For a long time, digital display was exclusively the domain of direct response. As a result, creative integrity and effective messaging were often sacrificed in a myopic pursuit for perfect placements. Not anymore.
“The importance of display messaging is huge, especially as we get increasingly detailed media targeting,” said Scott Symonds, director of media at AKQA. But while targeting has become more and more exact, the ability to tailor a creative message hasn’t quite kept up. “I don’t think we’re nearly as close to representing that in the creative yet. And there can be 30 or 40 percent improvement opportunity with better creative.”
There’s a clear incentive for allocating more budget to creative resources, and we talked to Symonds about how he’s effectively using display for brand awareness, the challenges that remain and what he expects from the future of dynamic creative optimization.
What’s stopping so many brands from using display successfully at the awareness level?
We have too many clients trying to use a broadcast mentality with digital when it’s actually a post-broadcast, much more targetable and CRM-like tactic with the amount of data we have. We shouldn’t be creating broadcast, one-size-fits-all ads; we should be segmenting and tailoring and being more CRM-focused.
About how much of your display spend focuses on brand awareness?
So 20 percent of display and 10 percent of all digital marketing is probably overall awareness-focused as opposed to performance- or conversion-centric. CPGs and others have avoided awareness display buying only because they couldn’t correlate it to an event.
But Walmart is already experimenting with having you only pay for an ad if there’s been a purchase. It’s a pretty radical shift from what awareness advertising used to be. And also, toolsets for general awareness advertisers are there now, and they’re better than they used to be.
What do some of those tools look like?
The majority of what we do is rich media. It has an awful lot of functions. For an entertainment client, to have it expand and have a full video play is something that we do a lot. For automotive clients, you can start configuring a car in-banner and create some level of initial engagement to be carried over to the site. For CPG, it might be games, a way to create context around a brand with a quick in-banner experience.
Especially for awareness or branding, our mantra is that only about one in a thousand people are going to click through to your site. We can’t design our campaigns or our creative for site visits. We must have the impact we’re seeking within the banner, and rich media gives us a big pallet with which to do it.
And how do you know that these rich ad units are working?
We use viewability verification to make sure the ad was actually seen. We use a lot of attention analytics providers to tell if the ad was viewable, for how long it was in view and what components of the ad were engaged with in some way. We find these correlate much higher to business results than a click. And then we do quick qualitative surveys to make sure that the people who saw it liked it and it had a positive influence on the brand. There are the tools to make sure the awareness part is taken care of versus a pure in-session ROI event, which has been the whole history of the web until fairly recently.
So why haven’t rich media display units solved all of agencies’ ailments?
It’s hard to manually hardcode ten versions of an ad. We need to get more dynamic. We’re working hard on what we call programmatic creative. It’s not about making 100 ads; it’s about having templates so it’s fairly componentized so you can change the message to focus from branding to price to a coupon.
So is it a problem of scale?
No, there are plenty of impressions available. On the publisher side, they don’t know the difference between rich and standard ads. The challenge for scale is when you use production and hard code 20 banners. The whole value is scalability.
Okay, so how would you optimize this kind of targeted creative customization?
If you think about responsive design where the consumer comes on a mobile phone or desktop and the ad both reconfigures its format and prioritizes content based on the assumptions of that device, we want advertising to have that same type of responsiveness. The holy grail would be fully componentized advertising that could assemble itself in high fidelity across mobile, tablet or desktop: cross-platform awareness and responsive design, componentized with machine-learning data decisioning pushing this all along. Google has a lot of interest in this. They’re already auto-translating Flash into HTML for mobile.
How close do you think the industry is to seeing your wish come true?
There are only a few vendors trying to solve these things. We see companies like Celtra and Google trying to create more dynamic ad platforms. We’re seeing energy there, and for all the obvious energy that programmatic media’s getting, programmatic creative solutions is an area to watch in the future.