Visual Design Tools Need to Be Revamped to Help Improve Advertising Creative

Novices should have the opportunity to make outstanding work, too

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Much has been said about the flip in the consumer/brand relationship. Consumers are now the trend-makers as brands and businesses are pivoting in their marketing strategy based on customer-driven insights. Consumers in 2019 expect this level of marketing fingerspitzengefühl, not only from big brands but also from smaller agencies and businesses.

For those of us that believe in the motivational power of marketing, it’s encouraging to see increasingly sophisticated tactics like content syndication, native advertising, paid social, personalization, look-alike modeling, paid and organic search and retargeting be deployed by businesses of all sizes, scales and degrees of marketing sophistication. Intuitive user interfaces along with quality web-based how-to content have democratized techniques that were once the purview of only the largest brands and agencies. The playing field has, to a reasonable extent, been leveled.

There remains, however, one aspect of the ecosystem that still presents a significant hurdle for smaller agencies and especially smaller businesses: the advertising creative itself.

Consumers crave creative, consistent character

While the amount of great creative is greater than it’s ever been, the quantity of ineffective creative is orders of magnitude higher.

There was a time when brands could stand out uniquely in their category for being great visual storytellers. Brands like Ralph Lauren, Victoria’s Secret and Crate & Barrel followed the rule of “show, don’t tell” to communicate how amazing you’ll feel when you buy and use their products, and they stood out in their respective categories. These days, thanks to digitally native millennials and Gen Z, there are more brands than ever creating more content, and while the amount of great creative is greater than it’s ever been, the quantity of ineffective creative is orders of magnitude higher. If your brand’s creative isn’t up to snuff, all the ad tech in the world won’t help you.

This is a major problem for small businesses. It doesn’t matter how smart the media buy is, but if the creative isn’t eye-catching, you might as well take the ad spend out to the parking lot and set it on fire. At least more people will notice.

Consumer expectations are also higher than ever before and getting higher. We now have an entire generation that has consumed so much content that they intuitively understand what good visual design looks like. It’s even permeated pop culture. Bad kerning and tombstoning are popular subreddits, and Apple had a commercial earlier this year centered around bokeh. SNL ran a sketch savaging the papyrus font.

Small businesses rely on social media platforms to disseminate communications to target consumers. But when a small business’ digital marketing spend is centered around social, the need for creative—good creative—takes center stage.

Scaling DIY creative for the rest of us

What is holding back the scalability of creative? It’s the user experience. Tools like Photoshop or After Effects are not intuitive for a non-professional user, especially for a user that isn’t versed in the language of design and creative. While tutorials exist, the learning curve is steep and few that need to learn it actually have the time to devote to it. That’s not to denigrate these tools. Like any power tool, when in the hands of a skilled practitioner, the output is stunning. That said, the average small business owner/operator doesn’t have the time to learn.

The features war has rendered most of the leading commercial design packages as bloated interfaces with many features that don’t get used but do complicate the task of basic design. In many ways, an overly complex user experience runs counter to the spirit of generating good creative. Creative tools should serve as a vehicle for visual storytelling rather than throwing up roadblocks to the process.

What does the future hold?

There needs to be a more fundamental understanding of the spectrum of expertise of users and opportunities for creative novices to produce high-quality creative content. How can they be more collaborative, not just inside an organization, but with other small business owners? How can templates be used in a more proactive way in terms of different display models and formats? How can tools be integrated into platforms that small businesses are already using and are familiar with?

So, we end up where we started. There’s a paradigm shift in the power balance between consumer and brand, and consumer behavior is dictating how, where and when they want to interact with a product. Leading creative platform providers need to acknowledge this reality and build solutions accordingly. Or someone else will.