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CTV Creative Best Practices: How to Approach Creative, Strategy, and More

ctv creative best practices

TV advertising has changed. Because today’s viewers spend most of their time on streaming platforms like Amazon Prime, marketers are allocating more dollars to connected TV (CTV) advertising each year. In fact, CTV ad spending is expected to grow to $42.44 billion by 2027, making up over 40% of the TV media budget.

And this is a good thing. Because CTV ads are often purchased programmatically, they drive better campaign results. Marketers can minimize ad waste by only targeting relevant buyers and then nurturing them down the funnel with cross-channel retargeting.

For this reason, the most successful CTV ads tend to be more personalized. This is where ad creative comes into play. According to Nielsen, the visual, textual, and auditory components of CTV ads are the most impactful drivers of sales. In other words: Even with the best strategy and the strongest brand, skimping on creative is a big mistake.

Nielsen Percent Sales Contribution By Advertising Element Pie Graph

In this guide to CTV best practices, we share the creative tactics and campaign planning tips that will make the most out of your CTV efforts. Keep reading for a step-by-step strategy for building high-performance CTV campaigns that drive results.

CTV Best Practices for Creative and Ad Experience



Step 1: Define Campaign Goals and Target Audience

Because CTV allows you to target individual viewers and measure campaign performance, you’ll want to align on campaign goals before thinking about your creative. 

Are you trying to reach new buyers with an awareness campaign, or lure previous visitors back into your store? Each will require different data sources, creative, and key performance indicators (KPIs).

Once your objective is clear, it will be easier to nail down who your target audiences are and how much budget you’d like to allocate to each segment. Audience targeting is more of a science than an art, so the more data you have the better. Ideally, you’ll want to find an ad partner like Strategus that offers robust data integration, first-party data activation, and segmentation capabilities.

Be sure to consider the following when defining your audience:

  • Avoid overly narrow targeting: While we don’t recommend running generic campaigns to broad audiences on CTV, getting overly narrow will limit your success. Finding the sweet spot is key to balancing precision and scale.

  • Go beyond basic demographics: Standard data about gender or location only allows for a shallow understanding of your audience. Identifying more motivation-based attributes of your buyer personas will allow you to craft ads that answer their needs.
  • Use a mix of first- and third-party data when possible: While first-party data provides insight into your actual buyers’ behaviors, preferences, and interests, third-party data can illuminate the market at large and potential new segments. Your best bet is to customize your audience through a layered approach that integrates between both sources. 

Step 2: Gather Existing Video Assets

The next step is to look at what you have on hand. As with most marketing efforts, there’s not always a need to recreate the wheel. We’d suggest doing a full audit to ensure that your existing assets meet the following baseline requirements.

Professional Production

Low-quality ads can leave a bad impression. And when you’re advertising on the biggest screen in the house, any production flaws will be easy to spot. Invest in professional production tools and agencies to avoid coming off the wrong way.

Clear and Consistent Branding

Make sure your brand is front and center. Your logo and brand colors should be easy to spot throughout the ad. And if you’re using several ads within a single campaign, it’s worth making sure that the look and feel is consistent across all assets.

Singular Focus

Establish your main message, and repeat it. Attention spans are short and today’s viewers are distracted. For these reasons, consistent messaging of one concept is the most effective way to engrain what you’re saying in viewers’ minds

Strategic Use of Sound

Music makes your ads more memorable. It also helps reach people who take their eyes off the screen during a commercial break. A catchy jingle or song can lodge your brand in viewers' brains and increase recall. Consider incorporating an audio element that reinforces your message.

Clean Design

Avoid cluttering your ad with excessive text or overwhelming visuals. Keep your design clean and prioritize a clear message over flashy gimmicks. You’ll want to use bold, legible fonts to ensure that on-screen text is easy to read. Contrasting colors also help to this end, ensuring that your ads can be viewed from greater distances. 

