Science, creativity, and contradiction: the making of a modern TV ad

3 Oct

In this age of ubiquitous technology, it should be quick and easy to create a 30-second TV advertisement. How complex can it be? The answer: shockingly hard if you do it right. To get TV advertising right requires a near impossible mix of science and creativity – disciplines that are in many ways diametrically opposed. It requires small teams that protect the purity of great ideas and big audiences that provide the feedback required to avoid mistakes. Great ads requires creative ideas that strike the most personal human chords with an appeal that spans cultures and continents.

Among all of these contradictions, the core challenge of advertising is that you are delivering a message that nobody is looking to hear. When it comes to both TV and online video, the ads are the price of the programming and the competition is steep — in the U.S. the average person is exposed to more than 5,000 brands and ads every day.

And many companies are organized to systematically dilute the power of great ideas. Creative advertising requires powerful ideas, emotion, and beautiful execution. Science requires the sort of measurement and optimization that slowly erodes the punch out of many creative endeavors. Keeping performance and creative impact in balance is difficult. Too many powerfully creative ideas are weakened by endless rounds of negotiation, revision, and compromise.

Embracing these challenges, today our team at Indeed launched the first ad in our latest global TV campaign. The ad, titled “what / where” in reference to the highlighted Indeed search boxes that are featured throughout, will begin airing today in the United States. Additional versions will start to appear in 6 other countries over the next few weeks.

This is my favorite Indeed ad yet — for me it strikes the right balance between emotion, inspiration, and performance. Like many strong ads, the final version is very similar to the first concept. We’ve  worked hard to make sure that our tweaks didn’t erode the power of the creative idea.

While the creative idea was the starting point, we had four practical things we wanted to accomplish with this ad:

  1. Performance: Indeed’s mission is to help people get jobs. After family and health, career may be the most important dimension in our lives. We know that if someone hasn’t heard of Indeed, we won’t be able to help them get a job. We advertise to drive awareness and carefully benchmark for each ad the cost per new person aware of Indeed in the labor force.
  2. Salience: We hope people will think about Indeed when they think about looking for a job. We want people to know that we’re the largest job site in the world, that we are a search engine for jobs (not a job board), and that an incredible # of new jobs are added to Indeed every day. We look for ads that build memory structures around these ideas.
  3. Global Relevance: We’re working hard to build Indeed into a global brand. To this end, we look for campaign ideas that get to the heart of human emotion, hopefully transcending culture and geographic boundaries. Practically speaking, we try to design TV ads that can be adapted to work in many markets around the world.
  4. Effective across multiple media channels: We talk about TV but we run adapted versions of our ads on youtube, full episode players like Hulu, other digital video networks, and social networks like facebook. This ad, in particular, was designed to work with or without sound.

And as we developed the ad, we did three interesting things:

  1. Protect the creative idea: By keeping our internal advertising teams small and by ensuring that we have minimal processes for internal review, we try to limit the number of people designing, reviewing, and refining an ad. Our goal is to keep the creative idea as intact as possible as we bring the ad from concept to launch.
  2. Transparent development: In a previous post, I wrote about the importance of transparency as a core marketing value. With this belief, we’ve made our entire advertising development process completely open and transparent within Indeed. Any of our 3,000+ employees can see all of the 500+ ad ideas we’re working at any time. We solicited company-wide feedback on the four most promising concepts prior to the final round of edits. The feedback was phenomenal — it helped is make the ads more relevant to more people around the world.
  3. Pre-launch testing & benchmarking based on emotion: Finally, when we have an ad that we think might meet all these requirements, we test and measure the emotional reactions to the ad in markets around the world. We then benchmark this measured emotional response against a database of ads to model likely performance. Only if it tests better than all of our previous ads will we put it into market.

So that’s it — the difficult process of creating a good global TV ad. And even with all of that work and preparation, we won’t know how many people a new ad can help to find jobs until we release it at scale globally.

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