Our host Peggy Anne Salz catches up with Walter T. Geer III, a creative visionary well-known for transforming advertising through innovative ad creatives, to discuss how (and why) innovative approaches and formats that push the boundaries are also driving deeper customer connection. Walter holds six U.S Patents for digital ad formats and has a long track record implementing creative strategies for a variety of publishers and leading technology and media companies including Google, Viacom, and MySpace. He draws from his career learnings to offer actionable advice about what marketers need to understand and undertake in order to ignite consumer emotions and impact brand engagement.
Hello and welcome to Mobile Presence. I’m your host, Peggy Anne Salz, Content Marketing Strategist at Mobile Groove, where I plan, produce and promote content that allows my clients to reach their performance goals and scale growth. And I’m really excited, I’m not even going to say too much in advance, it’s just we all know what’s going on out there, we see the rise in ad blocking, I’m seeing research that says people are bored with their mobile ad creatives, so we’re at a juncture in the industry where we have to look around for some new ideas and some new inspiration for how we reach and engage really audiences with compelling creatives.
So, today, I have Walter Geer the Third, he is, I would say, the man who literally wrote the book on mobile ad creatives with a twist, formerly VP and Creative Director at Verve, before that New York Times Digital, Google, Viacom, MTV – you name it, it’s a long track record. Walt, I’m just happy to have you on the show to talk about how we’re going to make mobile ad creatives, you know, great again, alright? It’s great to have you on the show.
I’m really excited to be here so thank you for having me.
I want to dive into this because when I was reading over what you were actually doing in the industry, it’s not that you’re just thinking about mobile ad creatives but you’ve actually patented quite a few of them as well. Maybe you can just give me some background here – what are you bringing here in your career – was it you said one day, you know, everything in advertising needs a fresh look and you decided that was your mission, to set out and do that? What started you on this very interesting career path?
Thank you. So, I used to be a front-end developer for years and it was interesting because by the time I went to Viacom, that was the first time that I’d actually been able to sit within a sales organization and my job really at the end of the day was to figure out ways to drive incremental revenue. And it was interesting because when I looked at the space as a whole and I’ve been doing this for almost two decades now, at that time I realized that so many people in the advertising space were trying to throw crap at a wall and hope it sticks, right? They have big grand ideas for RP’s and what not and while at that time, you know, 12/13 years ago, it was a lot easier to get a million dollar deal on something like a homepage takeover, you also had to make sure that you were selling to an idea that was going to work – not only invent it but something that could guarantee success for these advertisers.
So, what I started to do really was a different approach and my approach since then has always been that research and data really matter. So, when I started at MTV, I started by actually opening up a feasibility lab, but the type of feasibility lab was biometric. I don’t know – are you familiar with biometric research at all?
Yes, well, yes, but our listeners, we have to be clear on that too, that’s really where you’re paying attention to the neuroscience of whether or not an audience is interested.
Exactly, 100%. So, what we were doing is essentially understanding the emotional state of the user when they engage and interact with something, and in my case, it was ad formats. So, you do this by, and it literally looks like someone is in the ICU, you have something in your hand, something stuck on your chest, your arms etc, and we were essentially tapping into the emotional state of a user by understanding things like heart rate, pupil dilation, arousal, which is sweat on the palms, eye tracking, facial expressions, whether they’re leaning forward or leaning back, and to do this you can essentially tell what works based off colours, call to action, speed of animation, position on page. So, it allowed me to really create the perfect ad for consumers.
So that’s really how this whole kind of thing really started.
And since then, it’s interesting that you started in a very data-driven approach before we were really truly data-driven. Do you feel that you’re sort of in your element now that we’re thinking about data-driven marketing, we’re thinking about programmatic, we’re thinking about engagement targeting, retargeting, segmentation – now, you have to have creatives that don’t just work but also deliver?
