VMG Digital’s Peter Smyth on How to Leverage Interactive Ads for Brand Success

VMG Digital’s Peter Smyth on How to Leverage Interactive Ads for Brand Success

Interview by Maja Skokleska
Published: February 21, 2023

Who Is Peter Smyth

Peter has 20 years of experience in the advertising industry and 16 of those have been focused on digital. He started in ad sales representing the likes of YouTube, Facebook and Myspace and later moved on to representing clients as Head of Digital Marketing for Sportsbet in Australia. Peter is also a former Facebook (Meta) Client Partner and heads up the IAB’s creative effectiveness stream for NZ digital advertising.

With digital advertising getting more and more aggressive and most consumers disliking ads, interactive ads stand out from what we see every day online by enticing engagement and encouraging activity and interaction with brands. 

In this interview, we talk to Peter Smyth, chief operating officer at VMG Digital, a creative agency focused on delivering standout ad campaigns across all digital platforms, about the importance of interactive ads for a brand’s success and how businesses can catch the audience’s attention with these ads the best. 

VMG Digital logo

Spotlight: 88% of marketers agree that interactive ads help brands differentiate themselves from the competition. Why do you think it’s important for a brand’s success? 

Peter Smyth: Great advertising doesn’t start with ‘brand’, it starts with solving a consumer problem. Typically this is established at the product level with marketing ensuring we understand how the offering will enhance consumers’ worlds. Interactive marketing provides the option for a more immersive way of delivering this. If a consumer so chooses they can dive a little deeper, play, learn, ask of a brand why this, and in what ways is it for ‘me’ specifically.   

Digital is not a one-way conversation or megaphone to the masses. It is personalized, customizable and rich in its capabilities — exploring these isn’t always easy but necessary to rise above the noise of your competition.  

Interactive marketing is a way of differentiating yourself from the competition, it allows for a deeper story to be told, and more of your values/personality to shine through, this enables consumers to feel closer to you and more likely to choose you when on the shop floor. They are not just buying the sum of the parts but buying into the greater meaning you represent and others perceive them as aligning themselves to when they showcase/display your brand.  

Speaking of interactive ads, 43% of consumers prefer to watch interactive videos to standard forms of video content. How can businesses catch their audience's attention using these kinds of videos the best?  

If we take off our marketing/business hats for a moment we recognize as consumers the types of experiences that are memorable and engaging to us. They typically deliver on a utility (usefulness) that enhances our day-to-day lives, perhaps they educate or go further and inspire us.  

Knowing what space you are in and right you have to deliver on particular themes for the outcomes you are seeking will help better shape your ad creative. Also, think about the mode a user is in when receiving your communications.   

If I wish to be entertained (I’m on YouTube during my lunch break or spending some time on any number of social channels) I want something that feels natural to the surface/space I’m in — this could be LoFi (shot by a creator) or high definition (using hot spots for product details, or binary decisions for a choose your own adventure). If the content is in a contextually relevant environment I likely have a more receptive audience open to hearing more specific detail on a product as I have an aligned interest and it is less about discovery and a greater willingness to explore.  

Ultimately it should always be quick to the point 2-3 seconds, and build over time (think chapters in a book with the first 3 seconds of chapter 1, the next 5 or 6 chapters 2, and the final 3-5 seconds of the closing of the book). And leverage the features of the platform to ensure a fit within the surrounding content you are asking them to not move on to.  

Sprout Social named VMG Digital as one of the top five TikTok creative agencies for 2023 and was recognized for its Samsung campaign. Tell us about the campaign and what the result was. 

VMG Digital was honored to be recognized among the top 5 global creative agencies for TikTok and to date we’ve produced nearly 100 different AR filters for brands on the platform.  

Samsung’s challenge was to drive awareness of the latest Fold3 and Flip3 smartphone under its Galaxy Z range to millennials in Vietnam. The idea was to bring forward how the impossible could be made possible with these new devices.  

