The Drum, in partnership with Turn, gathers together senior marketers and agency leaders who warn that, unless creativity is taken seriously in the programmatic space, the rapid rise of ad blocking will continue apace.
At a roundtable summit to explore how to bridge the divide between the creative industry and programmatic advertising, senior marketers and agency leaders urged creative agencies to embrace adtech and the brand opportunities it affords – or risk turning off the very people they hope to target.
The event, held at The Drum’s London offices in partnership with Turn, also brought to the fore issues including reimagining the big idea beyond TV; the importance of communications planners in creating a forward-looking brief; how greater collaboration, at an earlier stage, is needed between a brand’s agency partners; and the knock-on effect this may have on production, remuneration and an agency’s scope.
Few in the industry would deny that programmatic is here to stay, or that it offers unrivalled efficiency, targeting, data-led insights for brands and agencies trading in this way. The business case is a now a given, but the creative agenda lags behind – perhaps dangerously so.
As Richard Robinson, Turn’s EMEA managing director, says: “The rise of ad blocking is a sign that advertising is becoming invasive again.”
A recent report by PageFair and Adobe estimates that UK ad blocking grew by 82 per cent to reach 12 million active users in the 12 months to June 2015, and will soon go mobile with the upcoming launch of content blocking on iOS.
The question is, how do you bridge the divide between the creative and programmatic advertising industries? Using data to provide insights to target the right people at the right time is one thing, but if the creative doesn’t deliver, and ad blocking becomes ever more prevalent, it might well be a moot point.
Raluca Efford, head of digital and social media marketing at Direct Line Group, says: “We have definitely found ways in the ad world to serve people stuff that is more or less personalised, but we have not found a way for customers to enjoy it or respond effectively. How can we avoid the creepiness factor, the annoyance factor? I don’t think anyone has cracked that yet.”
One reason for this disconnect, suggests AMV DDBO managing partner Justin Pahl, is that many clients (and creative agencies) still see programmatic as an acquisition or efficiency tool. “It is very response driven and creative agencies often have very little say in how it is planned or bought because it is so efficiency focused.”
It is a point that Lauren Pleydell-Pearce, creative director at Wunderman, has sympathy with. All too often the media has already been bought before an agency is briefed on the creative, she says. However, one recent experience stands out for the right reasons – when a client slashed its roster to just three agencies it necessitated a change of direction.
“We’ve been concepting with the media agency and it has been mind-blowing,” she says. “We shared our data, they shared theirs – and that’s a rare conversation because it’s normally so siloed.”
Programmatic is going through an evolution and agencies must keep pace, adds Pleydell-Pearce.
A lack of targeted education around the possibilities (and awards) that programmatic could bring does little to inspire the creative brains behind the campaigns who too often dismiss it as simply automated ad serving.
Perhaps, says Robinson, the term “programmatic” itself is proving “problematic” to these practitioners.
The technology is there to serve sequential or consequential ads to consumers so they are not being stalked by the same ad. Or content can be tweaked to show different goods, for example, within a cohesive theme that marries with a brand’s overall ‘big idea’ platform.
Richard Perry, founding partner at Founded, says: “We need to get the opportunities that programmatic offers into creatives’ minds. It’s an awareness job.” Meanwhile, briefs need to get better because “creative respond to the brief”.
Sam Cartmell, Ogilvy & Mather London creative partner, agrees, adding that reluctance also comes down to creatives wanting to go where the “glory and awards are”.
“We need those planners to go for it from a creative point of view rather than a practical measurement point of view. There has to be a chance for those creatives to do something extraordinary.”
One recent example, to relaunch Axe in Brazil, saw agency Cubocc create a video for the Unilever brand that could be served programmatically in
100,000 variations, depending on a user’s interests. ‘Romeo Reboot’, a reimagining of Romeo and Juliet, includes variants such as updating the music to switching the story setting to sci-fi. It’s a world away from simply repurposing TV ads for pre-rolls.
Brands should also focus on an iterative approach, the summit’s attendees believed, so that the results from one channel feed into what you do with the next one.
But where does the budget come from? For agencies used to filming an ad with maybe a few different executions, the idea of creating a toolkit of hundreds of iterations is daunting – and changes the game in terms of both production process and remuneration.
Brands, lured by the economies that programmatic promises, will be hard swayed to plough it all back into creation, while production companies will be reticent to do far more, for less, without concessions. Agencies, too, would have to rethink their processes.
Efford says: “We need fresh thinking and different attitudes towards the creative process to allow that to happen. But clients don’t want bad creative and agencies won’t move from what they are doing today unless the creative is in good shape.”
The insight from this summit forms the basis of a new report, in association with Turn: Programmatic & Creativity: A Vision for Change. The report provides a number of suggestions on how the industry can make the needed changes to bridge the divide between programmatic and the creative industry. The report, available for download here, aims to stimulate debate around this issue.
Photography by Bronac McNeill