Creativity was once thought of as the heart and soul of advertising, but the rise of programmatic and the obsession with real-time bidding and targeting has made it nearly impossible to deliver a powerful piece of creative that really stands out online.
In principle, it’s simple: advertisers pick what types of people they want to reach online, set parameters around what they’re willing to spend, and then let algorithm-powered software automatically buy their ads for them in live auctions, so they get the best possible price.
But here’s the problem with that.
If an advertiser or a brand wants to push an ad through the programmatic pipes, the ad needs to fit a standard model. That way the ad can actually go through the complex, automated process and end up on a webpage.
Unfortunately, this means that the ad is constrained to a little box that no one really wants to look at or pay attention to: and most of the time, this is the banner ad. Even though a banner ad is plain, boring even, it’s widely accepted as the standard ad unit for programmatic because it’s what the technology can support. There’s little room to be innovative within the constraints of a little box.
In the past, creative people went into advertising because they wanted to design and paint on big canvases — TV screens and billboards. They literally had outsized portfolio carriers, larger than suitcases, which they took to job interviews to display their past work.
But the money is flowing out of TV and print and going online, increasingly in the form of programmatic ads. Programmatic is a growing part of the business. In the future as much as 80% of online ad transactions may be automated, some industry folks believe.
So if a person wants to earn money by being creative in advertising today, they probably don’t want to be in the print or TV business. They want to be on the digital side. And, more often than not, digital is now where the money — and the stock options — are.
Not everyone is completely on board just yet though. Sir John Hegarty, a founder of Bartle Bogle Hegarty, recently blamed technology and data for what he calls a “creative deficit” arguing people get distracted by the technology and forget to focus on what the technology can actually deliver.
Hegarty, who is often called an advertising traditionalist, argues new technology isn’t the answer for advertisers. The idea is what really matters. He also says TV revolutionzed the ad world much more than the arrival of digital did and it’s still the most powerful medium out there.
Dylan Mouratsing, an evidence director for Manning Gottlieb OMD, dsiagrees with Hegarty’s theory and tells ExchangeWire that new technology and data become a way for advertisers to build stronger, more relevant campaigns.
“One common misconception is that use of evidence straightjackets creativity,” says. “This is something traditionalists struggle with, and it’s a process of education to get away from that. One of our central beliefs is that using the body of data that’s available on a given project doesn’t lead to less creativity, but actually creates a more fertile ground for original work.”
Danny Hopwood, the head of platform at Publicis Groupe’s digital unit, VivaKi, says the industry should not lose hope on the creative quality of ads delivered programmatically. Hopwood argues programmatic is not actually killing creativity: “It has just taken a different guise. The increase in smart technology means you can now be creative with not just the message but the method of delivery and the audience itself,” he says in a report from AOL UK on the status of programmatic advertising.
There are also a handful of companies working to create ad units that are engaging and can still be delivered through the programmatic pipes. For example, digital advertising company Undertone recently announced Virtuoso, a platform that aims to serve “high impact digital ad campaigns.” In other words the company is trying to bring more dynamic ads units online, thinking outside of the standard banner ad box.
It’s not altogether impossible and many marketers feel that there’s a lot of room to be creative through programmatic. The AOL UK report suggests positive feelings about the ability to be creative with programmatic are high. Almost half (48%) of marketers surveyed said programmatic actually enhances creativity, while 28% disagree and 24% felt it has no impact.
Plus, the number of active advertising technology companies is quickly growing, emphasising there is a clear market in practices such as programmatic, despite an old-school hankering for traditional creative. Ad tech companies were a big part of this year’s Cannes Lions Festival agenda, an annual event that celebrates the creativity of advertising.
So while programmatic may be killing creativity in the traditional sense — think Don Draper conjuring up the Lucky Strike “It’s Toasted” campaign to a board room of adoring agency juniors — it may not be necessarily killing it all together. Instead, programmatic is creating a new era for creativity, complete with a new meaning of what it means to be creative.
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