Copyranter: Between ad tech and creativity, an all-out war

Mark Duffy has written the Copyranter blog for 10 years and is a freelancing copywriter with 20-plus years of experience. His hockey wrist shot is better than yours. Follow him on Twitter.

It’s on like Donkey Kong. In this case, Kong equals tech, and Mario is creativity.

Sure, parties on both sides put on good faces while sitting on daises talking about “working together” to better serve clients, blah blah BLAH. Strip away the fake layer of cordiality, and tech and creativity balls-out hate each other. They wish the other would die an ugly, violent death.

Why can’t they just get along? The short explanation: Tech is trying to turn advertising into pure science, pure data. Tech “gurus” are desperately trying to formulate a fail-safe algorithm that will guarantee that an ad (or “content”) will generate a definitive X increase in sales, no matter what, no matter how “creative” the ad is. Good luck with that, geniuses.

Creating good creative is not a science. It’s a mix of art and persuasive communication. And it’s hard work. It’s messy. It’s unpredictable. It takes guts for a CMO to sign off on it. And the left-brained Zuckerbergs can’t deal with this, any of it. They can’t formulate the magical phenomenon of the creative process on a whiteboard, can’t understand why a great creative ad will outperform — not in terms of metrics but sales and positive brand recall —  a geo-micro-targeted perfectly timed and placed piece of soft selling sponsored content every time. Every time.

You can’t code creativity, Silicon Valley.

BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti is the de facto spokesperson for ad tech and its leading proponent. He’s also — judging by the quality of his in-house native advertising — one of the leading opponents of ad creativity.

Recently, in front of a packed room full of fawning, gape-mouthed media and marketing folk at the NewFronts here in New York City, Peretti introduced “POUND” (Process for Optimizing and Understanding Network Diffusion — I feel stupid, don’t you?), a new “proprietary” technology that will be “a powerful method for brands to better understand how content gets shared online — data (that) is so important because it allows us to learn from our successes.”

Your successes? What about your clients’? Data that won’t be included with this proprietary Big Data thingy is proof that BuzzFeed’s native ads sell a lick of product. Their very smart ad tech people don’t have a tool for that, and they never will. (Side note: POUND is, of course, slang for male masturbation.)

No matter, many marketers continue to blindly trust ad tech data. But just like you should be wary of the glowing case study numbers presented by traditional agencies, so too should you question the credibility of ad tech numbers. Because much like the mafia-controlled trash haulers here in New York City used to collude to fix prices, many ad tech firms and gurus are doing the exact same garbage, a recent study found.

In a June 4 piece titled “The Revolution Will Not Be Digitized,” DDB’s worldwide chief creative officer Amir Kassaei argues that the biggest innovation in advertising, to this day, is still the 70-year-old creative revolution, started by Bill Bernbach:

Real innovation in our industry doesn’t come from data, algorithms or technology. It comes from one simple, important fact: our only reason for existence is to find or create a relevant truth.”

To clarify that statement for you history-averse millennials: The relevant truth he’s referring to is about the brand or product being sold. Because that is, still, the only purpose of advertising: selling product.

DDB1969TimeThis 1969 self-promo ad ran in Time magazine. It perfectly summarizes the current advertising war. Ad techies are all about the medium (platform, in today’s lingo). That’s nonsense. The message is still the message. That will never change.

Ad tech people should remember one of the smartest things to come out of Don Draper’s mouth, in the first episode of the third season of “Mad Men,” when Duck Phillips announces that the newly merged Sterling Cooper will not be driven by ad creativity:

“I sell products, not advertising.”

Let that sink in, ad techies. Because you’re doing it exactly wrong.

Animated GIF created by Matthew Fraher

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