Undertone’s Kelly Wenzel on the Resurgence of Creative

Kelly Wenzel is the SVP of Marketing at Undertone, a digital advertising company focused on delivering experiences for brands across PCs, mobiles and tablets. Kelly is a seasoned marketing professional with experience in software firms, having spent time at Optum and DataSynapse. We recently spoke with Kelly about online branding.

The Makegood: Kelly, how do brands stand out online?

KW: Brands need to be bold and focus on creating immersive advertising experiences that engage and entertain. It takes both right-brained talent and left-brained sense to make this happen. Developing creative executions that create cut-through and have impact, that’s right-brained talent; left-brained sense means applying the right technology and analytics to ensure brands reach the right audiences in the right context. This is easy (and perhaps obvious) to say, but disappointingly few are successful in fusing these elements together online.

The Makegood: What is your favorite recent online ad campaign?

KW: It was a Ford ad that ran in early 2011 and it is still stuck in my brain. Full disclosure, it was an Undertone PageGrabber™ unit done for the Ford F-150. Our technology takes a picture of the content page, overlays it so that the site becomes part of the ad creative. In this execution a chainsaw literally cuts through the clutter by slicing the webpage in half so this over-the-top takeover seizes your attention. The unit played the first time without sound, but it was so cool, tens of thousands of users chose to replay with sound. Then you could choose from a series of videos about the truck, as well as interactive content. I’m not a car person really, but I watched the clips anyway because they were so cool. It really integrated all of the elements – sight, sound, motion – to entertain and engage the audience and it did so very successfully, outperforming industry benchmarks. Viewers were even tweeting about it, saying they had “never seen anything like it.” Not surprising that it won a few industry awards as well.

The Makegood: What was a “game changer” in 2011 in the way of helping brands to leverage digital media?

KW: Tablets. The iPad created a new way for consumers to experience the Web and for brands to engage with them.  Tablet traffic is rising every day and with the introduction of new devices like Kindle Fire, the market will only grow.  Because tablets are used differently than laptops or phones, it offers more of a “lean back” experience and a new way to engage with content. I love what apps like USAToday and Flipboard are doing. And that tablets have brought some of the aesthetic of beautiful ads – like we see in print – to a digital medium.  Tablets are and will continue to be a huge game-changer for brands

The Makegood: In 2012, what is the number one thing you think we will see shift/change in the digital advertising ecosystem?

KW: Continued resurgence of the importance of creative. We’ve become an industry of techno-zealots. The first word in “ad tech” is still advertising. And yes, it’s benefited from technology advancements like programmatic buying and targeting. But advertising is all about being seen, about reaching your customer with your message. Isn’t that why we call it an “impression”? I don’t care how hyper-targeted a banner is: if it doesn’t get noticed, or remembered, it hasn’t met the brand’s objective. We need to get back to the basics because while technology is great, it doesn’t, on its own, help brands connect with consumers in meaningful ways. Great advertising – standout advertising – is as much about what the consumer sees (the creative) and where (the media) as it is the technology behind it.

The Makegood: What do you think is the biggest misconception about Undertone?

KW: That’s easy: the perception that we are an ad network. Our agency clients think of Undertone as a publisher extension or a portal replacement. Yes, we still operate a network, but that’s just one pillar of our business. Our Digital Innovation Studio™ is pioneering the design and delivery of deeply differentiated ad formats, taking what used to be complex, custom integrations and transforming them into simple, tag-and-serve executions. Undertone has exclusive relationships with publishers, in some cases licensing products and technology as part of these agreements. Calling Undertone a network is like calling Disney a theme park. It just doesn’t reflect the complete picture.

The Makegood: Thanks, Kelly.

This is article is the first of a series focused on online branding sponsored by Undertone. Look for more during the month of January.


  • Sam White

    Hey Kelly, pretty sure it wasn’t “your” technology, but Flashtalking’s that did the work you describe above. Credibility requires full disclosure 🙂