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Where relevance meets creativity – Unlocking the power of programmatic through dynamic creative

Programmatic trading may have erupted in the media buying landscape, but it is in the creative arena where it will truly start to take shape. Jessica Daviesexplores what the barriers are and why creative agencies need to care more about the opportunities programmatic can offer.

Missed opportunity. Surely that’s the underlying fear of most marketers today in a digitally led landscape that continues to shift and evolve at such pace. Yet that could be the outcome for many if the disconnect between creative and media agencies continues, when it comes to programmatic trading.

Conversations around programmatic are dominated by the technology and the way it is changing media buying, and media agencies, but its usefulness lies in its ability to deliver contextual, personalised, relevant and timely ads – and that should be baked in to the creative at the ideas stage. Only then can programmatic trading be viewed as more than a highly effective direct response tool, but as a branding medium, which will unlock weightier budgets.

Tracy de Groose, UK chief executive of Dentsu Aegis Network, which owns media agency Carat and creative agency Isobar, believes the onus should be on media agencies to help creative agencies understand the space. “It’s all got a bit too competitive and combatative, and a gulf has emerged between creative and media agencies. Areas like programmatic are calling out for better collaboration but we need to make the effort as an industry to work together on it.”

‘Low rent’ reputation

Part of this will involve stamping out programmatic’s “reputational issue” within creative agencies of being “low rent” production which they can’t monetise, according to De Groose. “We have to think more creatively about how the creative product is developed – there is opportunity for more high-end work in there,” she adds.

Commercial models will need to be evolved if creative agencies are to view programmatic as a profit-making channel, but De Groose believes this is achievable if agencies explore performance-based models. “I’m keen we talk to all creative agencies on this, because in future it will be about how we collaborate. When you combine the creative magic mixed with the personalisation and contextual thinking from the media side – it’s incredibly powerful, and will unlock more brand budget.”

Paul Mead, founder and managing director of the media arm of creative giant VCCP, agrees there are major opportunities for media and creative to work more closely in 2015, but that currently most creative agencies view the programmatic world as “grubby acquisition” and the realm of digital and media agencies.

“But there is a very rich seam of data available in this space which can be used to inform creative and brand strategies,” he adds. Failing to collaborate is a mistake for media, digital and creative agencies, given all channels will become more biddable and programmatically traded eventually, according to Mead.

“There is a point on the scale between brand building and direct response at which relevance beats creativity. Above this point, great creative work is required to change perceptions and create demand. Below this point, the richness of data we have on that individual makes personalisation the biggest driver of response. It’s impossible to separate the point at which creative agencies should no longer care and media agencies should take over,” he adds.

Embracing dynamic creative

There has been willingness in the market to explore this, with a few forward-thinking agencies and brands using dynamic creative. Last year, for example, Burberry became the first brand to buy all premium, rich-media homepage inventory programmatically on Yahoo on the same day in multiple markets – inventory usually reserved for branding requirements.

Meanwhile The Tate ran a dynamic creative digital out-of-home campaign using Liveposter technology in London’s Hammersmith, showing art from the gallery’s archive that was relevant to that moment. The posters were automatically triggered using Liveposter’s “relevance engine”, which drew on data including time of day, traffic flow, weather, phase of the moon and flight arrival times. Posters were played in rotation, which meant that different data sources and triggers were called upon throughout the two-week period, during which the campaign produced around 14,400 executions.

"The whole notion of programmatic needs to be unlocked for creatives." Karmarama managing partner of innovation Lawrence Weber.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Liveposter managing director Dan Douglas says there is an “unspoken apathy” about programmatic trading within many creative agencies, largely stemming from the “elephant in the room” – the business model, according to Douglas.

“Creative optimisation is about creating something that has been optimised for the moment. That’s what creative programmatic should do. It’s not just about efficiency – that’s missing the more powerful opportunity,” he adds.

Karmarama’s managing partner of innovation Lawrence Weber says the industry needs to “reframe” what it means by creative when it comes to programmatic. “In a lot of cases at the moment, we're producing the same creative assets and then handing over to the media agencies to do the smart stuff. As creatives we need to understand that being creative with data and prompting a positive action, be that purchase or awareness, is a) our job and b) as creative as producing linear content.

“The whole notion of programmatic needs to be unlocked for creatives… Programmatic is hiding behind shiny B2B ads for pieces of dubiously named software.”

The right message to serve

Targeting the right user at the right time has been a popular marketing mantra for some time. But ensuring the right creative is in sync with that data insight is not something marketers can claim they have nailed, and that's where creatives can really make their mark.

Wayne Blodwell, head of programmatic for Dentsu Aegis' performance arm iProspect, says the market has "cracked" understanding the right user at the right time, because data management and analytics skillsets exist within programmatic operations. "The challenge the industry has yet to solve is understanding the right message to serve because these creative skillsets don’t generally exist within programmatic operations," he says.

Pinpointing what message should be served can be achieved by using relevant insight to "inform audience taxonomies" and then overlaying a creative plan on top of that taxonomy, according to Blodwell. "This is where the traditional collaboration between media agencies and creative agencies helps because the two agencies are familiar with collaboration and ways of working and as such can define a truly compelling creative and data strategy," he adds.

Programmatic ads – a new creative canvas

However, for creative opportunities to truly be unlocked in the programmatic landscape, it needs to be distanced from being an effective vehicle for standard banner ads alone. Programmatic video has done much to move the argument for programmatically traded ads out of the direct response arena and into the branding one, but there is still work to be done for traditionally focused mindsets to accept this.

"Programmatic still has associations with only being a standard banner display advertising vehicle but as we see publishers surfacing more premium formats such as billboards, video, rich media, and homepage takeovers, into programmatic platforms, we’ll start to see less restrictive canvases for brands to convey their messaging on," says Blodwell.

"This trend started at the beginning of last year but the industry still has a way to go before we see brands really scaling premium programmatic campaigns.As larger canvas opportunities come into the programmatic market the supporting creative needs to make the most of that premium real estate. This is where programmatic operations can support creative agencies in connecting the data they have with relevant creative messaging," he adds.

Weaving programmatic into the creative process will take collaboration and a dynamic approach from all parties. As teams begin to work more closely together to bake in dynamic creative at the heart of the ideas stage, the industry will start to fully unlock the power that relevance and creativity working in tandem can bring in the programmatic trading landscape.

This feature was first published in The Drum's 4 February issue as part of a special digital trading focus.

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