Standing out from the Clutter: What we can Learn from Traditional Advertising

As internet marketers, we know how to strategize and design beautiful and engaging online content. However, with the onslaught of content creation for SEO and traffic-increase purposes over the past few years, we can’t just make another infographic, or even another interactive visualization. We now have to make sure we’re creating content that stands out, not content that is adding to the clutter.

While brainstorming ideas for online content that will entice interaction from your target audience, why not take a couple cues from the characteristics of successful traditional advertising techniques? Although they’ve been around for decades, there’s certainly a reason why strategies such as billboard advertising, TV advertisements and PR stunts are still viable.


Here are a few themes and characteristics of effective traditional advertising methods that I like to make sure the creative online content we create at Distilled incorporates:

1. Make it Engaging & Personalized

After taking a moment to really reflect on what advertisements stand out and are memorable to me, I’m always attracted to the ones that involve my individual participation, or are interactive enough to incorporate myself into the campaign.

In fact, one of my favorite campaigns wasn’t even a traditional TV ad or PR stunt, it was a billboard campaign for Mini Cooper. To go along with its #MiniNotNormal campaign, Mini Cooper had used trained “spotters,” to identify people driving Minis and give them real-time salutes. It was super personalized and really allowed the brand to engage with its current customers. Frankly, it made me even more jealous to not be a Mini Cooper owner; take a look at the special treatment that was given:

By the way, while doing this research, I found out that Mini Cooper has been engaging with its consumers via billboards since 2007, when it used RFID-activated billboards to send personalized messages. Way to re-invent the wheel, Mini!

In the online world, Facebook is one brand that is successfully creating a personalized advertising experience for its users. In honor of its 10th birthday, it released Facebook Look Back. This is an app that will create videos that are simply a minute long and showcase users’ top photos, status updates, and other popular content they’ve shared since the year they joined. Hundreds of millions of Facebook users have made Look Back videos, solely for the chance to take a nostalgic glance at their past Facebook activity.

Let’s face it, whether we like it or not, social media is proving that we’re a nation of narcissists. Take note of this successful campaign and try to incorporate the user, they’ll most likely love the chance to participate.

2. Make it Tell a Story

Utilizing the wonderful art of brand storytelling and uniting the message or product with an emotion is a powerful way to capture the attention of your audience. In fact, many internet marketers will tell you that branded content is dead and that storytelling is the key to the future success in our industry.

Incorporating an emotional hook that will capture the hearts of many will also go a long way when it comes to capturing your audience. Marketers have been using this technique for years, but the growth of social media gives the old concept a whole new breath of life. Incorporating social media into the picture is a way to encourage audience engagement and discussion on an emotional or personal topic, making what was once a “closed discussion” now a collaborative, shared experience.

An example of a recent traditional advertising campaign that stands out to me is Budweiser’s “A Hero’s Welcome.” This ad kicks off a year-long social media campaign encouraging consumers to honor the U.S. military with the hashtag #Salute. If you haven’t seen it yet, be warned, it will leave you crying into your beer:

If you can incorporate the storytelling technique into your own online content, especially if it is genuine or relatable, you will increase your chances of creating something that has the potential to be widely shared. I also encourage you to add in a social media CTA, like a hashtag, to encourage your audiences to discuss it via their social channels.

“Dumb Ways to Die,” which made HubSpot’s Top Content list for 2013, followed storytelling principles. In a nutshell, Metro Trains animated a catchy little tune listing all of the silly ways one could potentially die (such as dressing up like a moose during hunting season, or simply eating a tube of super glue). If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend you watch it:

3. Make it SHOCKING

Metro Train’s quirky little jingle promoting commuting safety leads me to my final tip that we, as internet marketers, can glean from traditional advertising techniques -- do something unexpected. While it can be risky to promote a campaign that is a bit different, I’ve seen quite a few brands successfully take advantage of shock advertising, you just have to make sure you’re still on-brand.

For example, consider the “Devil Baby Attack” prankvert video, that took the internet by storm and was featured on highly trafficked sites such as Gawker and TIME! This PR stunt made the plot of the movie transcend into real life, sending the devil baby out to scare unsuspecting New Yorkers.

Something like this isn’t too unexpected considering it is coming from an agency promoting a horror film. However, it takes guts to move forward with a PR stunt that scares the heck out of people and has the potential to flop massively if the public takes it the wrong way. Take a look, if you dare:

We can easily fuse shock tactics into our online content. While thinking of ways to make your content more surprising, a classic example that I highly recommend to keep in mind is Jason Zada’s “Take This Lollipop interactive horror short film and Facebook application.

This was one of the first personalized Facebook applications I ever used, and I wasn’t expecting it to be able to showcase my personal photos, let alone my location. Outlining and developing content so that there is a twist or shocking outcome is definitely a lesson we should be learning from traditional advertising, especially as we see more and more brands benefit from zany PR stunts and prankvertising techniques.

Brainstorming? Ask Yourself These Questions…

In summary, while brainstorming for a creative piece of online content, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is this piece personalized for the viewer? Are you somehow connecting the piece itself to the user’s experience?
  • Does it tell a story? If so, does it include a beginning, middle and an end, as well as leave the viewer wanting more?
  • Are you surprising the viewer with your content, while still portraying the characteristics of the brand?

If you’re able to answer yes to any or all of the questions above, you are applying proven techniques that have worked for countless traditional advertising campaigns to your own work and are on the right path to creating something that will stand out from the rest of the clutter online. Have you used any of these tactics to create online content that performed very well? Please do brag about your success in the comments below, we’d love to hear about them!

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About the author
Britt Klontz

Britt Klontz

Combining digital PR with content marketing and search, Britt Klontz specializes in helping clients craft compelling campaigns that grab the attention of top-level publications and, most importantly, their target audiences.  With over five years of...   read more