Millward Brown: ‘Creative programmatic is pushing brands to test variety against a strong idea’

Programmatic is making ads more relevant but in order to make it lift brand metrics at scale testing is adapting to assess lots of different versions of the creative idea instead of just one campaign under specific circumstances.

It’s a change that stems from Millward Brown’s head of marketing in the UK Amanda Phillips’ prediction that automated advertising will go beyond sharper targeting to serve customised ads. But this process dictates advertisers create far more executions than they’ve had to at a time when the biggest cost a brand marketer faces is media.

This is the point at the heart of the insights firm’s pitch to advertisers searching for low cost, effective ways to test variety in their creative against a strong idea. Millward Brown is working on several tools and services that promise to yank ad testing into the age of real-time, personalised marketing.

“It’s not just one idea you’re wanting to test when you’re building a programmatic plan that fits within a wider campaign,” said Phillips. “Instead, it’s lots of mini executions that you want a quick gauge as to whether or not they’re going to work. Programming a campaign into your black box that doesn’t quite hold together is like a virus spreading and not necessarily in a good way.”

One imminent tool will let advertisers test on-demand how conceptual ideas will work against a set of key metrics within six hours. It builds on the automated pre-tested solutions Millward Brown clients currently use and is being sold as a way for them to get early stage readings on ideas.

Millward Brown’s push for more pre-testing budgets is reflective of the current mindset of many marketers. Spending funds (and time) subjecting ads to rigorous testing has been seen as costly exercise that can potentially strangle creativity from an idea. However, the advent of automation is pushing marketers to take the prospect of overexposing people to ads far more seriously than they ever have done.

“The big thing driving how we test ads is being able to look at the customer experience of the brand because there’s so much more that surrounds them now,” said Phillips. “It can’t just be about testing ads in certain circumstances and actually brands should be thinking about how they pre-test the whole campaign.”

While Millward Brown doesn’t expect this depth to come anytime soon, it is already making moves to make it happen. A tool it uses to test print advertising is being adapted to test point-of-sale so that brands can see how well each channel is working before pulling those insights together to determine if that campaign is going to shift brand metrics or make a purchase.

“Rather than campaign effectiveness being decided on how many clicks they’ve got, I’d like to think we could come up with a predicted customer experience score,” said Phillips.

“I think data analytics together with pre-testing together with campaign performance all need to talk to one another to be able to look at the customer in the round and then model the prospects against what a good customer looks like.”

It all amounts to how the insights business hopes to help brands stand out in fragmented media landscape where demand for well integrated campaigns are high.

“If programmatic is going to really work, then advertisers need to have variety in their ads but against a core platform of a creative idea,” Phillips added. “It means having that ability to adapt creative so that it complements the contextual environment they appear.”

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Seb Joseph

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