Many worry that programmatic — with its reliance on algorithms and artificial intelligence — threatens creativity in advertising. Others argue that letting machines take care of automated tasks offers brands and their agencies a chance to focus on generating brilliant marketing messages to appeal to consumers exactly when they're needed most.

February 2015

Gaining maximum benefit from programmatic requires creative and media agencies to coordinate efforts closely. "Get them working together to better understand how programmatic can present an opportunity for creativity rather than a threat to it," says Nigel Gwilliam, the IPA's Head of Media & Emerging Technology. "Creativity can benefit from programmatic, and advertising can benefit from that creativity." Here are four ways that programmatic can boost the work of creative teams.

Think beyond direct response

People tend to associate programmatic with direct response, but its capabilities now extend far beyond this. Initially inventory was limited, with the emphasis on measuring conversions at the end of the consumer's purchase journey. "It was sort of like, 'Ooh, remnant inventory, maybe not so brand-friendly,'" remembers DoubleClick Platforms Specialist Polly Browne. "But now we're launching YouTube TrueView units within DoubleClick Bid Manager and you've got native ad formats coming into AdExchange."

Used intelligently, programmatic offers a way to develop customer relationships over a period of time. "The challenge — and we all know it's coming — is that as programmatic reaches up into the brand space, it's going to profoundly affect the assets that we produce," says Christian Purser, Chief Digital Officer at M&C Saatchi. "The next best action for somebody who has given us a signal on your website might be a how-to video or product demonstration; it might not be a promotion or the same ad that brought them there in the first place. As we edge towards cross-device personalised conversations and narratives, we need to think more about how we move consumers on in that process — and that might not be a barnstorming ad when we're getting quite close to the point of choice for them."

Build flexible assets to work within automated processes

Programmatic lets brands harness up-to-the-minute data to decide on appropriate advertising to show at any given point in time, but this does create a demand for dynamic, flexible assets. "Creative agencies have to be more agile," says Gawain Owen, Digital Lead for Nestle. "If I need a creative unit turned around in 24 hours, it's 24 hours, not seven days. That is using real-time information to really influence the way that we are engaging with our consumer."

Advance planning smoothes the way; a client and its agencies can settle on a number of format options, as well as copy, imagery, colour, placements, size and so forth. Then, the creative team should have the freedom to adjust these on a day-to-day basis. "We don't need to reinvent the creative message for every impression; we just need to find the right message for that segment and then we'll run that activity," Christian explains. "For the majority of clients, a lot of this messaging should be evergreen, so we should be able to reuse and optimise it over time. It's about pointcasting — personalised messaging — not about broadcasts. It doesn't wear out when you're only talking to a segment of one."

Gain freedom from one-size-fits-all advertising

With devices proliferating and usage of mobile and video on the rise, it's a fact that producing one creative for a single ad unit is no longer enough. "The targeting has improved a thousand-fold, yet often we're using the same three pieces of creative," observes Havas Media CEO Paul Frampton. "Having better data to understand and inform the type of creative message is really important."

Christian agrees: "I don't think that programmatic and the relentless march of automation means the death of creativity, but it is the death of a one-size-fits-all commercial and operating model." Technology available today enables teams to tailor ads to defined audiences, which can only make them more effective. "You can't just put a headline and an image together in a square box and serve that to the consumer and expect it to convert at the same level as something which is carrying the values of the brand, something which is specific to the audience in that precise moment in time."

Optimise creatives to keep up with the user

Rather than imagining programmatic is just data and tech, smart agencies view it as a tool to make their creatives better. "You've got those real-time signals coming back in," Paul affirms, "so I think we have a bit of a responsibility actually to deliver more meaningful advertising to people."

Gawain offers an example from Nestle. "When we get a brand-new TV advert, we will actually put a small amount of money to run it through the programmatic channels and monitor second-by-second where people are dropping out. We then come back together and say, 'Actually, we've gone from 85% engagement all the way down to 65 in a matter of three seconds; can we go back and edit that point in the video, is there something we can do?' So we end up using real-time audience data to bring our media agency and our creative agency together to actually enhance what we're putting out to our consumers."