Ashton Media
Marketing & Customer Experience Hub

Creative in the age of programmatic


In this age of programmatic media, some people think creative is becoming less important because technology can make up for it. This is fundamentally wrong. With the spread and proliferation of tech levelling the playing field, creative is more important than ever before.

Online Advertising

Right now, the programmatic hype is around getting a technological advantage. The reality is that soon everyone will have the same automated means at their disposal: we will all be using the same level of targeting, the same degree of optimisation, the same efficiencies in the buy. And with ad tech becoming a commodity, creative will be the only way to beat your competitors.   

It’s easy to get lost in the minutia and detail of the technology which empowers programmatic but it’s dangerous as you can lose sight of the fundamentals. You still have to apply the same principles as in any other medium. You need to understand the consumer. You need to find the right strategy and message. You need to express it in the right way. Yes, you can test various versions of these, but unless you have a strong starting point, it’s pretty much useless.  

The tech may give you a 5% or 10% uplift through optimisation, but if you start with the wrong insight then put a crap message and dull creative into the machine, your optimisation is only going to give you a result which is 10% less crap. You’re not, all of a sudden, going to get something great.

“Of course,” you’ll say, “a creative agency is going to think that creative is really important.” So don’t take my word for it. There are numerous studies which deliver clear evidence that creativity is a key factor for delivering ROI. Paul Sinkinson, vice president Analytic Partners, wrote a great piece earlier this year, stating that “the single biggest opportunity for Australian marketers to focus on in 2016 is their creative”. His comment was based on research which found creative can produce an ROI uplift in every medium from TV, which sees an increase of more than 60%, to digital where the increase is greater than 30%.  


Shifting the focus from technology

As a creative agency, it’s not so much the efficiencies or pure tech aspect of programmatic which get us excited. Our two main areas of interest are insight and control.  

Let’s talk about insight first. Programmatic platforms have the power to provide real‐time data, from which we can derive more granular insights leading to more tailored creative. It allows us to deliver the right message to the right person at right time. This has huge potential to create better more effective creative work. Unfortunately, it’s all simply theory until you actually have access to the data in real-time which most creative agencies don’t have, and the processes or creative skills to action them which most media agencies don’t have.

In order to make full use of programmatic, it is therefore absolutely critical for media and creative thinking to sit together. There are various approaches to make this work, but utilising separate linear workstreams where the creative agency develops the assets before handing them to the media agency to manage is definitely not one of them. In one way or another, the people who make strategic and creative decisions need to be involved in the actual targeting, the micro-segmentation, the optimisation. We as a creative agency want and need to ‘feel the pulse’ of the campaign and this requires direct access to the data. Only then can we evolve and strengthen the creative that works, eliminate what doesn’t work, and potentially find new insights.  

The second reason programmatic is interesting to us as a creative agency is control. When we make full use of cross-channel ad serving technology and sequential messaging, we gain a new level of control over the user experience and the messages they see. No product is sold in one go, with a single message or execution. You need at least three, four or five bites at the cherry until you convert. Forget about the brilliant single execution. Designing the customer journey while surprising and delighting users along an evolving messaging sequence is the new creative challenge today.

The creative canvas has become bigger and more interesting with your narrative spanning multiple executions and media. In order to excel at this, you have to understand the technology available and embark on the creative journey with programmatic delivery in mind. It’s a massive creative opportunity which is not yet being harnessed by a lot of creative agencies

Join Pascal at the Programmatic Forum on July 20. Click here to find out more.  

About Pascal Winkler – Strategist, Head of Connect at The Hallway
Pascal Winkler is leading the 'Connect' offering at The Hallway which includes everything from PR and social media to SEM and Programmatic.