Innovation vs. Utility: Finding the Right Balance for Ad Formats

Innovation is crucial, because if you’re not going forward, you’re moving backward. This mantra is particularly true for the tech industry, with new advancements being brought to market constantly. But it is a fine balance for the advertising industry, as users don’t want to be unnecessarily disturbed when it comes to consuming content.

To achieve the holy grail of harmonious advertising, rapid technological advances are needed—but ad formats must also innovate to meet customer demands. Take the rise of virtual reality for example—brands should consider the advertising potential of this format in a few years’ time. The key to success is finding ways to run innovative ad campaigns without interfering with the user experience. Finding the balance between this, and the point where innovation exceeds utility, ultimately becoming intrusive, is increasingly complex.


1. “Pause-vertising”

AT&T and Hulu are planning to introduce ads that are displayed when the user pauses content, in both video and static image format. Some media companies question the point of these ads, as viewers tend to pause programs for a reason, with the ad never having the potential to be seen or engaged with. However, a spokesperson for AT&T counters, “we know you’re going to capture 100% viewability when they [the user] pause and un-pause.”

Introduced in an era where binge-watching prevails, these “paused” ad formats could be a smart way to easily capture audience attention—if executed correctly. For example, a soda ad that appears when a user pauses a show to grab a drink from the fridge. The trouble is the viewer can choose when to pause a show for a number of different reasons, with no set schedule that linear TV can rely on. Another consideration will be understanding which ad to show within this format, a brand awareness campaign may work better than direct response.

2. Product placement

Brands have reverted back to traditional methods of advertising by implementing product placement. Coca-Cola famously used to show its logo in the corner of the screen, over the sun, for a few seconds to be noticed subconsciously. The inclusion of a product placement is a hugely popular option and can be seen in many TV shows, music videos, social media content and movies.

Alternatively, some brands opt for a subtler approach, incorporating a product or brand logo placement into a storyline. “Riverdale,” a teen drama on Netflix, recently wove an ad for Bumble, a dating app, into its storyline. Last year the U.S. product placement marketplace was thought to exceed $10 billion and with infamous linear placements such as Ford Fusion in ”New Girl” or Manolo Blahnik in ”Sex and the City,” this is hardly surprising. Networks are keen to integrate product placement into their programs in a bid to continue attracting viewers by offering decreased ad load.

3. Addressable TV

Dubbed the future of TV, addressable leverages anonymized first- and third-party data to identify and reach specific target audiences. For example, two households watching the same content could receive two completely different ads, tailored to them. Brands can utilize available data—such as subscription details and household demographics—to better understand their audiences and ensure their ads are broadcast to the most appropriate segments.

Audience analytics have advanced, providing marketers the opportunity to go beyond targeting by age and gender. Rich behavioral and demographic data can be leveraged to identify the consumer segments that will respond to the TV ads. This new innovation enables marketers to optimize their ads, reduce costs, drive engagement and increase ROI.


Although innovation is a necessary step for development, it is questionable how much innovation is necessary when it comes to ad formats. Primarily, ads serve to increase brand awareness or drive direct response. As a result, when innovation exceeds utility, it doesn’t always meet audience needs.

Whatever the format, it’s essential that effective measurement is put in place to understand audience reach and response. By analyzing peaks in search activity during and after an ad is aired, marketers can track if viewers watch the ad or instead switch channels. Using pause ads as an example, unless interaction is required, would advertisers track search activity to determine if the consumer saw the ad?

Innovation often results in more questions than answers. Advertisers need to continuously evolve and adapt to the changing ecosystem, as well as simultaneously keep the consumer in mind. Finding the right balance of innovation and utility is a fine line—brands need to ensure they are “making life easier” while, at the same time, not intrude on the user experience. The key to success lies in cracking this tricky formula and making use of the technologies available to marketers to better understand the viewer. Analyzing consumers and their behavior enables brands to deliver ads to target audiences, not only driving engagement and increasing ROI, but also ensuring KPIs are met.

Mark Hudson is the head of Business Intelligence for TVSquared. Alongside his role at TVSquared, Mark is a lecturer and advisor at numerous universities and corporate boards, as well as an author on competitive strategies. His expertise in planning helps TVSquared and its customers unlock growth based on intelligence.