Surefire ways to ensure your next Advertising Campaign is successful


I’ve be involved with so many marketing campaigns in the past 11 years that it becomes quite easy to identify striking similarities between the campaigns that have been successful, and those which have not.

While I’ll speak more specifically about digital campaigns in this article, many of the conclusions could be equally useful for all marketing communications campaigns or pure advertising campaigns.

First, however, let me be clear about how I’d personally define a successful campaign. Grabbing a million views of a video is nice, but to me, means very little.

Simply generating brand awareness, interest, engagement, views and other soft metrics are great if there is no requirement for sales. This discussion will focus on how to create campaigns that sell, evidenced by increases in company revenue. This requires the generation of a behavioural response to start the sales process.

Any agency can easily get you some brand awareness, but persuading people to change their behaviour based on your communication requires a far more skillful execution.


1 – Strategic planning

Turn blind guesses into educated ones

Unfortunately, great campaigns are not a science. They will always involve some degree of trial and error due to the unpredictable nature of humans.

The very beginning of the planning process should involve the collection and assessment of information through a scientific research process. Whether this is primary or secondary, it doesn’t matter (hopefully both). You might not have all the answers, but great campaigns start by turning blind guesses into, at the very least, educated ones. Data collection should be scrutinised and free from as much bias as you can muster. You need to use a third party research firm to help eliminate response bias. Just the other day, a major billion dollar company sent me a post purchase satisfaction survey from their own system. Not a great idea if you want honest answers.

Data are important because, segmentation and targeting will be a crucial parts of any successful campaign, as will mapping the user journey and your general communication flow. Research will also allow you to hone a messaging strategy that resonates with your intended audience increasing its propensity to elicit the all important behavioural response.

This is also the time to draw upon free available data sources. This could be browser fed user data via cookies, exports from internal CRMs or publicly available Government data. It should be quite clear who your current customers are and how you can effectively target prospective customers with this knowledge in hand.

Compiling all these insights into a clear brief for all your campaign partners is the best way to focus everyone’s energies and resources toward optimal outcomes. Supplying a detailed, quality brief to your agency partners will almost always improve the quality of their work.

TIP: When planning, steer away from determining “the what”. Instead focus on “the how” and “the why” for better quality insight.


2 – Clutter-cutting Design

Contrast, attraction and emotion

Everyone likes to be creative in this space, and that’s fine. What you shouldn’t trust however, are personal opinions from anyone before it’s been consumed or measured by the people you’re targeting.  An easy way to identify bad marketing professionals will be through their constant use of ‘I think’ instead of ‘I know’.

The most effective creative I’ve ever seen is almost always, simple and succinct (KISS). The message will clearly communicate the value proposition and the other design elements will be distinctive enough to stand out among the thousands of other competing pieces of communication that we’re all bombarded with every day.

High production value design vs rough and ready

So often do I see a great campaign get everything else right and then ad has been designed using the same colour scheme as the medium or placement they are advertising on, combined with with some boring, generic headline. Be unique, use contrast, and try to elicit emotion for the best results. I’ve seen very basic, unpolished, annoyingly boring pieces of creative that work very effectively.

Look to the American market if you want to see examples of low production value ads that work very effectively. Everyone has seen that online ad with the two sided face grandma peeling off her wrinkly skin to reveal a 30yo younger self on the other side. It’s spammy sure, but it works. Winning design awards through polished creative shouldn’t be your primary aim if you care about effective outcomes.

TIP: You’ll be able to identify great designers by their use of visual cues, stimulus generalisation and framing (NLP).


3 – Pre-launch testing

Pilot your campaign to prevent failure

Avoiding the use of ineffective creative is extremely easy to overcome, but your creatives are not going to like it. You should be split testing multiple variations throughout the campaign, but we’d also recommend using a small pilot campaign prior to the full roll out. Some very important insight can be achieved very quickly, significantly reducing the risk of total failure.

TIP: Would you buy an Aston Martin DB11 without first taking it for a test drive?


