We’ve all heard about the fear of missing out (FOMO), but what about the fear of new formats? FONF may not roll off the tongue, but it’s been a problem in digital advertising since its beginning. An exciting advertising format will emerge within high-attention media, but advertisers miss out on the new avenue to securing impressions because they’re too comfortable with their existing creative pipelines.

Brands and agencies seeking incremental growth must take a break from business as usual and explore the full suite of emerging formats in the digital ecosystem—or risk being left behind by those who secure a first-mover advantage.

The Omnichannel Format Explosion is Not Slowing Down

The broad strokes of what makes digital advertising challenging are well-known: The fragmentation of audiences across a wide array of channels and devices has made omnichannel campaigns a necessity. Complicating matters further is the rate at which channels rise and fall, as well as how often new formats are introduced within those channels. Consider that, until relatively recently, TikTok didn’t exist outside China, and X was still Twitter.

This continued expansion and innovation increases the number of touchpoints between brands and consumers, but only if advertisers support them. If a new, high-performance format attracts ad spend, it creates a virtuous cycle that keeps money flowing between brands, content creators, vendors and platforms. But if advertisers continue funneling spend into existing channels, such innovations can wither on the vine.

At the top of the list of underexploited, yet growing, digital ad formats are audio, connected TV, in-game, digital out-of-home and native advertising. All require a distinct approach to make the most of their respective strengths, as they’re all tied closely to the medium through which they are delivered. Simply cutting and pasting creative from other channels with a few tweaks may be the simple option, but the resulting performance could paint a poor picture of the format’s full potential.

Take CTV, for example, which seems particularly shackled by the habits of advertisers whose imaginations are stuck in the linear days. What differentiates CTV is its ability to bring immediate, trackable touchpoints to the big-screen ad experience—such as QR codes or “send to phone” prompts acting as “clicks”—yet most creative used is a simple video file that doesn’t take advantage of CTV’s interactivity.

Of course, giving each format the full attention it deserves is easier said than done. Creative versioning is a notorious roadblock in asset production, and having to further tailor advertising for individual formats may be a bridge too far for overstretched teams. This is one area where generative AI will be transformative, as it can rapidly accelerate creative versioning, and we are already seeing models trained to alter assets to match format requirements.

Experimentation is Vital to Internal and External Advertiser Success

Growth in ad spend may have dipped since its pandemic heights, but the line is still trending upward, with agencies predicting steady or increasing budgets in the coming quarters. Such growth provides a margin for experimentation, and both in-house and agency advertising teams should allocate a portion of their resources toward testing unexplored channels and formats.

Experimentation is particularly important for agencies that differentiate themselves through a broader perspective of the advertising ecosystem and its opportunities to work across multiple clients and brands. If an agency strikes campaign performance gold by exploiting a nascent format, it could stand out in requests for proposals against competitors that stick to tried-and-tested strategies.

A wide and varied spread of formats can also help reverse the creative brain drain that has locked the advertising world in a yearslong talent crisis. Experimentation doesn’t just unlock opportunities; it provides genuine agency to the experimenters themselves. It’s a chance for talent to make a difference, rather than churn out the same old templated social posts and banner ads.

Most importantly, an experimental approach helps secure long-term success. Sticking to what is known may reduce risk in the short term, but it will eventually lead to obsolescence and restrict the creativity that is vital to a successful ad campaign. In an exhaustive consultation on the U.K.’s advertising sector, “a drift towards short-termism, performance marketing, and immediately measurable activity” was highlighted as a major hindrance.

For Novel Formats to Gain Traction, They Need to Be Promoted

Agencies and brands can’t be blamed for not adopting new formats if publishers and media owners do not promote them. The sell side shouldn’t take an “if you build it, they will come” approach to their format portfolio and must put their ad operations and sales teams to work demonstrating the value of underused inventory.

Many premium publishers have done a fantastic job of not just introducing bespoke, high-attention formats to their properties, but also combining them with owned and operated media planning and measurement platforms. By simplifying the buying process for advertisers and letting them get hands-on with performance data, premium publishers are removing the barriers that often push the buy side to the slick interfaces provided by walled gardens.

Of course, not all publishers have the resources or in-house expertise to take such an approach. Rather than resign themselves to running standard display ads, such publishers can work with partners who do the heavy lifting in selling their formats to the buy side. These partners can also help publishers integrate bespoke formats and connect them to open and private programmatic marketplaces to simplify monetization and attract advertisers seeking scale.

If the sell side goes on the charm offensive and brands and agencies are won over by the uplift potential of underexploited formats, the advertising ecosystem can continue to expand in new and unexpected ways. Format innovation and evolution are vital to discovering audiences and keeping them engaged, while also giving advertising talent a reason to be excited for the future of the industry.

(As published on Forbes)