Step 3: Update What You Have or Build Digital-First Creative

The move from traditional TV to streaming TV shouldn’t be approached as a simple lift-and-shift. Rather, you’ll want to adapt your existing assets to take advantage of the programmatic ecosystem.

This doesn’t mean you have to throw out your existing video assets. It’s more a matter of adding creative elements to drive performance and tailoring the messaging to specific buyers. We’d suggest considering the following when updating your existing assets or building digital-first creative.

Use CTAs That Align With Campaign Goals

Your campaign goal should dictate your call to action (CTA). As such, a generic awareness campaign shouldn’t use the same CTA as one that’s focused on driving website conversions.

Do you want viewers to visit your website, call your office, or head to a physical storefront? Make this clear by focusing on a single CTA. If website traffic is the goal, you’ll want to provide the URL. If, on the other hand, you’ve set foot traffic as a KPI, then make sure to feature the address prominently.

Use Voiceovers

Ads featuring voice-overs outperform those relying solely on music. In one Strategus campaign, we saw a 46% lift in conversions when we switched from creative that only had music to creative that had music with a voiceover. 

This higher conversion rate is likely due to the fact that voiceovers can be used to convey a message even if the viewer’s eyes are elsewhere during an ad break (for instance, on their smartphone). 

Building off the previous point, you’ll want to use your CTA in both the on-screen text and voiceover when possible. This could take the form of listing your store address using on-screen text and also including a voiceover that tells viewers how to navigate to your location.

Accessibility is also key, so you’ll want to include subtitles when creative videos with audio.

Highlight Promotions or Existing Inventory

Evergreen content is great. But keeping your ads current drives better results. One way to do this is by using dynamic creative to showcase specific inventory from your website, promote seasonal sales, or share coupon codes. 

dynamic ctv car ad

Say you’re an auto dealer with unpredictable inventory and differentiated audience segments. By using dynamic creative capabilities, you can insert a live feed of inventory from the website as an overlay on a standard video asset. This would also allow the dealership to promote EVs to eco-conscious consumers while running ads for spacious family cars to new moms.

The best part? There’s no need to create an entirely new commercial for each segment. Dynamic creative makes it simple and fast to adapt to different viewers.

This is exactly why we offer dynamic creative at Strategus: so that brands and agencies can quickly update existing ads and personalize as needed.

Add Interactive Elements Like QR Codes

real estate ctv Ad-min

It’s also a good idea to add interactive overlays to CTV commercials that drive action. These often take the form of QR codes directing viewers to a targeted landing page. 

The value of QR codes is threefold:

  1. QR codes make TV commercials clickable. 
  2. They engage viewers across multiple screens and devices.
  3. They provide transparency and measurability to advertisers. 

If you’re using a QR code, you’ll want to make sure it’s large enough for viewers to easily scan it from a distance, and paired with a clear CTA that entices viewers to take action (think exclusive discounts, special offers, or early access to new products).

Step 4: Personalize Creative to Different Audiences

CTV Audience Targeting-min

Given the advanced targeting capabilities of CTV, you’ll want to personalize your creative to different viewers. After all, if you’re segmenting your audience but you aren’t creating unique ads for each buyer, you’re not taking full advantage of the medium. 

Different messaging resonates with different buyers, so the visual and textual components of your ads should be tweaked accordingly. You also may choose to highlight different products and services in each campaign.

What does this look like? Say a Colorado Travel company identified three key customer segments: ski and snowboard enthusiasts, outdoor adventurers, and luxury travelers.

The ad creative could be planned as follows:

  • Ski and Snowboard Enthusiasts: This ad would showcase the most well-known ski resorts, clips of downhill action, and highlight an early bird promo for the winter season.

  • Outdoor Adventurers: This ad might showcase breathtaking hikes, pristine lakes, and idyllic camping locations.

  • Luxury Seekers: For this segment, the creative would showcase a spa nestled in the mountains, gourmet dining experiences, five-start hotels, and exclusive VIP deals.

