“More product is moved through emotion than rational fact. Advertising is the process of changing attitudes.”

This quote from Randall Rothenberg, President of the IAB, was part of a presentation last month at the IAB Innovation Days. It highlighted the need to focus on creative in the display advertising industry and it’s a quote that has stuck in my mind for various reasons.

It succinctly boils down the reason why I fell in love with the advertising industry in general many years ago when I started out creating applications to support creative organizations. It’s also what’s had me scratching my head about the online advertising industry for the past five years because I see too many in this industry that have forgotten this one single premise.

Something’s gone missing. Let’s think about how advertising evolved over the years from the offline world to the online world we serve. Creative was (and is) at the heart of advertising in the offline world. A ton of legwork is done in getting the message right – by testing concepts through focus groups. The motivation of this legwork is to understand why your message connects and why your campaign would succeed in changing attitudes. I’m a lifelong product guy and the underlying principle I’ve come to know over the years is in order to create anything that connects with your target market, you have to keep asking why. It’s how every good strategy works.

Except in online display advertising.

The display industry is more concerned with faulty metrics that tell you nothing other than someone did something that may or may not be relevant to changing attitudes. The creative process does not allow for discovering why a message connects with emotion. The art of the focus group is lost in today’s online world. “But we can be more dynamic today. We have the ability to change creative more quickly. We have all this data”, people may say. True, but even then, we’re making changes based on topline measures without understanding the emotional connection. It’s like an artist randomly painting shapes until some combination elicits oohs and ahhs from an audience. Modern art aside (pauses for comic effect), the best artists start with an emotion then express that emotion through their creativity.

Things need to change and we’re changing them. The data, the deeper understanding of why your message works or doesn’t work, and the ability to use that understanding to make your campaign more effective are missing in today’s offerings. We are launching something so groundbreaking that it gets me truly excited about this industry. Keep your eyes peeled and ears open in the next week to see how we’re going to do it.