4 – The strength of your brand, product & offer

Making the WHY powerful

If you’re a new brand, you’re immediately at a disadvantage – this needs to be overcome. Generally speaking, new brands struggle to get high commitment behavioural responses, although it is still possible if the other elements of your campaign are very strong. The easiest way to counteract a lack of brand awareness is to gain social credibility by using social proof and/or endorsements.

Be personable

Even if you are a reasonably well-known, many brands will still lack a strong identity. Having a strong identity makes the creative process more focused and easier to execute. Furthermore, if that creative resonates with prospects, you’ve just multiplied the effectiveness of your campaign.  Don’t be afraid to show that your brand isn’t perfect. Besides, humans are unique and imperfect. You’re better off insulting a small portion of your market and really connecting with the other portion rather than being bland to everyone. Controversy has the added benefit of creating the possibility of free publicity. Risk adverse management will never allow room for a truly great marketing campaign.

The offer needs to be strong

This is perhaps one of the most critical components, especially with online advertising. You can get targeting spot on, have high spend, great design and if what you’re selling doesn’t work, the whole campaign falls apart. Make sure you have a clear offer that provides incentives or clearly communicates the value proposition of your product/service.

Remember Value = Benefits – Cost. Monetary cost is just one of the many types of costs (there are many). Remember to look beyond ‘functional benefits’ if you want to succeed in advanced economies. Self expressive and emotional benefits should be at the forefront of your proposition.

If your offer is weak, you’ll need to fall back on the creative reaching enough people to generate at least a few higher commitment responses based purely on raw averages.

The message can be tailored

Most advanced advertising platforms will feature some degree of dynamic creative feature. This is where you can tailor different messages and pieces of creative to different audience segments in real time. If you’re not using these features ,ask yourself why. You could take it a step further by using more advanced AI predictive ad platforms, but that’s a discussion for another day (and to be honest, the technology isn’t really that polished just yet). Failing either of those options, at least manually generate multiple pieces of creative specific to your different segments. You’ll vastly improve favorable responses as a result.

A picture tells a thousand words

Remember, the messaging strategy should go beyond mere text copy.  It’s also the story, the sequence and the way your message is being communicated that is often overlooked. If you’re producing a video ad, watch it on mute and if the meaning is not obvious, start again. All good Facebook videos will be captioned at the bottom to compensate for audio being turned off. The same test should apply to static image ads. There is a guy who gets drunk and tests websites to see how user friendly they are. It’s actually a good idea. Do something similar with your ad creative because any ambiguity will dampen potential performance.

TIP: Don’t trust the opinions of bad creatives to formulate your messaging strategy. Trust your customer segments’ interpretation.


5 – Wise media choices

Use the right strategic mix in the right way

Beware of external media buyers calling the shots here. There can be a huge conflict of interest in their decisions to buy some media over others due to incentives, kickbacks and personal relationships. This will all significantly hamper the campaign. Media agencies will generally take 20-40% (sometimes more) of the allotted spend as a commission.

Your media agency shouldn’t be advising you which media to buy. You should already know the places your prospective customers are visiting and how they consume media – if you don’t know this, you shouldn’t be working in digital marketing, because there are very easy ways to find out. With that said, if your media agency is well versed in digital, they will have access to more advanced data sources where you can target prospective audiences to a high degree.

The 3 impression rule

Effective campaigns should rely on achieving a minimum of 3 impressions before the first standard deviation of users will even consciously register your message, let alone act upon it. This does not mean the same piece of creative 3 times, typically it applies to 3 different interactions with your brand message at 3 different brand contact points. Think about intercepting your prospects across multiple mediums in different ways. This can include websites, social media, publicity, offline, online, email…you name it.

Multiple channel Synergy

While I’ve done before, it’s very rare for a campaign to only use one channel and be successful. Multiple mediums = synergy.  Each medium has their strengths and weaknesses. Too often marketers simply view mediums as a channel and will execute the same strategy regardless. This is not very wise. You first need to learn how to use each medium to maximum effect in order to reach your campaign goals. I know Facebook’s ad platform very well, and I’ll still hire Facebook experts depending on the niche or campaign. I use Instagram every day and I’ll still ask a fellow coworker some very specific questions about certain features. The same goes for programmatic display.

