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Digital creative is set to be the new data rush

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Space & Time on why brands should develop direct-to-consumer strategies or facilitate personalized conversations with consumers

Addressable, personal, dynamic, data-driven – call it what you will, there is no mistaking the sea change in strategic positioning within medialand towards an engagement model driven by a creative-first approach.

The recent launch of MediaCom Creative Systems, ‘to unite its creative and media teams under a single integrated division’, comes as no real surprise in a world where a data-first approach to digital media is becoming harder to implement, not least due to the advent of iOS 14 and the purge of the cookie by Google.

Facebook itself has been preparing for this change for the last 18 months, emphasizing creative-led strategy and encouraging as best practice one that abandons hypertargeting and assumptive audience segmentation strategies in favor of one that targets everyone with all the messages, and then lets behavior and algorithms be the guide.

But let’s get real – the bringing together of creative and media isn’t exactly trailblazing. Creative-led media, personalization, addressable media and creative have now been around for a number of years in response to a changing media ecosystem and the emerging tech capabilities that support it. Many digital independents have been leading the way in this field, especially since Google announced its plans for a cookie-less browser experience more than a year ago.

What does this shift in approach mean for adland in general?

Well for most of us, Space & Time included, not much. The understanding that integrations, automation, tech and content are inextricably linked demonstrates the clear benefits of moving a specific type of creative towards the media sphere. At Space & Time, we’ve always worked closely with creative agencies and continue to put tremendous value on the strategic ideation that they bring to a campaign. However, the capacity to automate and iterate at scale, and the optimization and personalization built upon this iterative capacity, gives media agencies fantastic opportunities to improve outcomes and deliver value for brands.

So is this a binary swap; reallocating an existing capability from one side of the aisle to another? Are media agencies looking to eat creative agencies’ lunch? Absolutely not. Rather, this is a new discipline entirely: the emergence of a third way, an additional capability that works to integrate the ideation and strategic messaging of the creative agency with the audience-first, data-driven production requirements of a performance media agency – the proper application of technology to facilitate the personalization and the iteration of digital formats at the scale needed to yield optimal results.

Process, rigor and automation all play their part in this emerging discipline, but so do hard-won industry experience and the granular, human interrogation of performance data. Media specialists understand the nuanced differences in efficacy between a single image advert in a news feed and a full-screen vertical advert in your social stories. Get the ratio wrong, the cropping, the wrong call to action, and this can all contribute to a downturn in campaign performance.

Addressing these many challenges need not be an issue. In a world where tech rules the waves, there is a solution for every problem and an engineer who can automate that solution for you. It’s also likely that each problem isn’t entirely new, and consequently most solutions do not need to be entirely bespoke; there are already many off-the-shelf products and SaaS solutions out there, and a stack-agnostic approach to tech partnerships and a broad and deep understanding of the market can deliver outstanding results extremely cost effectively.

Whether it’s the use of a creative management platform like Celtra or Bannerflow, or a digital asset management tool like Bynder, brands can now integrate creative tech platforms directly into their demand side platform and data warehouses for a perfect omnichannel marketing approach and a 360-degree view on all their activity.

Alongside the wonders that tech can do for a marketing business, it’s important to understand that it is not a silver bullet, and to appreciate that brands need to leverage a broader range of capabilities in pursuit of growth.

Looking beyond the clever tech, without cookies or third-party data playing as big a role, brands will now more than ever need to develop robust direct-to-consumer strategies or to build out audience pools that facilitate personalized one-to-one conversations with their customers.

So, far be it from us to say that media should now take on the role of creating visceral gut-punching brand campaigns, to come up with the next John Lewis Christmas advert: but what we do want is for brands to feel confident in committing time and budget to running digital creative campaigns effectively and cost-efficiently, knowing that it’s running in perfect harmony with the media buy, and that the right adverts are being seen by the right people at the right time. It may be a cliched advertising mantra, but it has never at any point in advertising history had such a fantastic opportunity to ring true.

Nick Beckingham is associate director at Space & Time.

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