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The Art & Science of the CTA

Every creative approach in advertising needs to answer a key question: Why should the audience care?

All creative roads eventually lead to the call-to-action (CTA) - a perfect storm between message, visual, and user experience (UX) best-practices. Essentially a balance between what the copy says, the visual format it takes to draw attention, and how it expresses the brand within the context of a true digital product. 

Thinking about CTAs through the lens of banner ads, you have to consider their context...on another brand’s website. We don’t often think of the banner as part of the "product" but that’s exactly what it is. Audiences instinctively know it’s an ad, which is clickable, so in that case, do you actually need a standalone CTA?

A compelling case can be made that in some cases, you don’t need a button. The opportunity for a great CTA still exists without one, it could be a prompt for the consumer to click, a QR code or link or a compelling statement that sticks in your brain for a later purchase. These are all CTAs for their respective audiences to take action on.

The answer is in the brief. 

Oftentimes, changing a color, mixing up copy, or even changing the button style are tactics that don’t tend to work as you’d hope.

What consumers look for is a clear visible prompt that is true to the brand voice and follows a clean visual style. The challenge is achieving all of this while remaining true to the brief. 

The brief should contain the most vital nuggets of information about the audience. Demographics being an important piece of the puzzle, but one cannot ignore psychographics either. 

What does the audience care about? What are they motivated by? And of course, how can this product or service meet an intrinsic need in their lives? 

Setting aside the visual style, the CTA gives you a chance to express how the product delivers on those needs based on core motivational “triggers” in a message. These are some of the most successful both from experience and psychology:

  • New 
  • Low barrier to entry 
  • Special pricing
  • Scarcity 
  • Urgency
  • Social proof 
  • Additional product recommendations 

So many variations.

The standard approach works particularly well for banner and display ads as they prompt action, driving down the sales funnel. But CTAs also must exist in different formats -  out of home, landing pages, email marketing, and of course video.


Red Bull Ad

Red Bull Billboard

Getting the best outcome takes time and will constantly evolve.

When looking through a digital lens, proper A/B testing is often the best way to determine what is driving behavior. There’s a lot of art to go with the science of format testing and analysis, given that it’s easy to change different variables.

Questions we often ask ourselves when we see results include:

  • Which copy option resonated in a more meaningful way?
  • Is the product right for this audience segment?
  • Did images perform better than graphic elements (or vice versa)?
  • Is a certain color eliciting a bad feeling…even when it’s a core brand color?
  • Does adding motion garner more attention?

But we still need to answer the question of “why would the audience care?”. What makes our product necessary or desirable? And more importantly, how can we get them to believe in the brand?  This is where the element of trust in the brand and reputation of a product comes into play. If you’ve built a solid brand, and developed a relationship of trust - that puts you well along the path of getting the ‘yes.’

This is where a compelling CTA comes from, a strong message so that when your audience sees the button (or not) they’re ready to say ‘yes’ by clicking on that ad with a very clear offer of what they will get. Indeed, driving towards that "yes" is the very purpose of everything marketing – especially Performance Marketing.

Need a stronger CTA?

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