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By Cillian Connolly on 25 Mar 2024

The traditional playbook of retail digital marketing is being rewritten. As AI-powered advertising technologies like Google’s PMax and Meta’s Advantage+ extend their influence, the control marketers once held over the levers of digital advertising is diminishing. It's a pivotal moment for the industry, signalling a shift towards a new kind of battleground where creativity, not just budget size or keyword selection, is becoming the key to capturing consumer attention.

But here's the twist: while AI might be narrowing the field in terms of operational control, it's simultaneously widening the canvas for creative expression.

From what we're seeing across our client base, creative content is stepping into the spotlight as the ultimate tool for differentiation and engagement.

It’s not just about making an impression anymore; it’s about making a memorable, impactful connection.

As we dive into this new era, the message for CMOs and digital marketers in retail is clear: harnessing the power of creative content is not just an option; it's a necessity. The brands that will thrive are those that leverage AI's reach and efficiency, combined with compelling, creative storytelling that resonates with their audience. Let's explore how creativity has emerged as the new currency in the digital marketplace and why it's your most valuable asset in the AI-driven world of retail marketing.

Leveraging Creative for Competitive Advantage

In recent years, digital marketers have grappled with rising CPCs, driven by increased competition on their favourite platforms, particularly Meta and Google Ads. 

Meta and Google responded to this with their machine learning and AI powered campaigns: Advantage+ and Performance Max. This has had a positive impact for advertisers, having a stabilising effect on advertising costs. And the good news is, these AI powered campaigns DO work.

Data from our retail clients in 2023 shows that revenue generated on Meta increased 42% with just a 23% increase in Ad Spend. 

The only downside to these types of campaigns is that the levers we used to control to drive campaign performance were essentially taken away:

Should AI reign supreme (and it’d be hard to bet against that right now), creativity will become the linchpin for retail brands aiming to stand out from the rest. 

The battleground has shifted; it's no longer just about who has the bigger ad spend or best optimised ad sets. It's about who can tell the most compelling story, create the most engaging content, and forge the strongest connections with their audience. 

Let's dive into three key strategies we believe will be game-changers for creative marketing in retail in 2024.

1. Embracing 'SEOcial' Strategy 

It's time to blur the lines between search engine optimisation and social media buzz. In a world where trends move at lightning speed, aligning your content strategy with real-time social trends and search insights can catapult your brand to the forefront of consumer consciousness. By leveraging SEOcial strategies, your content does double duty, boosting your organic visibility while resonating deeply with the social media-savvy shopper.

Our recent work with SOSU Cosmetics is a great example of the power that can be generated through an ‘SEOcial’ strategy. By using TikTok’s latest Keyword Insights Tool, we discovered that terms like ‘lashes’ and ‘mascara’ were among the top trending in the Beauty & Cosmetics category. 

By tailoring SOSU’s video content to these trends, SOSU didn't just participate in the conversation; they led it. This strategic alignment resulted in the brand transforming their lash sales, going from decline to a remarkable +9% increase in net sales volume and a +22% boost in gross revenue month-on-month, demonstrating the tangible benefits of syncing SEO and social media insights​.

2. Authenticity Through Storytelling 

Authenticity is a word that’s sometimes overused in marketing, but the fact remains: authenticity is the currency of trust in today's digital marketplace. Retail brands that dare to bare their souls, share their stories, and build genuine connections will find themselves rewarded with loyalty that no amount of paid advertising can buy. From customer success stories to behind-the-scenes peeks, authentic storytelling is your key to unlocking deeper brand engagement.

Woodie’s DIY’s campaign (you can find the detailed case study here) is a prime example of leveraging authenticity to enhance consumer engagement. By focusing on people-led content—ranging from influencers to user-generated content, and even their own workforce—the brand achieved a more authentic connection with their audience. 


The results spoke volumes:

  • Meta CPCs down 22%
  • Pinterest CPCs down 41%
  • YOY online revenue up 12%
  • YOY social media revenue up 73%

This strategy underscores the irreplaceable value of genuine, relatable content in building trust and driving engagement.

3. Diverse Content

In the age of TikTok and Reels, short-form video is an incredibly potent tool for capturing attention. But it's not just about being present on these platforms; it's about innovating within them. 

Brands need to get comfortable in diversifying their content and embracing the short-form formats in order to meet the audience where they are, in a format they appreciate.

The ‘Tax Service Industry’ might not seem like the most engaging subject to inspire playfulness with TikTok Ads, but we didn’t see it that way. We revitalised Irish Tax Rebates’ creative approach, delivering an engaging experience optimised to resonate with users. 

We moved away from generic, informative-only ad creative:

And shifted towards running ad creative designed to catch and hold user attention…

This brave creative shift drove significant improvements in user engagement and reach.

User watch times increased by 137% assisting in a 42% increase in overall applications for Irish Tax Rebates.

The Future of Retail Digital Marketing

In an AI environment, the brands that will shine are those that prioritise and invest in their creative. 

By embracing data-driven strategies like ‘SEOcial’, committing to authenticity and innovating within the ever-changing landscape, retail marketers can both stand out and foster genuine connection with their target consumers… and sustainably grow their businesses into the future.

For CMOs and digital marketing managers in the competitive retail sector, the message is clear: let creativity lead the way.

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