It’s pretty obvious why this level of customization and relevance would perform better than a campaign that showed the same generic Colorado travel ad to all three segments. That said, we realize that not all marketers have the time or budget to take such a sophisticated approach.

As such, capabilities like dynamic creative and social media repurposing can help you quickly iterate using existing assets — both of which Strategus supports

Step 5: Nail the Basic Requirements and Specs

Once you’ve completed the steps above, you’ll want to package your assets into the correct size and file format. Here are the specs for connected TV ads.

Length: 15 seconds or 30 seconds (must be exact) 

File Format: MP4 only

File Tags: VAST only

File Quality: 1080p (1920x1080), 16:9 Ratio

File Size: 15-50 mb, preferably compressed at 1.15 Mbps, Max file size 250 mb 

Video Bitrate: Between 18,000 kbps to 30,000 kbps 

Audio Bitrate: A minimum of 192 kbps and the audio sample rate must be 48 kHz

Getting the technical components right is crucial to ensuring a seamless viewing experience. Why? Failure to meet these specs can cause latency and buffering, potentially causing viewers to abandon the app or even reboot their devices. As such, following the guidelines above is your best bet for delivering a polished ad without any hiccups.

CTV Ad Specs CTA PDF Download

Step 6: Put Guardrails in Place to Prevent Ad Fatigue

When consumers are exposed to the same ads at a high frequency, they may tune out altogether. Known as ad fatigue, this can negatively impact ROAS. It often occurs when the same creative repeats back-to-back within a single pod.

While some frequency is good (it can take seven or more exposures to a brand before customers are ready to make a purchase), all things should be done in moderation. As such, we recommend taking precautions to keep your audience engaged.

Below are some tips to prevent ad fatigue.

three ad options
Use Three Ad Creatives in Rotation

Since your audience is likely hyper-targeted, a single ad can become repetitive in no time. Having at least three creatives running concurrently will provide variety and ensure viewers aren't bombarded with the same message on repeat.

sequential story telling
Embrace Sequential Storytelling

Sequential CTV creatives allow you to tell a story that unfolds across multiple ads, rather than cramming everything into one. The sequence order can even be personalized based on viewer interaction. 

For example, viewers who complete a CTA in ad A might receive a tailored follow-up message with ad B, while those who don't complete the CTA will be served ad C. This approach fosters deeper engagement with your brand story, keeping viewers intrigued by tailoring the sequence to their journey.

movie-camera 
Refresh Your Creatives Quarterly  

If budgetary limitations prevent you from running three creatives simultaneously, consider refreshing your campaign at least once per quarter. Creative fatigue typically sets in after about three months of exposure. By swapping out the ad every three months, you’ll maintain audience interest by mixing up what they see.

retargeting
Use Different Creative When Retargeting

Are you planning to retarget viewers who see a CTV ad with an online video ad? That’s great — as long as you don’t use the same exact creative for retargeting campaigns. We recommend developing unique retargeting creatives that build upon the initial ad in a down-funnel motion.

frequency capping
Exclude Engaged Viewers With Frequency Capping

Building brand loyalty requires respecting user interactions. Avoid bombarding viewers with the same ad, especially if they've already engaged with it. Constant repetition can backfire, leading viewers to associate your brand with spam and hindering your ability to convert one-time viewers into loyal customers.

For this, you’ll want to confirm that your CTV ad partner offers frequency capping.

frequency-graph
Monitor Campaign Frequency for Optimal Performance

Monitoring campaign frequency is a more hands-on tactic for minimizing ad fatigue. 

When planning a CTV campaign, your audience size will play a vital role. Smaller audiences will experience fatigue faster than larger ones. As such, keeping a close eye on frequency allows you to gauge how often viewers are seeing your ad and adjust accordingly. If frequency starts to climb, consider strategies like expanding your target audience, broadening your geographic reach, or refreshing your creatives with new messaging.