Yes, yes. I started there and I guess I didn’t realize how important the research in the data is and now when we look at mobile devices, and the information that we can actually get from them, I mean, the mobile device is the most powerful advertising tool we have, like, ever been given, and truth be told, it really is an empty canvas but not a lot of people are truly innovating in smarter ways that will allow brands to communicate effectively with the people that matter.
So why do you think that is, Walt, you’ve been around for a long time, you have quite an impressive track record? Is it just that we were saying is it that syndrome of oh, new screen, let’s do the same thing we did on old screen, just make it slightly different – so what worked in online, squeeze the banners, put them on a mobile phone, or that we just didn’t get mobile because I think we’re starting to understand now that mobile, mobile advertising is broke and we need to fix it, but what took so long?
Yes, I think you hit on a lot of things that are problems with the space and industry right now. For one, you’re right, you’re absolutely right – we have taken display formats and brought them down to the mobile device and treated them as if they were the same when they’re so far from. For instance, 728 by 90, everyone knew, and they still use on display. In our mobile device, it’s just a 320 by 50, same format, same exact position on the page – top of the page or the bottom of the page.
We look at, and this is something I say all the time, is the fact that comScore did a report almost nine years ago called “Natural Born Clickers” and they found that 8% of the internet audience was responsible for 87% of clicks which is why we saw the entire rich media industry move from things like a click to a roll-over. Yet when we look at a mobile device, every single mobile banner you see says “Tap”, right? Which is why you’re scrolling and scrolling and you accidentally tap on something and you open up these opportunities and that’s bad for two people – one, the brand because I may not have wanted to see you in the first place, and two, the publisher now because I feel as though you’re spamming me with something that I don’t want.
So, yes, to your point, so many people, the majority of people, are trying to take them – advertising styles and formats from the display and bringing them down to the mobile device as if they’re the same. Now, I think the way we correct that is by creating opportunities that are more cohesive with these devices, right? It’s applying things like jesters – it’s thinking of new approaches to creative native formats and solutions and ways for advertisers to communicate.
It is understanding things like location data, right, and the place that an individual has actually gone so that you can deliver something in a relevant moment or the right opportunity. So, it’s really kind of now being able to advertise in a meaningful manner to a consumer means that a brand needs to truly know them, an individual, better than they know themselves.
So I agree on location, that’s really a big part of it, but sort of like where you are is also a lot about who you are as well, and there are other types of data, you know, not just the ordinary demographics but getting creative in how you address, engage, target, whatever you want to call it, I don’t want to use target too much, always make me think of a bullseye on someone’s back, right? Consumers engage, consumers with advertising – what do you think is sort of like essential because some marketers can’t do all of the above but is there like, you know, the absolute minimum viable product as far as mobile ad creatives are concerned?
Yes, so I would say that most people can do native advertising, there’s a lot of different ways – like, if we went around a room of 10 people and asked what is native advertising to you, you’d probably get 10 different answers. Native advertising really at the end of the day is the ability to insert or inject an advertiser’s content, and that could be a 300 by 250 in line with content on the page that you’re reading.
So, I think native advertising is a really great opportunity right now – it’s, I don’t want to say simple, but it’s a great way to actually allow a brand to get their message in front of a consumer and doing it by having relevant content, like contextually relevant content. So, if you’re able to let’s say if you’re espn.com and then you’re serving a Nike ad in an article for espn.com, that makes sense for a reader. So, I think at the very easiest level, contextual relevance is a big thing but when you’re delivering your creative, the thing that’s often missed is so many people aren’t truly thinking about the types of format to deliver to an individual.
So, the 320 by 50, for example, is a banner that no-one looks at or you have those overlay ads, for a moment in time, will completely block all of your content and then you’ll have your X button at the top right and we are conditioned to look top right and close, which is why we never remember those ads.
So, you know, it’s about thinking about different types of formats other than those normal IB standard formats to really then garner more attention.
