Recently, a creative agency invited me to talk with them about the evolution in media buying technology. They wanted to better understand how programmatic and RTB—two of the driving forces of Advanced TV—were changing the advertising business. These were bright, sophisticated creatives, but the more we spoke, the more I sensed their apprehension, even fear.
I understood why when the creative director explained his view that the trouble with programmatic is that it moves us closer to a world where there's such a thing as the right answer. He argued that advertisers and their agencies would play it safe, and therefore close off the ideation that has given advertising its most memorable, iconic and groundbreaking work.
Programmatic is not the death of creativity. It does not even limit creativity. On the contrary, programmatic targeting delivers unique messages to unique people, therefore it should actually increase the need for ideas and creative output. To date, however, programmatic teams and creative teams have not worked well together, and creativity in digital ads is lagging as a result.
The present evolution of media buying demands that the creative side of the business innovate and improve more than ever. Reaching the right audience has never been easy, but incredibly that challenge—one the advertising business historically considered successful if only half the media budget was wasted—is becoming increasingly efficient thanks to programmatic. Today's media buys can be executed in real-time, targeted across platforms and addressed to consumers in multiple channels on a one-to-one basis. However, none of this technology matters if it carries a weak message.
Here are three examples of how programmatic actually creates new opportunities for creative:
1. Creative conceptualized for multichannel
Look at a sales funnel and you'll see the advertising spectrum neatly divided between brand advertising at the top and direct messaging at the bottom. The corresponding channels—TV to email—are staggered up and down the funnel. This is how our industry conceptualizes the buyer's journey, and yet we know the real world isn't so neatly segmented. Consumers see brand advertising alongside direct marketing, and few people make any distinction between the two. At the same time, consumers live in a multichannel world, moving between offline, mobile, Web and TV, again and again.
Too much of advertising creative (especially digital) has been a spray and pray approach—broad messages with broad audiences. Not enough effort has been put into tailoring the message.
Respecting user intent and adapting to the appropriate channel—email, display, social, TV, etc.—creates a need for more creativity and more messages.
It may even help wean our industry off of last view attribution, meaning creatives will get proper credit for their work and better feedback, too. But the big benefit is the new tool in the creative arsenal—the ability to develop true multichannel campaigns that deliver messages that are better aligned with each specific stage of the buyer's journey.
2. Creative for a specific audience
Today, creatives operate under a standard directive: create a message for a broad audience. But within any broad audience, there are multiple segments of consumers who don't share the same values, concerns or cultural references as the whole.
Consider a pizza brand's dilemma. On any given day, 13 percent of Americans eat pizza, according to a Department of Agriculture study. Pizza is incredibly popular, so the audience is pretty much everyone. But when it comes to ordering pizza delivery, you don't need a study to know that consumers over 30 are likely to phone their local pizza place, whereas those under 30 will probably place their orders online or through an app. It's unlikely that the same ad can speak effectively to both segments. So the creative team has a conundrum: Ignore part of the audience, or risk confusing them with a more cumbersome call to action. Neither choice is a good one, but the problem isn't a creative one. It's a deficiency in media buying.
Programmatic addresses this deficiency head on. Advertisers have already begun using Advanced TV to better segment their audiences. For the pizza brand, the solution is to produce one ad with two calls to action, one for each age group. From there, the advertiser and its technology vendors can use data to target the appropriate version to the correct household. But that's only the beginning. Just as more targeted audiences have ushered in a second golden age of television, so too will those audiences expect and respond to more sophisticated ads created uniquely for them. Programmatic offers an opportunity to embrace diverse personas with tailor-made creative.
3. Ensuring a level playing field
One unfortunate and longstanding truism in advertising is that loud-and-often can outmuscle good creative. In other words, big media buys can trump brilliant creative. But as programmatic makes media buys more efficient, the playing field levels. In television, the province of big brands with seemingly unlimited media budgets has been the traditional standard. Now, thanks to programmatic, smaller players are getting into the game. As that trend continues, advertising will become more of a meritocracy. Brands of all sizes will succeed based on two things: the skill and technology that powers their media buys, and the creative power of their messaging.
Just say something meaningful
Art, relationships and connecting with people have never been about right and wrong. My plea for the creative team I met with was to say something meaningful. Say something genuine. Just like any conversation, tailor your message to your audience.
Using the data that programmatic buying and targeting produces is a form of listening. Brands should listen. And if you want to keep your clients and get a few more—say something meaningful, and make it personal.