Great marketers will always think strategically about which mediums to use and how, depending on the intended outcome. Mapping user journeys and using funnels should be at the forefront of these decisions. The power of re-marketing is very important, especially if you’re looking to get maximum yield on your spend.

An example

Let’s take social media as just one example. Social’s strength is in its ability to be social. This seems obvious, but for some reason, many marketers simply prefer to use Facebook as just another advertising platform which they can use to blast their ads to the populace. Sure, Facebook’s advertising system (if used correctly) is one of the best in the world, but truely great social campaigns will always spend most of their resources tapping into the power of social proof. They will leverage influencers and encourage discussion to maximize impact at a fraction of the cost of a pure advertising campaign.

TIP: Know your mediums and how best to use them. If you don’t, hire specialists to fill the gaps. Take a media neutral (agnostic) approach to planning for the best results.


6 – High ‘working spend’ ratio

Maximize audience reach

This is generally called ‘media spend’ but what we are really talking about here is committing lots of your campaign resources to highly targeted reach. Campaigns will fail, more often than not, when too many resources are consumed during the creative or administrative process, leaving too little to make that creative shine. These activities include, copywriting, design, revisions to design, time spent in meetings, general administration/coordination etc. It’s important to note at this time that the non-working spend is generally not measured fully because it’s a labour overhead. If you logged the time everyone involved spent on the campaign and multiplied it by their hourly wage estimate however, you’ll notice this figure can easily outweigh any media spend allocation. These costs should be recorded and quantified.

Larger more bureaucratic organisations as especially susceptible to this issue as their standard procedures and multiple levels of authorisation (including legal) will compound the effect.

So many campaigns fail because of the neglect to invest enough resources in projecting their message to their audience.

Don’t be a fancy new website that no one visits

To explain this point further I’ll use the example of website redesigns. I’ve seen so many examples of website redesigns which look great once complete, but don’t have any positive effect on the business, because that action in itself doesn’t increase the number of people visiting it. The same can also be said with mobile apps that people download and cease to use more than once. Value will always reside in the duration and number of people paying attention to the brand contact points they are interacting with.

Great campaigns will have at least a 50/50 ratio on working spend vs non-working spend

Once all internal staff time is logged and costed, most organisations won’t even get close to a 50/50 split. This happens because, quite simply, the creative process is often the most interesting part of the campaign. Everyone wants to be a part of the creative process, from marketing personnel to top management. Most workplaces are full of mundane work tasks and creative advertising seems to have this mystical allure evidenced by the popularity of shows such as The Gruen Transfer.

Planning media spend doesn’t exactly get your creative juices flowing and it’s often very technical in nature, especially in the digital field. In fact, it can be downright boring. With that said, this very critical part of the process is primarily left up to the media agency to execute quickly right at the end. They really don’t care once the creative is uploaded and parameters are set, which brings us to the next issue.

TIP: An good idea that no one knows about or acts upon, will remain just that – a good idea.


7 – Adaptive flexibility

Continual improvements & optimisation

Unlike traditional offline campaigns, you shouldn’t be setting and forgetting. There’s usually no incentive for your agency partners to make any improvements post launch. In the first few days, it will quickly become apparent what is working well and what isn’t. Why continue pouring resources into the areas that aren’t working?

By implementing a campaign optimisation schedule at regular time points throughout the campaign’s life cycle, you’ll be able to gain a lot more yield out of your media spend. When I say, ‘a lot more’ I mean, in excess of 25-50%.

This was my two cents on how to ensure your next advertising campaign is a success. If you need specific expertise in any of these areas, don’t be afraid to connect and start a conversation.




John James

John has been working in marketing and sales for over 10 years, working with brands such as Procter & Gamble, RACV/Q and Sothebys. His experience range from stints at global advertising agencies early in his career through to founding his own agency and various entrepreneurial investments. His core specialty is marketing strategy development and branding. He is most famous for his ability to influence users online and generate behavioural responses though marketing communications which result in sales. You can find him in Melbourne, Australia and San Francisco, USA


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