As programmatic becomes more commonplace, what does that mean for creative?


by Mike O’Brien

Though creative is just as it always was, it’s being deployed in different ways as more brands and agencies do buy their ads programmatically.

As programmatic becomes more commonplace for brands and agencies, what does that mean for creative?

On one level, nothing, according to a recent panel discussion of executives from Google, Facebook and Ogilvy & Mather. Copywriting and art direction are just as much crucial talents to marketing as they ever were.

But as programmatic adoption increases so dramatically, those skills are simply deployed in different ways.


The data dilemma

The intersection of creative and programmatic starts with data. Using data from various sources, marketers are able to use programmatic to better ensure their ads are seen by the people who’d find them relevant.

“’What makes a good ad?’ is such a loaded question,” said Adam Berger, Facebook’s head of creative insights and distribution at Programmatic I/O last Thursday. “You need to understand the person, their mindset, and their needs and wants. What is a crappy ad to one person is a great ad to someone else.”

Berger added that targeted ads just fit in better with consumers’ online experiences, distracting and “calling them out” less. They’ve also been proven to be more effective, according to Nielsen research from last year.

But while data is the centerpiece of programmatic merging with creative, it can also provide the greatest difficulty.

The more data you have on your audiences, the more specific you’re able to target. Before you know it, your creative versioning can have an unmanageable number of ads, for every single possible segment.

Mike Glaser, senior product marketing manager at Google, recalls an EA Sports campaign with an asset library that allowed for creative based on every single NFL team.

“There was enough content to create 100,000 different ads that were programmatically stitched together and served to the right person,” he said.


The thing is, Google can pull something like that off. Not everyone else can.

To say there’s a lot of data out there would be an understatement on par with saying that Donald Trump is a bit divisive. In fact, the amount of data humanity created prior to 2003 is just about what we create every 10 minutes today.

It’s all potentially useful, but it’s not all useful all the time.

“Audience content, geography, time of day: maybe one of those signals is not relevant,” said Glaser. “Maybe geography has nothing to do with moving that person through the purchase journey, so we don’t go creating 500 ads or 50 ads when perhaps three would work.”

Automate your process, but not your creative

As with mobile and video, the technology is evolving too fast for the industry to keep up. In time, more marketers are learning to apply their data just right: granular enough for powerful personalization, but not so much so that 10,000 ads are necessary.

“The creative agency is moving that way, but it’s a couple of innings in; we haven’t gotten all the way there yet,” said Brandon Berger, worldwide chief digital officer at Ogilvy & Mather. “We have to relearn the tools to tell stories.”

Terms like “storytelling” and “content is king,” cliché as they may be, have become so widespread because they speak to the notion of human interest. Ultimately, what is marketing, if it’s not capturing the interest of humans?

“Storytelling gets really hard when it’s at scale, especially as we keep pushing video as a primary component,” said Brandon Berger. “That’s where scalability creates a lot of friction. Who’s the buyer and who’s the seller? Is it the creative agency, the media agency, Facebook, Google?”


But while creative versioning allows marketers to automate some aspects of their creative, the content itself shouldn’t be similarly mechanized. In one basic example, using the same video across every platform. What works for YouTube may not work for Facebook, which may not work for Snapchat.

“Think about building campaigns as opposed to the number of seconds you’re going to build,” said Adam Berger. “When you think about storytelling as content, it creates flexible rules or guidelines that allow you to personalize the content further, and also be more dynamic about how it’s going to get delivered.”

That personalization is what leads to the kind of relevance that makes people feel like they’re not being actively marketed to. It’s like that famous quote says: People hate to be sold, but they love to buy.

“When I open up my feed or turn to YouTube or go anywhere, I’m not like, ‘I’m ready to learn about a brand and five minutes from now, I’m going to be ready to be sold.’ You have to do storytelling,” said Adam Berger.

Could this influx of personalization mean the end of the untargeted national “Super Bowl ad?” Glaser and both Bergers say yes.

Key takeaways

Using data to fuel your programmatic buying will allow you to further segment and personalize your ads, making them as relevant as possible to the audience. However, be careful of segmenting too much.

Think of data like text in your creative. You don’t cram in every bit of information because it’d just be too much. Instead, think of who you’re trying to reach and use data accordingly.

While programmatic can help you automate your creative, be careful not to do too much mechanizing. That can detract from the human interest level of your campaign, in which you certainly want humans to be interested.