The fear is real: advertising by numbers

Technology has changed the world, but the creative industry has stayed the same. True, the stuff we make has changed, but broadly speaking the way we make it hasn't.

The fear is real: advertising by numbers

Take ideas. I’d argue that our industry still revolves around the myth lone creative genius bursting with inventiveness and firing off eureka moments to clients.

We claim collective insight, but then roll out the big ECD to make the final call. Which, if we’re being honest, has hit and miss results.

Then there’s the media we use. Yes, the majority of campaigns these days are integrated, but if most creative and traditional agencies (especially the big ones) are being honest, the set piece is still the big ad for the telly and the rest is the frills. The tyranny of the TVC endures.

Which brings me to programmatic. To my mind programmatic is at once the century’s most exciting creative opportunity for marketers, and also the best example of an industry that pays lip service to technology and all its potential, while shirking the responsibility of actually doing anything with it.

Let me clarify. At heart programmatic is simple. It uses algorithms and computers to serve ads. Which advert should be shown to a consumer, at which time, based on what type of person they are and what they already like.

Online, where the long tail grows longer, and audiences continue to fragment across sites and flit between platforms more than ever, programmatic allows for the kind of targeting our forebears could have never dreamed of.

Yet, many agencies and brands remain clueless, as evidenced by the litany of headlines in industry titles like ’10 things you need to know about programmatic’ and ‘Programmatic explained’.

Even with heartening signs that the marketplace is growing (according to the Internet Advertising Bureau 47% of display ads were traded programmatically in 2014, almost doubling 2013’s figure of 28%) marketers remain fearful of: its quality, that brand messages will appear alongside unsuitable content, viewability and fraudulent traffic.

This fear, let’s call it ‘automation anxiety’, is greatest among creatives. Part of this is an instinctive, ‘what the hell does data have to do with making great content?’ response. The answer is, ‘Loads’.

We can learn a lot from digital product development. Use a sprint based creative process for having lots of ideas quickly, then prototype and test them using tech. Our potential users / customers / fans are now at our fingertips, why not find out, right now, if an idea will work? What could be faster or cheaper?

The difference is cutting out the creative ego. The best idea is the one that works, not the one the ECD hypotheses will work. Scary shit.

The second part of this anxiety is a little easier to understand. If creatives and producers are building a campaign with a heavily segmented audience, plus they have to take into account real time factors like time and weather along with varying platforms, the number of variants for a particular ad increases exponentially. Won’t the team die of fatigue or boredom?

Undoubtedly many will, but what we’ll find is a new group of data-driven creatives who get off on this real-time challenge of personalizing myriad messages for consumer micro-segments to best engage the brand’s target audience, all in the name of squeezing as much juice out of the campaign as possible.

The fact is, in a world with so much media available, we need to find ways to fill it effectively – it’s simply not cost efficient to have humans doing all the work anymore.

For me a world where human creativity and computational efficiency come together is an opportunity. It’s something to be embraced – not something to be scared of.

By Tom Le Bree, strategy partner, rehabstudio