By playing by the rules of each platform, you’re giving your ads the best chance to be watched, remembered, and recalled by consumers in that environment, writes Anastasia Leng, CEO & Founder of CreativeX.

In 2023, some rather annoying mantras entered the everyday vernacular of C-Suite leaders giving direction to their marketing teams. Phrases like “do more with less,” and “work smarter, not harder” were dispensed like pleasantries, but without much in the way of clarity of exactly how we do this at a time when our landscape is not only increasing in complexity, but also dramatically changing in front of us.

There’s no silver bullet. But there are some opportunities hiding in plain sight that have made a dent in marketers’ ability to do the aforementioned “more with less”. While perhaps obvious, they are not commonly adhered to, and opportunities that pass the common sense test but haven’t been actioned are rare, so grab them when you can.

We’re not in Kansas anymore

The world we operate in today is different than it was even two or three years ago. Amazon, Uber, Netflix, Walmart are all ad networks. Short-form content dominates. The average Fortune 500 company produces 5-10x more ads than it did 5-10 years ago. But data indicates that most of us still use the same processes to create, review, manage and deploy content. And this delta between new-world reality and old-world processes is where the opportunity lies.

As we scramble to make more content for more digital platforms, we’re neglecting to internalize and operationalize two things: (1) algorithms are the gatekeepers that decide what ads people see online, and (2) the rules of the game on each platform are similar but not the same. Said differently, each platform’s algorithm is optimizing to serve content that best conforms to that specific media environment and the way users consume content (some of which happens to be ads) therein.

If your initial reaction is one of panic at the thought of having to make unique campaigns for Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Amazon, etc, rest assured the answer is a lot simpler. Platforms have codified this user behavior through years of research into a set of best practices, a sort of metaphorical container into which you can put your ads that they have proven, time and time again, leads to better ad performance on their home turf. None of these best practices should surprise you – they’re deceptively simple, like branding upfront, sizing your ad correctly, setting your ad up for sound-off consumption, amplifying your message and brand with audio, and adhering to the length standards of that practice (i.e. don’t put your 60 sec TV spot where the average viewing length is 6 seconds). (Note: These best practices are called by different names on different platforms (i.e. TikTok’s Creative Code, YouTube’s ABCDs, Meta’s Brilliant Basics), but the common denominator across all of them is simply known as the Creative Quality Score, or CQS).

Playing the algorithm

These best practices aren’t about the creative idea; they’re about the creative execution. Adhering to these won’t make your ad great, but it’ll make your great ad perform better. It’s the last mile of creative execution: putting that creative idea in the appropriate container to maximize the impact of that idea across each media placement.

Get ready for the big reveal: in 2020, 2021, and 2022, brands spent over 50% of their digital ad budget on ads that did not adhere to these best practices. In our rather large sample of 890,000 ads and $1.37B in ad spend, just over $700M (55%) was spent on ads that were unbranded, incorrectly sized, incomprehensible without sound, or misaligned to the user behavior on that platform (there’s that TV spot on TikTok again!). Extrapolate this to forecasted digital media spend in 2024 ($450B), or better yet your own digital media budget next year, and you’ll get a meaningfully large number of dollars being spent on suboptimal digital ads, a number that’s likely to bring a scowl to your CFO’s already pained-looking face if they knew about it.

You might be the exception to the rule, but here again, data says otherwise. The average Creative Quality Score of a Fortune 500 brand’s digital ad is 20% (that means only 1 of the 5 digital best practices is applied). When most brands take their first baseline measurement of CQS, they find that over 80% of their budget is being invested in digitally unsuitable ads.

Winning the last mile

Reversing that trend delivers a one-two punch: it shifts your spend behind fit-for-platform content, which also happens to be the type of content that’s more likely to perform. Take Nestlé, who recently scaled CQS measurement across its 15,000 marketers across 2,000 brands in 200 territories and found that ads that had a creative quality score of above 66% had a 72% higher ROAS. Or Bayer, who publicly noted that increasing CQS drove a 107% increase in brand lift.

Is improving creative quality likely to win you the next Cannes Lions? Probably not. But it’s likely to win you some effectiveness awards, not to mention some more budget and trust from your CFO and a tangible example of how you did more with less that will earn you some bragging rights for years to come.