That’s a great segway where I want to take you but I’m going to take you there after the break, Walt, is talking about those new creative formats and many of those which you have also patented but just a point to what you were bringing up there earlier brings to mind a piece of research not long ago that we also featured here on Mobile Presence which was about biometric research around what people do with their ads, and it was interesting to your point when you see this full screen, all singing, all dancing, complete takeover, the first thing you do is you want to find that X in the corner, you want to activate that because it actually activates the fight or flight part of your brain.
So, really, to your point, there’s this thing going on where it’s like I see this very annoying ad, I’m very annoyed and deep in your DNA, you really are and you have to get away from that, so that was just, for me, an interesting point that ads don’t just annoy us maybe we think we’re annoyed but in our bodies, in our brains, that’s exactly what happens. I don’t know if you heard about that research, Walt, but it really does underline what you’re saying.
Yes, I agree, which is why I go to the point that, look, ads, there’s such a negative connotation with the word “Ad”, ads in general – no-one likes them. So my thing is my approach to designing these advertising experiences, they need to be experiences, right? Like, if you create an experience for a consumer, they will engage and they will spend time with your brand but creating an experience means you have to give them something in return for their time spent.
On that note, Walt, I do have to go to a break, I feel bad now because we’re going to go to an ad – you say we don’t like ads, we’re going to go to one but no, we do give value here at Mobile Presence, we give you other content that might be interesting to you and send you that way, so don’t go away, we’ll be right back.
Welcome back to Mobile Presence. I’m your host, Peggy Anne Salz, with Mobile Groove and we have today, Walter T. Geer the Third, he was VP and Creative Director at Verve but overall, just a creative visionary about how to make ads that matter and move us. So, Walt, right before the break we were talking about how we have had to think about advertising before, how we’ve evolved our thinking and we haven’t really pushed the boundaries, pushed the envelope yet and we have to think about different ways of doing it.
So, what would you propose, because you’re also the brains behind quite a number of interesting formats that people might not know about?
Yes, so, it’s true. I think that reinventing mobile advertising, again, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to go back and reinvent the wheel, it’s about really stopping for a minute, assessing what you’re currently doing, where you might have gaps and then simply adjusting, right? So, take, for example, when I was at Verve, there was this creative format that we called the Canopy Arm Scroll. Now, again, to our point earlier, no-one looks at a 320 by 50 banner, they just don’t.
There’s something called banner blindness which essentially means when you’re on your favorite apps or your favorite sites and you’re reading your content and you know where ad formats are, you completely block them out, you stop looking at them entirely which is why when I present, I’ll typically ask people, you know, in an audience, when was the last time you saw a mobile ad? Everyone put their hands up. I then ask them, do you remember the brand – keep your hands up if you can remember the name of that advertiser. 90% of the hands will drop. And then I say, OK, for the last 2 or 3 hands that are up, if that was your company or your client, put your hand down. And no-one’s hand was up – it’s because they just don’t remember the ads.
So, this format that we did, what we essentially did was let’s take the most standard banner format, the 320 by 50, and think of a different way to get someone to actually look at it. So what we did was, when a user actually scrolls up or scrolls down the page, only at that time will we animate that banner. That banner will have different elements that’ll protrude out of that 320 by 50 space above it and so what happens is it will literally forward and rewind your creative across the screen.
So what we found happened from that is, when users were actually scrolling up and down, they actually start to look down because they realize as they scrolled, they’re controlling the experience below. This unit ended up being one of the highest, most interactive units that we’ve had there for that simple point.
Then what we did was we measured that unit by quartiles, the same way you measure video which is 25%, 50% and 75% and 100% completion rates which allowed us to be smarter around the creative. So, I could go back to a brand and say, look, your animation in that creative is 20 seconds look – we found a significant drop off after 50% of that creative. Why don’t we actually minimize that down to a 10-second piece of content and let’s figure out the most impactful pieces of copy that you need to make sure that you’re getting across to a consumer. So, really, doing simple and subtle things to really kind of reinvent this space.
