, we introduced something called the 3 A’s, which is still in use today. We brought it with us to KANE, and use that now for our execution of ad design. The 3 A’s: Attraction, Amplification, and Action.

It's not a new idea, but it digitizes an ancient shopper marketing and retail approach. You have to first attract the customer, then make clear what you want them to know, and then tell them what they can do with that information.

It's interesting because it's an obvious concept that's easier said than done. How do you break those steps down and then execute on them?

Mike: Let’s say your campaign is about awareness; you can run display ads to drive awareness on Amazon, of course. It's not always about conversion. You might consider using an awesome lifestyle image that captures your product and what the brand is about. Draw the customer into your ad, then use an amplifier message that compels them to act. In the Amazon world, an amplified message that works is typically cost savings or Prime delivery.

Would you say that lifestyle imagery is better for awareness and that straightforward product imagery is better for conversion?

Mike: Typically, yes. But there are always outliers in that. The goal might not always be to drive to the product detail page. It could be video views or to engage with a custom destination.

Amazon seems to have stringent creative guidelines for ads. What kind of leeway do they have in terms of brand creativity for people designing a display ad? Are there places people can differentiate themselves with design beyond the very simple, straightforward, honest act of just kind of displaying your product?

Mike: There are always options beyond merely displaying the product. Sure, the product is a big part of it, in fact mandatory in a lot of cases. The customer needs to know what they're buying. But there are ways you can display the product in an environment that offers history or a promise. If you're selling protein powder for instance, place the product in an environment surrounded by its natural ingredients. It lets you tell a story simply by using imagery.

Steve: It's not corporate hooey that every single thing you do at Amazon starts with the customer and works backwards. You have to go completely and deeply into the customer's need state and develop RTBs (reasons to believe) so the attraction is natural and relevant, never forced or overt. Done well, it amplifies their desire or refreshes their awareness of the need state, and then urges them to fulfill that need, just as Mike described.

Source: Amazon

It seems like with feature messaging on Amazon, there does have to be some consistency between the ad and the product detail page. Are there requirements for that? How set in stone does that consistency have to be?

Mike: When you're talking about messaging and features, this is something that we often consult our clients about, and the difference is really about putting customer benefits before product features. You're not talking about your product, but instead understanding what the customer needs and answering those needs with what the product can do for them. That's a lot of the work we do to help customers rewrite their campaigns, their detail pages, their bullet points, etc.

Steve: They're not accustomed to this. When we boil it down, especially with a mobile-first world now, to keep it clear, concise, and simple—it's like pulling teeth for many clients. There was a credit card company whose name shall remain unmentioned who refused to allow us to remove their fuchsia backgrounds. So basically, it came down to “Please take your money elsewhere, we're not interested.” Some clients don't like to hear it, but when they see those results, they suddenly say, "Oh, maybe these guys are onto something."

When it comes to ad placements, which ones are the most effective? Is it dependent on the vertical?

Steve: I created a matrix of if/then scenarios for what we should recommend per vertical. So, for financial services, it's going to be different than auto or consumer packaged goods.

You're right to ask if “it depends.” It all depends on the customer, the size of the purchase, and other factors. Is it a new brand or an established brand? Is it a new product or a familiar product? All of these data weigh in.

Can you think of some examples of some top-notch uses of video for Amazon?

Mike: Well...

Steve: I can think of some bottom-notch, that's for sure.

Mike: I can say that one thing you shouldn't do on Amazon is take your TV spot and run it on an Amazon page or run it in Amazon video search. No one wants to watch commercials on Amazon; they want to see how the product works or how it can be effective.

Steve: Six seconds or less. They push hard if you're going to go 15 seconds or more. I'm talking about advertising. Product detail page videos are expected to be longer than six seconds, but hopefully not too much longer. Make it customer-first.

We're big fans of the “Avoid Awkward” campaign for Axe. We heard Amazon Audience Insights led to the creative for this campaign. Could you walk us through what that campaign was like?

Steve: This is the essence of working backwards...

Mike: Axe is a great example. Customer data should always inform every single campaign on Amazon. Work backwards from the customer and then work forward to the brand. In the middle you’ll find that sweet spot of an idea or a concept. It was an interesting one because the brand came to us with its typical customer of college males and said, "All right, we want to build a campaign for college males, do your thing, do what you do. Help us make it effective, and work, and drive conversion."

Mike: So, using the typical process, we went and looked through the customer data, at audience insights, and realized that a lot of the people that are buying this product were moms of what seemed to be teenage males. They were younger users, but the users weren't necessarily the customers. The customers were moms. Bringing that data back to the Axe team, they were very surprised and kind of thrilled to see that. It allowed us to develop a campaign that used messaging that spoke directly to moms and the young men that use Axe. The insight was drawn from going through reviews and reading some sentiment and other data. We found that the reason why a lot of moms were buying Axe for their sons was because they had hit this point in life where they didn't want to have that awkward conversation with them about hygiene. They just figured they'd just give them Axe to sidestep that awkward conversation. That's where the idea of avoiding awkward came from.

Steve: That's the difference between data and insights.

Mike: It wrote itself.

We wouldn't want to have that conversation either. Can you walk us through the development of the creative?

Mike: The development of the creative came from a lot of those insights. It was almost immediate that we landed on this idea that we want to have this voice that speaks to the customer and the actual user—to be that voice of reason in between. It had to have a sort of funny and brazen and confident voice that appealed to both audiences. Then, it was just down to the photoshoot. The ultimate destination was going to be a brand landing page. The idea was we were going to show the way the son sees himself and then the way the mom sees him. It was a double-tabbed page, and the ads that were run had two different messages: one that spoke to the mom and the other to the son.

Were you using primarily display ads or search ads? What was that pre-landing page experience like?

Mike: It was primarily display ads. There was also search involved, and things like that, but the way landing pages are built, they're only available in combination with a campaign that's running, so a display campaign that's running. You can't have a landing page unless there's a campaign tied to it that drives to it.

Our last question is about search ads specifically. Are there any notable differences between the way search works on Amazon versus Google?

Steve: Absolutely. So, the quintessential definition or discrepancy between the two is that Amazon is a transactional universe, and Google is a navigational universe. They operate so differently, which is why it didn't take long for Amazon to supersede Google in terms of product search because the top result was always an Amazon page anyway.

Mike: I think the real difference comes beyond just the inner workings of search. It's the experience that follows where the customer can go with that. In Amazon, when you search for specific terms and keywords, you would probably go about that differently. A Google search would be ‘how does a vacuum cleaner work?’ Amazon would be more directly toward specific product features or product benefits.

Is there anything else that a marketer on Amazon should know about in regards to ad design?

Steve: Read my book about it. Mike's in the acknowledgments.

Mike: I'm in there, I'm in the book. I'll show up on search if you search my name.

The most important thing is to understand that Amazon is different. Really understanding the platform, where the customer is, what they're looking at, who the targeting is, and executing relevantly to that. Even going as far as contextual messaging on specific banners will make a huge difference and help you utilize Amazon effectively.

Steve: When you work with Amazon, be humble. Humble wins at Amazon. It's not about your brand, it's about your customer. And if you don't get it, don't even waste your money.

Cassandra King
Cassandra KingFormer Head of Content & Community

Cassandra King is the former Head of Content & Community at Superside. She’s a road trip aficionado, advocate for all things glitter, and can usually be found with a camera (or snacks) in hand. Find her on IG @casssandra.king.

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