Most people in ad tech land have heard of Xaxis, WPP’s programmatic media unit. But what about Xaxis Ad Labs? It’s a business unit within Xaxis that has a creative services business offering desktop display and mobile creative services. It also works with display assets to make them mobile.
In addition, the unit does product development within Xaxis. It employs data and targeting specialists, designers, and developers who help devise ad formats and data integrations with creative.
And, of course, Xaxis Ad Labs works on programmatic creative and campaigns in which it takes real-time data signals and generates creative templates based on those signals. For example, it will make ad copy for a campaign targeting moms different from copy for a campaign targeting outdoor enthusiasts.
Tim Bagwell, VP of Xaxis Ad Labs, said there are often missed opportunities for creative stakeholders to work with media-buying professionals. He said media pros are always thinking about creative capabilities.
One of the challenges, he said, is that creative agencies might not generate the media plan -- but if they knew about data signals and insights, they could potentially create more wide-ranging content packages that address all types of use cases. More types of content would be useful further down the funnel: “They could create standards for personalization,” Bagwell said.
Xaxis Ad Labs essentially does “personalized creative." And its mission is to connect data with creative execution, Bagwell said.
Bagwell said Xaxis Ad Labs’ creative services business builds interactive ad units—expandables, overalays, video, display, and mobile units. “We’re taking existing assets and making something new based on the client’s goals. Say the client has a video and wants an overlay. That business objective is more about creative and interaction and less about data.”
Among the components of the Xaxis Ad Labs business is programmatic, whereby Xaxis interprets data signals that are external to the advertising creative. Say it’s an event like product retargeting. Someone goes to a site and adds a product to a shopping cart. That’s a signal that she's ripe for engaging with a relevant ad.
Perhaps the consumer didn’t purchase the product -- what then? “We can help clients find the right signal and engage audience members. Then we put the creative into real-time. For example, we ad the purchase data,” Bagwell said. “We can target people who bought razors recently, so they’re probably ripe for buying shaving cream. Xaxis is seeing users multiple times within minutes online so we can retarget people immediately.”
Separate from the Ad Labs, Xaxis’ trading team thinks about audiences and analytics and what the right retargeting strategy is for a consumer packaged goods client vs. a fashion client. Bagwell’s team offers the tools needed to capture the signal and provides the creative template in real-time. “We’re helping clients take advantage of all the data and tech in real time and making sure that the creative mirrors the client’s audience’s interests,” he said.
Xaxis Ad Labs also seeks to understand people as individuals—their interests, visits to certain sites, patterns, and other data that Xaxis has obtained from a GroupM agency or an external source.
For example, say Xaxis targets women 25 to 35, who have bachelors’ degrees and make at least $100k. “We might choose different imagery and videos to show them.”
And take an auto marketer that has a luxury SUV. That SUV might be purchased by an older couple, millennials, families, and outdoor enthusiasts. Those groups have four different audience profiles, so the campaigns require different messaging and creative imagery for each profile.
“We might talk about different things for each of these audiences. When we know something about the audience, we can personalize the conversation. We can talk to you as if we’ve known you,” said Bagwell.
Xaxis also works with environmental signals -- for example, using signals about where the closest retail location is to a consumer. And Xaxis can take a company’s product mix and make it more relevant to the target consumer. For example, based on a user's searches for Caribbean destinations, Xaxis can show swimsuits and shorts because it deduces that the consumer is a travel intender.
Bagwell emphasizes that the social audience can be different from a marketer’s audience as a whole. Social platforms have data, but they are protective of it. “Social is not something from the creative side that we use as often as we could or should,” Bagwell explained.
Notably, he mentioned the word “fleek,” one of many new words surfacing in pop culture disseminated on social media. “Using social listening, you can begin to understand audiences and the words they use on Twitter and Instgram to describe things that are interesting,” Bagwell said. In other words, language can inform creative.
Some pain points for clients are that they often don’t know where to start. There are literally hundreds of thousands of signals and there are thousands of ways to message audiences. And it’s still possible not to come up with a determination of what’s effective for the audience.
The second challenge for marketers is content. Bagwell stressed that the agency world is very linear. There’s the research phase, then creative ideation, a brand campaign, TV and print executions, and then things trickle down to digital creative.
“Xaxis is at the bottom end of that flow,” Bagwell said. “Creative assets are developed for a broad audience and not customized.”
Instead, he said, the process should be iterative. “You don’t always know what data is valuable. You have to test messages and creative.”
Bagwell said the opportunity for more personalized creative informed by data and signals does exist. For example, a WPP agency can do the research, devise the creative messaging, then integrate data signals, and iterate on content. “You can make lots of different video vignettes that can be stitched together for different audience needs. The future is the creative agencies and Xaxis becoming more closely aligned.”