The final season of Mad Men premiered this week with the aptly titled episode, “The end of an era.” The event had industry romantics pining once more for a time in advertising when creatives were king. In those days, the subtle alchemy behind brilliant art and copy was tucked away within the folds of inspired brains. If you wanted in, you hired the right talent.

But where we once wove brand stories from a cocktail of scotch, cigarettes and a lengthy brainstorm, we now generate them from 1s and 0s. Where we once seduced consumers with big ideas, we now stalk them obtusely down a path to conversion.

But what if creatives could refocus on that big idea and allow technology to take care of the rest? Programmatic creative gives the would-be Don Drapers among us license to do what we do best while the data steps in to speak not only to the audience, but to the individual. And it couldn’t have arrived at a better time, given that 74 percent of marketers reported using display advertising to build brand awareness.

Now, the 3-martini lunches? Those aren’t coming back.

Wait, why are you talking about creatives? I thought programmatic was for media buyers.

Yes and no. In our industry, “programmatic” has become synonymous with automated exchanges for the buying and selling of ad impressions. That’s the part for media buyers.

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But “programmatic” essentially means data plus automation. So, programmatic creative uses data to automatically create relevant messages that take into account the context or situation of a given consumer at a given moment in time.

So how is this different from the dynamic creative optimization we’re already doing?

With dynamic creative optimization, creative assets are optimized only for performance. If a certain combination of art and copy gets enough clicks, that variation is like cream rising to the top. It gets served over and over again.

But with programmatic creative, you’re optimizing creative message against data points in real-time. You’re setting rules for what ad to serve based on the audience insights or contextual data you have access to. Those data points can include time of day, weather, past behavior and more.

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So programmatic creative is proactive, not reactive.

But I’m already setting rules.

Perhaps, but most agencies use dynamic creative only to optimize a handful of ad variations against a few audience points. So if cookie data says a user is male and owns a home, they get ad A. If the data says he rents, he gets ad B. The problem is that this targeting isn’t scalable, and you quickly end up shrinking your potential audience by loads of segmentation.

Programmatic creative is more fluid. It’s less like picking from a list and more like using a decision tree. You’re optimizing more assets against a wider variety of data points, allowing for ads that are more relevant to individual consumers and more scalable, applicable to a deeper pool of consumers than dynamic creative.

Holy crap. That sounds like a lot of extra work.

Does it? If you’re a copywriter, you’re already writing dozens of lines for testing purposes. If you’re an art director, you’re already sourcing tons of images. If you’re in production, well, that’s where things get hairy.

“In the old days, if you had a weather signal and it said, ‘It’s sunny in Florida,’ then somebody had to go to an ad library and pull out a fixed flash ad that had a convertible in it,” said Peter Minnium, head of brand initiatives at the IAB. Or worse, they’d have to create that fixed flash ad from scratch.

With programmatic creative, copy lines and art are loaded automatically, no assembly required. And thanks to HTML5, those ads can be fed into any inventory size available, without diminishing the quality of your media, particularly on mobile.

“Its very easy for Ford to come up with 100 different pictures of the Mustang, one with snow tires and one that’s pink.” Data signals tell the system how to combine art and copy for Florida–a beach, in-state lease pricing, a proper copy line.

That last bit sounds a lot like direct. What about my Lionnes-winning big idea?

That’s just what Minnium dreamed up.

More than a quarter of advertisers surveyed in our State of the Industry Report said they spend 41 to 60 percent of their display budgets to build brand awareness. That’s not click-to-buy, that’s high-level, top-of-the-funnel stuff.

Thanks to a wide range of technologies, creative departments can use display video HTML5 ads to tell big, bold brand stories across platforms and, using ad sequencing, across time. Using data-driven creative, agencies can give their display campaigns a genuine narrative arc and show the right story to the right people, using data signals to set their parameters.

Does your story happen over the course of a day? Use time-based signals to show “chapters” morning, noon and night? Is it a point-of-view play, with different family members coming at the same problem from different perspectives? Use data rules to reach them properly.

That’s a challenge worthy of a great creative mind.

Like Don Draper?

On his best day, all that the three-martini joker had to do was come up with one TV ad. We’re talking about you.

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