A plea to disrupt your creative

By Becca Debono March 3, 2020

This is a guest post from Becca Debono, Head of Creative Strategy at 3Q Digital.

Have you ever looked over someone’s shoulder when they were scrolling through their phone and noticed how fast they moved through the content? They scroll for what seems like minutes, hover over something, scroll some more, and then maybe, finally, click through to another site. 

Casually observing people on their phone is one of my little guilty pleasures (and I swear, it’s not because I’m trying to be a creep!). But rather, as someone with a professional stake in creating “thumb stopping content,” I have a genuine interest in the visual elements and messaging that successfully grab someone’s attention away from their primary feed. 

Prevailing wisdom is that your creative has somewhere between one and three seconds to catch your users’ attention. Regardless of how long you have, the point is the same: gaining and maintaining consumer attention in our ever-evolving digital environments is hard. And this is why every brand should be testing disruptive creative concepts as part of their acquisition and remarketing initiatives.

What Exactly Is Disruptive Creative?

“Disruptive creative” is simply a creative concept that consumers wouldn’t normally expect to see from your brand (or on their feed) and therefore draws higher levels of interest. The idea of creative disruption is far from new, but as a Creative Strategist who reviews a massive amount of ad design on the daily, I’m continually surprised by how many brands don’t fully embrace this concept. 

The most common concern I usually hear from clients regarding disruption is the fear of producing something “off brand.” This is a valid concern, but I assure you, with the right partner it’s absolutely possible to produce something both unexpected and on-brand (and it’s well worth the effort). Take, for example a 3Q client, Vistage Worldwide, a peer mentorship organization who targets business leaders and executives. Typical creative across the category looks something like this: 

creative creative

These are strong lifestyle ads that capture many creative best practices, but they’re also the “status quo” in terms of what the target audience expects to see from this category. To shake performance up, Vistage rotated in the following disruptive creative:


As you can see, the disruptive creative conveys the same message and the same brand but is notably different. When tested against the “status quo” imagery, the disruptive creative drove a 33% lower CPA and 28% higher CTR compared to average.

Aside from the most obvious benefit of disruption, which is cutting through the digital clutter, disruptive creative helps to combat ad fatigue. In other words, you’ll likely get much more mileage out of it before it needs to be retired. Disruptive creative also tends to be more memorable.

Let’s take a look at another real-life example from the financial lending vertical (one of the most crowded categories, IMO). Which ad would you remember the most?

 If your answer is the pink Payoff ad, I’m with you! Payoff has intentionally avoided the lifestyle “stock photo”-looking concept and opted for a mobile-first look incorporating popular iPhone emojis and a light pink theme. This creative is intentionally different from what you’d expect to see from a financial lending company.

Ready to Disrupt?

Have I convinced you to get disruptive? Here are some ways you can start thinking about what creative disruption could look like for you:

  • Take inventory of the creative competition through a mini-competitive analysis. Once you’ve determined a baseline of visual imagery and messaging across the category, you can start thinking of ways to be decidedly different.
  • Consider the platform your brand is most present on. What would stand out most in that particular environment? This could be anything from the colors that would provide an interesting contrast to an ad unit unique to your category.
  • Throw some fresh creative thinking in the mix! Your regular in-house designer or creative agency may be great, but many times disruptive ideas come from fresh perspectives. This could be as simple as engaging another designer at the same creative shop that doesn’t currently work on your business. 

Now it’s time to get disruptive! If you’re feeling like your ad creative could use a shake up, challenge your creative team to come up with a disruptive concept using some of these tips (or contact 3Q’s Creative Strategy team for help!). Any insights you gain will be worthwhile.

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