Gabey Goh
Nov 23, 2016

Grasping the creative in programmatic

It’s still early days adding programmatic’s speed and targeting to creative in Asia, but brands shouldn’t wait to set the wheels in motion.


The ultimate promise of programmatic technology paints a vision of an efficient and automated future. Ads assemble themselves and are delivered at the right time to the consumer on the right device with the right context and personalised messaging.

But that reality is still a long way away.

Right now, while the pieces of the programmatic infrastructure are still being plugged in across Asia-Pacific, another topic has come to the forefront—creative programmatic.

This refers to the set of advertising technologies that add speed, scale, and automation to the creative process. Their scope covers both ad production and creative optimisation.

The premise is simple enough: if programmatic buying can efficiently secure highly targeted media spots, then creative programmatic should be able to deliver relevant content of interest to consumers. 

Some brands have already embarked on significant efforts with the use of creative programmatic. The best example of the genre is Unilever’s ‘Romeo reboot’ for its Axe brand in Brazil, where over 100,000 versions of the Hollywood trailer-style ad were created, using data such as musical taste and hobbies to tailor the soundtrack and setting.

Romeo reboot: Creative programmatic delivered variations of this Axe campaign based on consumer's musical taste.

On a slightly smaller scale in Chicago, Pantene launched its ‘Haircast’ campaign, which teamed up with the Weather Channel to geo-target consumers, and promote weather-appropriate haircare solutions when they checked the forecast on their mobile devices. The campaign boosted the brand’s sales by 24 percent.

Creative programmatic has been the focus of much discussion in the industry recently as its implementation has been touted as a potential solution to another industry concern: the rise of ad blockers. If creative programmatic proves able to deliver more personal, relevant ads that interest consumers, the thinking runs, then they will be less likely to block.

Jordan Khoo, APAC VP at Sizmek, says that  creative programmatic is still in its infancy in Asia. In the past 18 months, he has observed advertisers in the region investing in the science and technology side of programmatic. 

“But they seem to have neglected the art of programmatic marketing — messaging and creativity,” he says. “If we don’t focus on memorable and well-thought-out creative ideas and execution, adblocking adoption will only gain further traction as consumers will increasingly find bland messages annoying and irrelevant.”

Khoo believes that when it comes to the adoption of programmatic creative solutions, Australia is still leading the way. However, being a regional hub, Singapore is starting to drive better adoption of programmatic technologies. 

“Education is currently the biggest barrier that’s impeding the rate of growth of programmatic creative,” he adds. “There is still a lack of knowledge within agencies about how to execute these types of campaigns.”

However, Tai Morshed, TubeMogul’s director of enterprise, believes the region has had a good start, and over time, the implementation of programmatic technologies will allow the industry to leverage automation to tailor ad experiences based on different audiences, data points and real-time results.

Programmatic can spark creativity

Morshed says it is important that brands and agencies grasp the potential that creative programmatic can have, not only on campaigns, but ultimately on business objectives.

“This should see creative and media buying come much closer together, rather than operating in silos, enabling a continuous cycle of improving creative impact,” he adds.

Erin Chao, APAC director of ad solutions development at Yahoo observes that the biggest misconception about programmatic is that it does not allow for creativity. “I don’t see why a programmatic buy can change how the campaign should be planned,” she says. “A campaign should always have a clear and measurable objective in the first place. Then come up with the creative and media plan accordingly.”

Chao says creative programmatic enables advertisers to bucket-test creatives and make improvements continuously during the flight with real-time campaign metrics. “In my view, programmatic combined with technology and data actually helps to ensure creativity and meet the campaign objectives,” she says.

To illustrate, Chao points to a recent campaign for Levi’s ecommerce store in Asia, which leveraged data capabilities from Yahoo to formulate the marketing strategy from the very start. 

We encourage clients to work with the creative that they have available and gather insights that make sense for them.
—Tai Morshed, TubeMogul

Using the company’s understanding of consumer behaviour on the internet — their consumption and buying patterns — the team was able to identify potential consumers to acquire, divide them into three different segments, and build the creative accordingly based on the insights about who they were, what they liked and cared about, and their brand preferences.“As a result of this targeted programmatic campaign, Levi’s saw a 100-percent increase in online sales revenue when the ads were deployed,” she says. “Data can inform the creative strategy while programmatic and technology can deliver the relevant creative to the right people at the right time.”

Morshed echoes Chao’s points, adding that one misconception is that advertisers require endless variations of their ad to create a more effective campaign, and as a result it’s really expensive. 

“We encourage clients to work with the creative that they have available and gather insights that make sense for them,” he says. “This could be A/B testing two different video lengths, comparing the impact of video and display creative or optimising an existing TVC for online by adding an interactive overlay.”

TubeMogul had one Australian client work with its creative agency to create three rough versions of an ad at the same cost of one finished TV ad, which it then tested online. Instant insights showed which ad should be produced for television — resulting in a significant lift in brand metrics from the TV activity. “Their nimble approach meant that they could learn and iterate much faster,” he adds.

Bridging the divide

Khoo believes creative is the most integral component of advertising, that one can use tools to make creative production efficient, but never at the expense of sacrificing quality creative and brand integrity. “Clients have been given a false choice. It’s not an either/or between efficiency and creative integrity. They should work with tech partners that can support both.”

Many creative agencies and clients see programmatic buying as an efficiency tool, so there’s very much a “you buy the media, we’ll do the creative” approach, with media often bought before the agency has even seen the creative.

But a shift is beginning to take shape. Chao says that while she still sees the traditional mentality in play, brands are beginning to acknowledge the loss of synergy in using a linear, conveyor-belt style in planning and deploying campaigns.

“By informing the creative agency of all the data from the outset of the project, you can work with the agency to build more relevant creative strategies for your target audience,” she adds. “Conversely, creative agencies can share their insights and ideas on storytelling to shape how brands use programmatic channels to maximise the campaign’s efficiency and create new synergies.”

By informing the creative agency of all the data from the outset of the project, you can work with the agency to build more relevant creative strategies for your target audience.
—Erin Chao, Yahoo

Morshed says the adoption of programmatic technologies can streamline planning, buying and optimisation. This compressed lead-time means creative can be engaged sooner and potentially help drive the media strategy. 

“The best work we have seen is when creative and media teams collaborate, and ultimately, it comes down to the advertiser facilitating and enforcing this,” he adds. “All sides will benefit.”

Morshed points to Lenovo as an example of a brand which has done “some great work” with creative programmatic recently. Before it partnered with TubeMogul, the brand’s assets and creative development sat separately from media buying. 

The partnership gave Lenovo access to TubeMogul’s in-house creative team who helped optimise existing TVC’s for online with interactive overlays. Using an ‘always-on’ approach the Lenovo ANZ team deployed different ad units and gathered insights on the effectiveness of each ad variation and execution. Real-time data from the TubeMogul platform enabled mid-campaign optimisation to the top performers. 

Khoo notes that obstacles to the adoption of creative programmatic in the region remain, particularly as an issue of technical capability and brand- and agency-side talent gaps.

“Everybody needs to play their part,” he says. “We’ve seen technology vendors who have decided to take matters into their own hands and offer end-to-end solutions in programmatic creative, but we don’t see that as a long-term healthy initiative in the ecosystem.”

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