What happens on the other end, Walt, where we’re talking about measuring the results? I’m just wondering because maybe we have to think about that differently too. I was in a conversation the other day with someone at marketing at ABC News and he said before we used to think about push notifications, this is something different, not your type of ad creative, but he said, you know, we used to measure it in opens, right, and now, because push is being rich push and this, that and the other, and you can do more with it, we have to think about a different way to measure it. And, to your point, maybe we’re not clicking on it the way we used to, we’re interacting with it differently for different amounts of time, or other creatives that do something different, look like the app and aren’t – are we also going to have to rethink how we measure the results?
I certainly think so, I definitely think so.
Have any thoughts on how that’s going to happen? I would like to hear how we’re going to have to, we’re going to need to rethink it – what might our options be?
So, very similarly to what I was saying earlier with clicks, we saw in display, everyone moved from clicks as a call to action to rollovers, so then what happened is once you had rollovers, then there was about – OK, now we can do time spent, and so I think that similarly with mobile devices now, I think secondary actions are going to be really important but I think, more importantly, we as an industry need to think of smarter people, smarter ways to get someone to interact to open up these experiences.
So, for me, what I say is, well, let’s start moving over to think like gestures, right, so I think what Snapchat did brilliantly was their kind of swipe experience. You’re going through articles with different content and then it says Swipe Up, you swipe up and you have this ad experience in front of you and you continue swiping and then it’s gone. But, that worked in their natural portable habitat, right in their space, because that’s how they delivered content.
So, for someone like that, then of course things like interaction rates of secondary actions make sense but now with understanding location, we have the ability to also understand who are the people that we delivered an ad to and did we now see those people actually go into, let’s say, a particular store?
So, attribution, there are so many different things we can actually do now with mobile and I consider a lot of it is still continuing to grow and, truth be told, I’m still trying to find out what’s next as well.
I was going to do that, exactly, I was going to ask you that at the end of the show but now that you mention it, Walt, I mean, obviously we can’t know what’s next but you can have a feeling for sort of what’s coming down the pipe because if you think about, again, Verve’s most recent research, I was reading, very exciting, over half of the people who look at an ad are bored by it, which was translating into millions of ads not being seen… ad blocking, mobile ad blocking, you know, increasing – something’s not quite right so what might be coming next to make that right?
That’s a tough one. I mean, look, if we kind of step back for a second and say What’s next as a whole in advertising? I think there’s an easier answer to that and it’s the conversation that everyone’s been talking about which is AI. I think that eventually at some point, these mobile devices – I personally think, even right now, a mobile device, it’s your hub – for me, it allows me to get into my house, it allows me to change my temperature, it allows me to, you know, do so many things.
I think that as we move forward, that mobile device will eventually at some point be gone and I have Alexa in almost every room of my house and now my 3.5-year-old daughter is coming into a room and turning on the music, Frozen or something of that nature, and turning on my light at 6am when she wants to because she can just sit up in the bed and say Hey, Alexa, turn on the bedroom lights.
I think the world as a whole is changing by AI and I think that we all need to get on the bandwagon very quickly to start ideating and innovating in terms of how does advertising work? Like, how do we get advertisers integrated into this speechless, this speech type of opportunity?
That’s a great point because not too long ago, there was this discussion of OK, we’ve figured out SEO, we’ve figured out ASO, what do we do when it’s a digital assistant of some type that we have to appeal to with our advertising so that we end up as part of the suite of possibilities it presents to the human user. No answers on that, really fascinating question. I’m just curious here before we go to a break, if you have some thoughts on that because it was hard enough engaging humans, we still haven’t cracked that one, by the way, and now we have to think about, OK, now how do I become a skill that is going to be appealing, or how am I going to get my head around this? So, it’s a completely different game but maybe you have some quick thoughts about how to approach it?
