It's official. The art v science / mad men v math men / tech v creativity conversation is firmly on the agenda. At CES this year, data-driven marketing is a hot topic.
I've followed this narrative closely over the last twelve months, and it's fascinating to see this play out. One concern is that technology is killing creativity. The hypothesis at a recent House of Commons debate centered around 'science squeezing out the art in advertising'.
It's a fascinating argument. There have been plenty of headlines from industry pieces I've read proclaiming 'programmatic is the death of creativity' and such like. I can understand why at first glance it may seem reasonable to assume that creativity and tech can't be natural bedfellows, but I've never been one for taking other people's opinions as my own (I think it was Boy George who said 'options are likes arseholes, everybody's got one') and certainly not headlines as gospel. I thought I'd share my own (opinion that is). There's so much hot air and bluster in this game that's designed to grab headlines and rile others. But really, how does that help anybody?
There's no doubt that 'programmatic' has been one of the biggest proponents of change in decades. This ability to target specific audiences, and understand more about the audience you're communicating with is incredibly powerful, yet most brands still largely apply a 'one size fits all' approach to their creative strategy.
Tip of the Iceberg
I read an interesting stat from an App Nexus survey recently which showed a staggering 97% of campaigns don't run any targeted (aka dynamic, or personalised) creative. That figure suggests that adoption is still incredibly low, and I anticipate that we'll see this change significantly this year. There's no question that the technology is there, it's the requirement for brands to evolve legacy processes and recognise the value of this that takes time. Anecdotally, I've seen a significant shift in appetite for brands wanting to test and activate dynamic campaigns even in the last few months. I think we've now had the year of mobile (anyone?! No?), perhaps 2016 may be the year of personalised creative.
So why hasn't this already exploded and why the apparent backlash?
I can understand why there are those questioning, even resisting the onset of technology in this scenario. Some possible reasons:
Creatives can ultimately spend more time 'being creative'
I truly believe technology can help fuel creativity, giving those gifted enough the opportunity to do more of what they're great at. The technology provides a toolkit and platform that helps connect creative, media, and data in a way that wasn't before possible. At Spongecell, our Creative Management Platform (CMP) can help brands leverage either first or 3rd party data, or any number of 'real world' signals to power more personalised ad creative. By leveraging this we can start to genuinely unlock the potential of data to deliver more relevant experiences for the end user and improve the quality of creative.
Don't assume all creative agencies are sighing heavily at the potential impact of technology. I've spent a lot of time talking to colleagues in the creative industry this year. I've seen eyes light up at the potential of leveraging what we do to challenge the status quo, and empowering them to spend more time doing what they are undoubtedly great at - more time developing content, less time building ads. As one creative lead described the potential impact of our dynamic video product... 'it's like shooting a story with 10 different endings'. The purpose being delivering a more relevant piece of content that better talks to each audience that brand is trying to engage.
For best results creative, media and data needs to be more closely aligned
The best work I have seen occurs when the client, creative agency, and media agency work together. It may sound the media equivalent of The Waltons, or some mystical land that doesn't really exist but genuinely, one scenario saw a creative agency present us to the client as the solution. It's actually very smart when you think about it. Why wait for a client to ask questions when you can be proactive, find the partner you deem best and present the opportunity as a collaboration. In this instance one that saved the client both significant production time and money, provided more detailed creative reporting, and delivered better performing creative. This also had the halo effect of positioning the agency as being progressive and demonstrating a real understanding of the client's business.
Many commentators and influencers have cited the need for media and creative to become more closely aligned, and I wholeheartedly agree. The media strategy and creative direction have to be thought through if we're to see truly great work in this space.
The Next 12 Months
As an industry our collective focus has to be improving the quality of creative, the explosion and adoption of ad blocking tells us that. I predict there will be many more embracing technology to deliver more engaging, higher quality, better performing creative in the year ahead. Roll on 2016...
By Michael Hand, VP Sales, EMEA