Effective advertising themes and messaging

As a marketer, you know how important it is to create campaigns that have creative impact. But with so many possible concept directions to go in, it’s hard to know where to start and how to zero in on an effective creative strategy. In this article, we’ll demonstrate the step-by-step process of developing effective advertising themes that captivate and convert. We’ll show how data-driven decisions can elevate your brand’s storytelling. We’ll uncover the crucial elements of versatile ad themes that seamlessly transition from short-format billboards to longer-format videos. And we’ll show you how to navigate multi-language campaigns with creative finesse.

When it comes to developing effective advertising themes and messages, you need to take into account your brand’s unique attributes and objectives as well as your market and audience. We start by diving into any existing quantitative and qualitative research, and we conduct interviews, surveys and focus groups if budget and timeline allow. At minimum, a thorough review of internal and external communications will help you evaluate how the brand is telling its story and where there are opportunities to improve.

Once you’ve uncovered the best opportunities to connect with your audience, brainstorm themes, messages and talking points. And when budget and timeline allow, conduct creative testing to determine which messages and visuals resonate best with your audiences. You can also test themes and messages in market by running your campaign and conducting creative testing.

Ensure the theme is extendable across short and long-format communications – from outdoor boards with little room for copy to longer-format communications such as videos. And, if you are running a multi-language campaign, it’s important to ensure the creative theme retains its intent and cultural relevance when transcreated into other languages. Read more about transcreation here >  

Following are three examples of how we approached different ad campaign themes and used insights to extend our creative impact.

A strong theme connects copy and visuals across diverse media channels

For the Washington State Department of Revenue’s (DOR) Unclaimed Property Program, our task was to create a brand story, build awareness, and drive people to a website to see if they had unclaimed cash in the form of forgotten bank accounts, insurance proceeds, stocks, bonds and mutual funds, utility and phone company deposits, uncashed checks, customer/patient credits, and safe deposit box contents.

Whenever we develop a campaign concept, we want to retain a strong theme that connects the copy and visuals across varied media channels – from digital display and social ads to video and audio.

We developed an attention-grabbing theme, called “What would you do?”, that was intended to get people thinking about what they would do if they came into a windfall like unclaimed property from DOR. The imagery was bright: videos and photos featured people in front of colorful backgrounds with objects representing what they would buy if they found money. The alliterative headlines were catchy and the call to action for people to search to find their lost money was simple. This concept was easily executed across television, radio, digital display, and social ads.

We strengthened our creative using research insights into interests of our audience to inform which characters and hobbies to feature in the campaign. This data enabled us to create more than 33 different characters that shared similar interests and hobbies to those who had clicked through on ads in the early part of the campaign.

While using ad templates for each media channel to maintain consistency, we took advantage of the unique aspects different media channels offer. For digital ads, we had to keep our message short and sweet – posing the question “What would you do with found money” and driving people to “Find yours”. With digital native ads, we took a different approach in which we posed more specific questions about what you would do with found money like “Matinee or massage?”. For Meta and Instagram, we used video, carousel, stories, and reels as well as the polling feature to survey whether people would spend or save if they found money.

Read the full case study here >

A smart campaign reaches the right audience, with the right message at the right time

In the case of Washington Student Achievement Council, we targeted different audience segments, such as teens, parents and adult students, with the same core message about its Washington College Grant “Free college or career training – it’s possible!”

We identified the most relevant media channels to reach these audiences effectively.

  • High school students – Digital Audio, Digital Display, Digital Native, YouTube, Instagram, Out of Home, Search
  • Parents of high school students – Broadcast TV, CTV/OTT, Digital Display, Digital Native, Facebook, Dynamic Display, Out of Home, Search
  • Adult learners – Dynamic Display, Out of Home, Search
  • Spanish speakers – Broadcast TV, Broadcast Radio, CTV/OTT, Digital Audio, Digital Display, Digital Native, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Outdoor

We used video and imagery that showed traditional post-secondary college education, as well as technical training around core trades in healthcare, manufacturing, and construction.

The messaging was straightforward and to the point, encouraging different segments to see if they qualified for a partial to full award from the Washington College Grant. This messaging translated into ad copy for all the long- and short-format ads including audio and video spots in :15-, :30- and :5-second sponsorships, Google Search, digital native, social media, digital display, and outdoor.

Because the messaging used plain language, translation into Spanish was somewhat straightforward. Where possible, in longer format communications we explained what a grant is since there is not a direct translation into Spanish. We then used the same translated messages across all ad units for consistency.

As part of any integrated advertising campaign, we monitor performance and make data-driven optimizations. We conduct A/B testing on messages, images and calls-to action and optimize the campaign to drive the greatest click-through rates, conversions, and engagement.

Read the full case study here >

A mascot and punchy behavior change message help drive awareness and recall.

Puget Sound Starts Here wanted to remind people to check their tire pressure monthly to help drivers drive safer, save money on gas and, incidentally, shed fewer toxins into the water. “Don’t Wait to Inflate” is catchy and memorable according to our research – especially when the message is delivered by a cartoon tire character who’s carrying a calendar and an air pressure gauge – tying the whole idea to gather in a neat package.

Creative testing led us to our key messages and visuals, which we extended to videos and web pages in four languages, as well as social digital display ads. The creative theme was extended to social media posts as well as stickers and window clings.

Read the full case study here >