Commentary

Algorhithmic Creative -- A Formula For Feeling?

  • by August 20, 2007
As the automation of virutally every aspect of the interactive advertising business continues at speeds that barely leave time for the VCs to catch their breath, it was only a matter of time before some bright guys with no agency experience came along and decided that since we've automated everything else, why not just automate the whole creative process? Heck, if we can use algorithms to optimize messages, why not just write one to create them?

If you step back and think about it, we now have a bevvy of online dashboard businesses and brands for just about every aspect of online advertising. From build your own sites, to build your own spots, to build your own media plans, at build your own auction prices, to place your own buys, to target your own buyers, contextual or behavioral, from serve your own ads, to measure your own results - there's even a dashboard to mine conversations that separates the brand detractors from the brand evangelists.

In most every case, the force behind enabling this level of automation is the computational algorithm itself - which, according to Wikipedia, in mathematics, computing, and related disciplines, is a finite list of well-defined instructions for accomplishing some task that, given an initial state, will terminate in a defined end-state. Best as I could translate as a dumbed-down creative, it's where human calculation ends and the computation of infinite possibilities begins.

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But as any smart media person will tell you, computations aside, creative execution plays at least half the role in determining the effectiveness of any interactive advertising. It's the creative that intrigues, involves, and hopefully persuades you to act. And that's neither rational nor computable -- it's emotional.

The point is, despite how much more sophisticated the algorithms and authoring tools get at search, assembly, contextual and behavioral serving, etc., advertising still has to move you. And that comes down to the kind of creative that makes you feel -- not just think.

To agency writers and designers, this means becoming a practitioner at the narrative craft of drawing you in, getting you involved, and making you react emotionally. And that's an entirely different beast than simply activating technology that promises to optimize your narrative for conversion. Creatively, this has been the challenge for the banner, the pre-roll, even the next whizbang expandable rich media application. Because while these units may drive our ad-supported model, they have not adequately proven their ability to make the consumer feel .... just convert, please.

Conversely, too many traditional agencies use this emotional requisite, otherwise known as the "Big Idea," as the only holy grail of real advertising currency. My experience with my creative peers is that it's just an excuse to hide behind their lack of knowledge and practice in the interactive space.

And this is precisely where creative agencies and cultures go left -- while the geeks go right, thinking there's an algorithm that can bypass the creatives and simply write it for us.

By relying too heavily on these sophisticated algorithms for tasks beyond near-real-time metrics and learning, we face a future of marketers trained in dangerous habits that technology companies are out there preaching today -- things like real-time dynamic optimization of creative messages -- churning out dozens of copy versions and banner executions for one campaign; changing layouts on the fly and cramming the call to action into the banner ad from beginning to end -- in many cases, before we've even gotten the consumer's attention.

Is this the interactive advertising we are destined to produce? Turning our creative departments into cookie-cutter banner factories whose work is designed to simply be more interruptive and coercive?

From where I sit, lead generation is one thing. But brand building is quite another. In case you were wondering, there's a reason most creatives opt to work in general advertising rather than spend their careers according to the formulaic methods of direct marketing: It's about making someone feel before they act.

The bigger task we all face is how to join hands and get great emotive creative, being served to just the right people at just the right time.

We have the technology. We have the talent. We have the content.

If I could just get the brand's media planners to return my call for collaboration, maybe we could get something going here -- no secret algorithmic formulas required.

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