This type of frequency control is obviously resource-intensive, which is why the Strategus team continuously monitors and optimizes our customers' campaigns so that they’re free to focus on more strategic initiatives.

landing-page
Track Landing Page Interaction to Gauge Performance

If your campaign continues to generate landing page conversions after the ad has been running for a while, it's a positive sign that the ads are resonating with viewers and the frequency is ideal. However, a leveling-off or decline in conversions can indicate the onset of creative fatigue. By monitoring landing page interaction, you can identify when it's time to refresh your creatives and reignite viewer engagement.

Step 7: Integrate Your CTV Ads Into Full-Funnel Campaigns

retarget_your_audience

CTV ads shouldn’t run in a vacuum. Rather, they should be linked with retargeting efforts in more clickable formats like paid search ads, social media ads, display ads, and online video ads.

When building a retargeting campaign, you’ll want to be intentional about the channels and messaging used at each stage of the journey. Here’s an example of how you could design a CTV-centric strategy that drives results.

Stage Channels and Approach
Awareness
  • CTV ads: Expose ideal customers to your brand with awareness messaging.

  • Display ads: Increase brand visibility by running display ads on relevant websites.
Consideration

 

  • CTV ads: Reinforce the value of your offering with subsequent CTV ads.

  • Display ads: Stay top-of-mind by reaching users who’ve already been exposed to your brand.

  • Streaming audio ads: Retarget potential buyers on music and podcast platforms.

  • Online video ads: Reach previous viewers of CTV ads on YouTube and other online video services.

Conversion
  • CTV ads: Make it easy for viewers to convert by serving ads with QR codes and a clear call to action.

  • Display ads: Give users another opportunity to click through to your website when actively engaging online.

  • Online video ads: Deliver more conversion-focused messaging in an online video format.

  • Paid social ads: Place clickable ads in your prospect’s social media feeds to drive purchases.

  • Paid search ads: Reach users searching relevant keywords in Google.

Combining all of these marketing efforts into a unified approach is the best way to drive performance. It also delivers the most value from your investment by keeping your brand top-of-mind until a buyer is ready to convert — and delivering relevant messaging each time you interact.

At Strategus, we’ve found that using a cross-device retargeting strategy like the one detailed above can increase conversions by 200% or more. That’s why it’s a standard part of our approach to CTV.

Is your CTV campaign reaching its full potential? Download the Complete Guide to CTV Retargeting to get the most out of your investment.

Step 8: Test and Optimize Campaigns in Flight

CTV is digital. And just like other digital channels, CTV campaigns should be monitored and optimized on an ongoing basis. A “set it and forget it” mentality leads to missed opportunities and wasted ad spend.

As such, our final tip is to test, test, test — and continuously refine your campaigns based on the data.

Obviously, this requires hands-on management and optimization. For this reason, many brands and agencies lacking in-house expertise chose to enlist the help of a managed services partner like Strategus to extend their team. 

Conclusion

While CTV isn’t rocket science, it involves a lot of moving parts. This is why agencies and brands looking to get the most out of their CTV efforts will need substantial expertise and resources.

With Strategus as your partner, these needs are quickly alleviated. Our dedicated team of CTV experts will work with you to understand your needs, client base, and long-term goals. From there, we’ll craft winning strategies from the ground up and optimize campaigns on an ongoing basis.

You gain access to countless publishers and data providers, advanced targeting and attribution solutions, and more, without taking on additional complexity. We also have solutions and partnerships for optimizing your existing creative — making it easy to deliver high-performance campaigns that put all the tips outlined above into practice.

Contact us today to learn if you are getting the most out of your CTV campaigns!

 

Traci Ruether is a content marketing consultant specializing in video tech. With over a decade of experience leading content strategy, she takes a metrics-driven approach to storytelling that drives traffic to her clients' websites. Follow her on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/traci-ruether or learn more at traci-writes.com.

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