The results demonstrated the power of AR and creator-led content with audiences and consumers engaged well beyond the brands' expectations. The AR filter and connected ad campaign drove over 1 billion video views (the fastest campaign to ever achieve the milestone in Vietnam) and saw Samung achieve the #1 market share in the market (September 2021). More importantly for Samsung, it also drove a 14% sales lift.  

You are TikTok branded effects partners. Can you tell us a bit more about this experience?  

VMG Digital was amongst the first global partners with TikTok Branded Effects TikTok’s closed AR platform for designing and building fit-for-purpose augmented reality filters.  

Working with TikTok is fantastic, the business moves at pace, is eager to challenge brands to push the boundaries and deliver fantastic consumer experiences that lead to further participation on their platform and of course, expects the same of their creative partners.  

There is little distinction today for a consumer between an ad and the surrounding videos, meaning that the fight for attention is a content battle and quality is not always shiny but fun/funny, entertaining, emotive and moving. From 2D to 3D and gamified filters the offering is interactive and guided by the user typically based on hand or facial gestures to deliver a new and entertaining experience.  

Getting the balance between brand integration and consumer-driven experience is where the art comes in deep brand engagement ensures connection to the message but likely reduces the reach and overall engagement as savvy audiences are not a fan of being sold to. Getting it right is sometimes the trade-off between brand saturation and providing an experience that delights audiences and sees further participation, and ideally sharing of the content for virality. We don’t always get the balance perfectly right but this is something we also love about the platform and format - it is evolving at a pace and what might have worked a few months ago is no longer fresh enough to delight audiences today. Staying current or ahead of trends is where the brand's bravery and reward come in. 

VMG Digital helps businesses like Amazon, Nestle and American Express transform their brand assets into effective ads across digital channels. How challenging is it to deliver strategies for brands like this, and can you highlight one project you are proud of?  

Large brands often come with years/decades of success and ingrained beliefs. Clear brand guidelines which provide rails to adhere to and ensure consistency of messaging. Handling this highly protected IP comes with great responsibility to uphold the value they have earned in their brand and at times the challenges of evolving the approach to help take them forward.   

Digital particularly represents a real challenge for established brands as it is not one channel but many, and each comes with its own nuances. Polished TVC’s for instance does not work across many social media platforms/formats and not just because we are moving from a landscape to square or portrait ratio. But elements like story arcs, where we don’t have passive attention to deliver a big reveal at the end of an ad or sound off meaning the narration or emotive audio overlay can be missed, require a more visual storytelling execution.  

Faster cuts and transitions, split screens, clever use of negative space, or the reinvention of the creative together. For Sephora in Taiwan (The Republic of China) we knew we had the challenge to bring the relatively unknown (locally), global offering of Sephora and its many benefits to audiences. It required a multi-faceted campaign built around the principles of social - show me, don't tell me, understand me and my concerns, and do it all in a way that ensures I’m not trading precious entertainment time for your ad message.  

Across formats, we delivered a mix of local user testimonials, zeroed in on points of difference including demonstrating the exclusive range of products, while traversing the concerns we knew were felt in the market; including other retailers delivering knock-off brands/products and lag times to receive shipment. VMG made the product recommendations, crafted uniquely Sephora branded animations, uncovered the testimonials, and produced the soundtrack to accompany it. Resulting in a campaign that was unmistakably Sephora and uniquely made for the Taiwan (The Republic of China) market.    

AR is a major buzz in marketing campaigns. How does it work and how businesses can take advantage of it?  

With Instagram and Facebook delivering 1.5bn AR-enabled devices every month and the likes of TikTok and particularly Snapchat leveraging AR as a core part of their offering the reach and possibilities are enormous.  

Branded AR filters can range from face masks to scanning objects to unlock rewards/hidden items, AR games controlled by blinking or moving your face and much, much more. Our suggestion is to think of a filter as a starting point for a campaign that requires a body of work around it to really benefit from its capabilities.  