I think it’s going to be, a lot of it’s going to be about understanding my needs, right? So, Alexa and Google Home, those folks need to now understand on a very high level, like what are the things that I’m purchasing, what are the things that I like to do and being able to tell that to me at relevant moments. Know that hey, I typically buy whatever, milk every two weeks knowing that that date is coming up – maybe suggest Hey, just wanted to let you know there’s a sale on this but boom if you say, X, Y, Z, we can actually have it delivered to you right now.
Right, so, I think over time it’s about figuring out smarter ways to integrate advertising into your life through those experiences but, again, it really boils down to how can we use these technologies to understand everything about this individual so we can give them something that’s truly relevant and only at that time, will you be able to take a brand and insert someone properly and effectively into your life.
And how does that fit in with native advertising, in a way, because you’re talking about inserting a brand and brands are also having some difficulty inserting themselves properly in native advertising without it seeming, well, you know, a bit weird? At some level, it has to be valuable without being deceitful but at the same time, it is hidden in there. Do you have any views on how to approach that in a more open way but still effective?
Yes, so, personally I’ll be 100% honest with you, I’ve never really been a fan of native advertising, I think that when native advertising first came out in the kind of confusion between, OK, well maybe this is this publisher’s content, then you read through it and then you realize, Oh, nope, this is not the publisher’s content, it’s an advertiser’s. I think it’s finding that subtle kind of mix between giving someone something that’s relevant but also like giving it to them when they want it. So I think that, if you understand that I’m commuting to work two hours every day, back and forth each way, and you know that I go shopping at Target or Wholefoods every single Saturday, then give me something – deliver me something for those brands when I’m on my commute, when you know I’m actually looking at my device, when I’m engaging at the right time.
So, I go back to let’s give those opportunities albeit sometimes annoying when someone actually is engaged at the right time. And when we start talking about native performance in terms of how they’re being delivered to people, I don’t necessarily think it should be about scrolling up and then all of a sudden you get this big giant full-screen opportunity because when we do that, we’re just going back 10-15 years when we used to be about, let’s just throw a big overlay on top of someone’s page and let’s get our branding as large as possible.
Think of different subtle approaches, it doesn’t have to be so bold and in your face. If you can deliver something at a relevant moment and it’s a product that’s relevant to me, it doesn’t have to be big and flash, it can be simple.
Well, I am enjoying this immensely, I almost hate to go to a break but listeners, we do have to go to our final break but don’t go away – when we get back, we will be talking about how you can make your advertising, how Walt puts it here, authentic, assistive and amazing, I think is a great word for what it has to be. So, don’t go away, we’ll be right back.
And we are back. Welcome back to Mobile Presence. I’m your host, Peggy Anne Salz, with Mobile Groove and we have today, Walter T. Geer the Third, Walt, it’s been great to have you on the show and talking about, you know, how you reinvent creatives. Actually, purposely, I’m hoping this will convince you to come back at least once a quarter to share your thoughts on this.
I’d love to.
I’d love to have you here. I love straightforward, you know, right where it hits, what you need to do, how you need to think and the hard truth that some people don’t want to hear. So, on that note, we’re on the same page, let’s assume our listeners are too. We’re saying, OK, mobile advertising as is right now, mobile ad creatives, it’s not an experience, it’s broken, you have to get better, you have to up your game. If they’re on the same page with us, what do they need to do, how do they need to prepare, how do you approach this? One easy answer would be just Hey, great, find a great agency and be creative but that’s probably not it, right?
Yes, it’s not. I think it’s a few things. Number one, a lot of times you look at a lot of these agencies that are in the space, they’re putting in folks that are like, quote, unquote, innovation – but they’re really not innovation people. I think that it really starts with getting the right creative people involved and the creative people in the room, but those creative people need to be in the room with the data folks as well. So, I always say, and I’ll go back to the point that if we’re going to engage people in effective ways, you’ve got to have good creatives and you have to have good data.
