Commentary

The Last Mile: Bringing Creative Into the Ad Tech Revolution

The ad tech industry has made incredible strides in making media buying more efficient and consumer data more powerful, but the world of creative has, so far, been left somewhat in the cold. The increasing sophistication of media and data technology has resulted in more efficient spends and more precise targeting, but the art of storytelling has largely been stuck in the 20th century--think, Bill Bernbach but with a cool campaign dashboard. It’s time to bring creative back into the conversation. We need to think not only about where ads run but also what’s being run. We need to better marry creative and technology to understand what resonates with consumers. And we need to create compelling campaigns that actually engage on a personal level and a global scale.

Historically, silos have existed between brands, media and creative teams. As a result, the way we’ve approached online advertising has been extremely compartmentalized: The idea was conceptualized and created; media strategies were formulated and implemented; and effectiveness was evaluated. As a result, the development of new ad technologies has been fragmented. Ad exchanges, DSPs and SSPs have proliferated to improve media buying. DMPs have sprouted to better aggregate and store consumer data.

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Now it’s creative’s turn. We’re now at a point where technology can (and should) be driving the creative process. Today’s technology allows advertisers and agencies to better understand the consumer and, more importantly, drive consumer engagement.

Broadly speaking, the tools I’m talking about fall under three categories, which I like to call localization tools, personalization tools and optimization tools. Localization represents the most basic level of dynamic creative--ads that update in real-time to match the user’s location, the local weather, the time of day and so on. Personalization takes this one step further--ads that update to match the consumer’s personal attributes: age, gender, buying history, online and offline activity, and so forth. This is where first- and third-party data kicks in. Then there’s optimization. Here we’re talking about tools that can help brands and agencies automatically test creative and determine in real time which creative is most effective for a given customer. These tools aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, they are most effective when used in tandem. 

Consider the following example: A large CPG brand wants to increase awareness of a new performance deodorant it recently launched. The company wants to target the six largest DMA’s in the U.S.--New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco-Oakland and Dallas-Fort Worth. And they’ve identified three key audience segments: young adults, who are always eager to try new products; sports enthusiasts, who are looking for a stronger, longer-lasting deodorant; and the style conscious, who are attracted to the fragrance.

Previously, it would have been cost prohibitive to target each market and each audience segment individually, but today’s technology can help advertisers do just that. Specific elements of copy and creative can be localized and personalized on the fly. For the Dallas-based sports enthusiast: A flag football game with the copy, “Just because everything’s bigger in Texas doesn’t mean your body odor has to be.” For the style conscious New Yorker: A beautiful woman walking down Fifth Avenue with the copy, “Hey New York, B.O. is sooo last season.” And for the young Bay area denizen, something more irreverent: “Earthy, crunchy granola good. Earthy, crunchy armpits bad.” This sort of localized, personalized messaging boosts the performance of persuasive advertising. Moreover, optimization technology can allow the advertiser to cycle out under performing copy and creative.  

There’s an added benefit in that this type of tailoring can be done on individual elements within an ad, meaning advertisers can easily achieve personalization and localization while maintaining consistent, well-defined brand attributes. By mixing such fixed and variable elements, advertisers can create an instantaneous rapport with customers through user-centric messaging while engaging in the all-important slow-play of brand building.

The ad tech industry has seen incredible changes in the last 15 years--from the first ad networks in the early 2000s, to the rise of the DMPs in the early part of this decade, to the creative performance technologies of today. Bringing everything together will help advertisers make truly powerful online campaigns. This isn’t just a technological challenge. As the ad tech community continues to develop better creative ad technology, brands and agencies need to make a shift in their mindsets and embrace technology as a tool to make the creative process more efficient and more effective. That’s the real promise of ad tech, the ability for brands to connect with consumers on a personal level, and do so on a global scale. 

2 comments about "The Last Mile: Bringing Creative Into the Ad Tech Revolution".
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  1. Sandra Lawrence from btg design, September 16, 2014 at 10:59 a.m.

    Glad to see the trend of more creativity in technology. They need to tap those traditional creative directors/designers because they can often see that technology from a different point of view and offer solutions that tech driven companies may not think of.
    For me as a designer I some times get offered projects and am entrusted with to elevate a brand or engage in conversation that convinces a non-profit to try new digital ideas. It's good to be able to partner with a tech persons that can be of help in developing my ideas.

  2. Ben Kartzman from Spongecell, September 17, 2014 at 11:57 p.m.

    Thanks for the comment, Alan. I think you’re right on the money. Bill Bernbach wouldn’t want a dashboard, but David Ogilvy might. ;-) But that’s exactly my point—we on the technology side of the equation need to start thinking about how we can help advertisers tell stories, not just how we can put things in pretty dashboards. It’s not just about localization, personalization and optimization in the crudest, most rudimentary sense. I mean, would the Levy’s Rye campaign have been more effective if the face staring back at the reader matched her race, gender, socio-economic status with clinical precision? Of course not. The beauty of the campaign came from the magical felicity of the totally unexpected. But let me ask you this—when you think about that campaign, what’s the face that you see? What’s the indelible image that’s etched into your brain? Is it the police office? The Native American? The American Gothic lookalike? Why is that the image you remember? Do you remember the boy with the red bow? The man in the tae kwon do uniform? If not, why not? I could go on and on. These are the things I want to understand, and these are the things I think only technology can answer. It’s not a replacement for the big idea; just a way to make the big idea more effective. Since we’re having a Bernbach moment here, there’s a quote I like that is—perhaps apocryphally—attributed to him. It goes something like, writers care about what goes into their writings; communicators care about what the reader gets out it. I think that’s what creative technology is all about—understanding the reader and what they take from a message. And with that, I’m going to make myself a corned beef sandwich on rye!

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