This likely involves aligning your campaign with influencers and creators who can help get the word out there, engaging with the filter themselves and helping to make it both accessible and fashionable. Producing ads of these individuals showcasing the filter will lead to users interacting with the content as well providing opportunities for UGC (user-generated content) that will further the reach and ground swell around the movement. Finally building branded ads around both of these and to further explore the message under the campaign theme or hashtag will reinforce the overall message and ensure it is seared long in the minds of consumers well after the campaign has wrapped. 

Check out this Life’s Good Music Project for LG with over 7 billion video views and in excess of 2 million user-generated videos off the back of it it is a great example of how fun and a brand come together for great consumer engagement and business outcomes.  

VMG produces branded AR filters for Meta, Snapchat and TikTok. Research tells us that the format has enormous growth with brands' use vs. consumers' appetite for the interactive experience gulfs apart. According to recent IPSOS (Augmented Reality Shift) research, 75% of consumers are interested in using AR to interact with a product before buying. 3/5 eCommerce brands agree AR is now an essential part of their digital marketing. While 4/5 brands that used AR filters improved their brand awareness.  

And if you need more reasons 71% of brands that use AR state that it improves their loyalty and customer experience. Which is probably why 4/5 brands who already use AR ads say it provides an opportunity for deep meaning and engagement with customers.  

Lastly, what are some of the biggest 2023 trends we can expect to see in video marketing and advertising?   

  • Short form and Long form as one — brave brands going all in (digital first) with long-form content made for digital. It has been 13 years since Old Spice’s ‘The Man Your Man Could Smell Like.’  We may remember the 30-second ad but the true greatness came in the way the brand further explored the opportunity for engagement with 186 specifically tailored digital short-form responses. The results saw Old Spice become the #1 body wash for men and over 100% increase in sales year over year.  
  • Interactivity means engagement, and with engagement we have attention. But what comes first the truth is the two come together engagement opportunities provide a reason for heightened attention and provide a custom experience for the consumer. We can be playful, we can be humorous but we must also measure — and every click, piece of time spent on an area of an ad can be traced and should be better understood to connect back to our campaign’s reason for being. Hilarious cat videos will drive views but do little to drive business results, finding attention and viewers is not hard but aligning that to your offering, and ensuring it is as compelling as the social trend of the day is where art meets science meets content gold dust. 
  • Lo Fi: Social advertising is loaded with savvy consumers who are provided with choice, ensuring they choose to stay tuned into your ad will require a rethink of the script and the way it is produced. LoFi, UGC-style content will become big in the advertising space. The demand for authenticity and understanding of what matters to consumers and that you live in their world means not turning up with a classically shot TV ad. It means producing something that is fit for purpose and clearly gets what matters to them (and that varies - GREATLY) across audiences and formats. It will require an effort but not necessarily big budgets to achieve this. Audiences will reward this shift in approach and with their attention, then perception - and over time with their wallets. 
  • 3D and illustrated ads: For brands looking for another way to drive this engagement, looking and sounding different while retaining the reins on branding (rather than handing it over to Creators) will see an increase in 3D and illustrated characters emerge. The cost is still high here, due to the skills required for quality output typically not sitting in-house and possibly not within your traditional/digital creative agency, and the effort large, but the rewards and longevity of this approach can have proven fruitful for many brands. A good list of examples here by Wyzowl
  • AR as highlighted above has a major gap between brands' understanding and utilization of filters vs consumers and appetite for the utility. Yes, filters are often fun and engaging (typically leveraged at the top of the funnel) but it is the evidence surrounding how they also influence purchase behavior and customer loyalty that we expect clients to discover and look to harness. Right now AR sits in the innovation bucket of large campaigns as an opportunity to look and sound different — often associated with connecting with younger (Gen Z) audiences. As AR becomes more ubiquitous and mainstream we expect to see the scope of application broaden and its effects grow. 

Thank you for your time, Peter Smyth. Best of luck to you and VMG Digital! 

Keep up with VMG Digital on LinkedIn and read about other successful businesses here. 

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