Right, so what I tell folks is look, having the right relationships matter, so bring in some data experts, bring in some creative experts, get them in the room together and allow them to brainstorm together. So when I personally come up with ideas, it always starts with the research Yes, Indeed, but I also need to truly understand how the data works and what are the pieces of information I can get back from the consumer and when I understand that, it’s only then that I can actually figure out the smartest ways to actually engage those consumers from a functionality point of view, from a format point of view, from a dynamic messaging point of view.
I also go to the point that dynamic creative is a very big deal so understanding how your brand can actually truly use dynamic messaging in an impactful, effective way. A lot of people in this space say that they do dynamic creative but truly they’re delivering 30 or 40 types of creatives.
So work with those partners who understand dynamic creatives on a high level in terms of being able to truly deliver one creative that can speak differently to someone based on their location, their area or the things that they like, being able to change call to action, functionality, the background images, the product images and the whole nine yards.
And I think that when you start to look at a lot of these folks, I think that these brands are bringing these teams and bringing these people in-house, and I think that’s really important because when you have these companies that can bring all of those things under one roof, it allows you to truly understand how the different pieces of the machine really work. I think sometimes it’s difficult to work with an external, let’s say, data provider or whatnot, because you both need to truly understand how your businesses work and how your different areas of expertise work. So, bringing them into one house under one roof I think is truly important.
It makes sense because this is really going to be decisive in how you address, engage, convert audiences so it makes sense that you don’t want this necessarily outside. To your point about bringing together the creative and the data people – I hear this a lot. Just wondering, you know, in your other positions or how you see the world, how you might go about this because everyone says sort of bring them together and you think, OK, if I just put, you know, their cubicles are next to each other, life is good, but that isn’t quite what we mean and a lot of people have a lot of trouble relating to it – it’s like the data people or the people from Big Bang Theory and the creative people are always wearing black… and that’s not the way it is either. It is sometimes, but not always.
The wearing black part might be a little true!
Yes, that’s a little bit true, and the shades at all times, day and night. But how do you bring them together?
Yes, look, it’s not an easy thing, right, because I think going back to my earlier point, you have companies that focus on primarily one thing or the other. So, when I first came to Verve, I thought that that was the most important critical piece which is why at that point we completely changed how our messaging in the marketplace. I sat down with the Head of Analytics and we would brainstorm together. He needed to know the way my mind worked and the way I started thinking about creatives, and the way I start thinking about engaging with individuals and I needed to understand how his brain works when it came to data. Like, I don’t know everything about data and I surely never will but it allowed me the opportunity to have him sit with me and say, well, I can give you weather, I can give you location, I can give you X, Y, and Z and when I have all those pieces, then it was really about now sitting with our engineering team and creating these APIs that allowed us to pull the data and influence our creative.
Live, really good information there, Walt. I will look forward to having you back but in the meantime, should our listeners want to get in touch with you, maybe follow up on what you’re doing, what you’re writing, what you’re sharing out there – what’s the best way to do that?
Sure, feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn, Walter T. Geer III. I’m also on Instagram a ton, and that is 3rdgeers, third gears.
Oh, cool, very cool. And I saw your motorcycle.
Oh, yes, yes.
Awesome. So, true to form, that’s exactly that and we’ll have those details of course on the website as well, so you don’t have to jot those down, we have show notes and all the rest. And of course, if you want to keep up with me throughout the week or find out more about how you can be a guest or sponsor on Mobile Presence, then you can email me, firstname.lastname@example.org, Mobile Groove where you can also find my own personal portfolio of content marketing and app marketing services. So, that, my friends, is a wrap of yet another episode of Mobile Presence and you can find this and all other earlier episodes of our show by going to webmasterradio.fm or you can find our shows on iTunes, Stitcher, Spreaker and iheartRadio simply by searching Mobile Presence. So until next time, remember, every minute is mobile, so make every minute count.