How Grey plans to make a success of programmatic

Grey Response senior team (left to right: Tim Hopkins, Cressida Eatson-Lloyd, Wayne Brown, Nathan Gainford, Laura Castrillo)

Often creative agencies are just told to create a bunch of assets that get sprayed around the internet until a winner is found. However, Grey is developing a proposition it claims will offer brands ads that’s more contextually relevant using adtech, not just a super-efficient media buy.

It’s an ambition advertisers have been pursuing for years but there are few creative campaigns that have made smart targeting even smarter. Perhaps a symptom of what some observers believe is a disconnect between media and creative agencies? The lack of strategies that go beyond just media efficiency is a problem of using programmatic technologies, that Grey hopes to solve for its own ends.

This isn’t the first time a creative agency has admitted it needs to rely on data and automated technology but whereas previous efforts have fallen short in the actual implementation of said shift, Grey is putting its money where its mouth is.

The hefty investment in question is Grey Response, an in-house direct marketing division formed on the back of a partnership with CRM specialists WDMP earlier this month in what is described as an “agreement” to work together rather than a joint venture.

Led by managing partner Nathan Gainford, who joins from creative consultancy Animl, the division is focused on delivering messages based on what prospects are viewing and selecting without being hindered by the logistical challenges of updating and changing creative at speed. Usually, changing hundreds of banners would take weeks but because Grey Response can call on the creative processes of its production arm GreyWorks and the media expertise of MEC, those changes can be made in a matter of hours, claimed Wayne Brown, Grey’s chief operations officer.

He continued: “That advertising can be updated and changed within hours – not just one banner, but hundreds, all dynamically – which improves our clients’ speed to market and allows us to build, test and learn programs at scale, without resorting to an army of designers and coders.

“We see a big opportunity in the fact that 75% of all display is currently bought programmatically, yet only 3% of it is served dynamically, and our pioneering platform can get new advertising in market at lightning speed. In heavily competitive markets, this can be the difference between exceeding your sales number or losing your shirt.”

Such has been the success of early tests of this idea that the agency believes it will be able to use programmatic display to create one-to-one communications for existing customers shortly. This could (in theory) open new commercial opportunities for the business, built around ads that could be adapted to sequential, geographic and demographic factors as well as CRM data.

Having that edict sets Grey up to exploit the expected rise in digital ad standards spurred by a move to advertisers working directly with publishers. The industry is awash with private marketplaces, whereby brands opt to secure the best publisher inventory by reserving ad placements before campaigns go live, which in turn necessitates the need for better ads that translate well across screens.

Grey Response is currently working on projects for founding clients Vodafone, Fidelity and Marks & Spencer but will also chase separate direct marketing or CRM-specific briefs should they arise.

Diversifying further into digital advertising is part of the newly-installed management team's plan to future-proof the agency amid fragmenting business models in the agency space.

The notion of creativity in the minds of many senior marketers increasingly expands beyond just an advertising campaign and as such the more traditional creative shops like Grey are having to adapt.

Heineken bemoaned the lack of digital nous exhibited by its own creative agency last year to the point where it started giving its adtech supplier creative briefs.

Case in point is that a key part of what M&S wanted from its new ad agency was a strategy that could cover the breadth of channels people are using to interact with its brand and services on a daily basis, The Drum understands.

“We’re equally interested in influencing the performance of brand metrics as we are the commercials,” said Gainford.

“By unlocking the power of multiple data sources, we can ensure brand messages are highly targeted, relevant and optimized. For example, this could be for a piece of brand communication, product evaluation content, a useful video to help a new customer get the most from their recent purchase or to drive sales of a particular product or service a consumer is interested in. Our focus is always about making sure we deliver messages to the right person, at the right time – in a creatively engaging way.”

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