Programmatic creative inches toward a fix

This is an article in a series on “Agencies in the Ad Tech Era,” a look at how the call for automation and efficiency is challenging companies to rethink their structures.

“Programmatic creative” sounds like an oxymoron.

The promise, however, of data-driven, data-intensive communications that are rendered in real time so they appeal to different customers across demographics is very appealing. The problem is, while many people have made clear that good creative can make the difference in digital advertising, the promise of the “right message to the right person at the right time” is still a ways off. Two new efforts — a new company, Anagram, and a new service by Omnicom’s Annalect platform — are hoping to solve the major issues with programmatic creative.

Anagram (named because the “gram” reminds you of programmatic and “ana” is Latin for “through”), founded by former Hill Holliday chief digital officer Adam Cahill, launched Tuesday. It plans to specialize in programmatic marketing — not just programmatic media.

A lack of synchronization between media and creative is usually identified as the major challenge with programmatic creative. Tony Effik, vp, media and connections at R/GA, said one big issue is that the breadth of media targeting hasn’t been matched by the breadth of creative. “We need more creative concepts, not just headline and call-to-action variants,” he said. “Clients need to be comfortable funding this additional creative.”

“A really simple observation I had when I moved from media to creative is that they’re two totally separate worlds,” said Cahill. “Media people are spending their days figuring out optimization and targeting, but it’s done completely separate of the actual idea.” And on the creative side, people making ad units don’t know what’s possible in terms of targeting or data.

Cahill said that the reality is that people on both sides need to know that it’s not just about a concept. It can necessitate 50 concepts. His new company will work directly with the brands that have brought programmatic in-house to consult on how programmatic creative might work. For his first client, Optishot Golf, a golf simulator, Cahill is segmenting out different types of avid golfers — those who golf socially, those who don’t have a lot of time, and so on — and creating ad concepts for each of those segments, to be delivered programmatically.

R/GA’s Effik said there is a question of how low does one go: “How small can a micro-audience be before it is uneconomic to produce a unique concept for it?” he asked. That means that if you’re looking, say, for avid golfers, that may not be enough. You also need to find avid golfers in Lower Manhattan. “In those instances, we could make marginal changes based on swapping out copy,” said Effik.

The issue, then, is often finding the right person for the job. Traditional advertising creatives aren’t necessarily thrilled by the prospect of “50 concepts.” Plus, these aren’t the kinds of assignments that are good for a portfolio. “We need a creative person intrigued by that,” said Cahill.

At R/GA, Effik said he is a fan of testing: “You need a testing phase where you run creative variants against each other, and you need a creative contingency budget for making changes,” he said. “At R/GA, we have also taken this one step further and developed an algorithm for finding the best match between target and creative, as well as bid level, budget and frequency.” This then will alert production teams about what creative assets to produce.

Omnicom’s marketing tech division, Annalect, is also trying to solve the disconnect. It is launching this week a new programmatic creative solution that will let brands customize creative to segments. It takes social, CRM and third-party data from its DMP, then deploys creative assets from a repository. Like a jigsaw puzzle, a lot of different assets can be put together depending on the consumer, assembling an ad optimized for segmentation.

Loren Grossman, chief experience officer at Annalect, said that the aim is to solve another big issue with programmatic creative: brands have spent a lot of time making sure consumers get their message, not a lot of time making sure it’s a right message. “One big problem is that we’ve gotten very channel specific,” said Grossman. “We are hesitant to connect different touchpoints.”

The solution can also potentially avoid creative burnout — it uses about 14 assets to create 171 combinations of creative. And there is the added benefit of using social, CRM and third-party data from Annalect’s DMP to create customized models — instead of pre-made segments from the DSP. “It’s the difference between a homemade pie and a store-bought pie,” siad Grossman.

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