Xaxis launches creative hub to 'push envelope' on new digital ad formats

CEO says creative and media 'will and should' be brought back together.

Soprole: among brands that have trialled creatives from Xaxis
Soprole: among brands that have trialled creatives from Xaxis

Xaxis, Group M’s programmatic arm, is launching a creative hub to help brands integrate creative assets into data-driven online campaigns.

Xaxis Creative Studios will work with creative and media agencies and be staffed by designers and interactive developers, led by Colombia-based Juan Moronvelez, who is global project lead and Latin America chief executive. 

XCS will make creative assets that work with Xaxis’ artificial intelligence-powered planning and optimisation capabilities. The aim is to maximise the impact of a campaign’s creative idea and make it more efficient and effective.

Nicolas Bidon, Xaxis global chief executive, told Campaign that the WPP network is aiming to address a gap in the market in fusing creative and media for digital ads. Xaxis is moving into what he calls a "phase of last-mile creative".

He said: "I think we’re getting to the point where we’ve maxed out the optimisation potential of the other dimensions… We have the big creative ideas that typically are done by creative agencies and then we get some sort of [production] asset, and then there are all these new channels like connected TV, Snapchat, Tiktok, where audiences are – and there’s a gap." 

XCS will work with agencies to reimagine and reassemble existing assets into new formats and optimising them early in the creative process according to the target audience and the media format, such as display, interactive videos, conversational ads and shoppable media. It has trialled projects with clients including Ford, Toyota and Ikea. 

Bidon explained: "We get types of all the available creative assets, which may be brand images, images of cars, whatever else, and then the team syncs up with the Xaxis creators and strategists, who plan the audience strategy and are clear on what is the particular outcome we’re trying to drive for that client.

"And, based on that, we produce a set of creatives that we feel are going to be the most appropriate to drive that particular outcome. And, to do so at scale, we use a lot of automation and dynamic creative technology."

XCS intends to be "agnostic" when it comes to creating assets for digital media formats and Bidon said the team will be driven by what the client wants to achieve its online marketing. That may mean it works with external digital production companies such as Celtra or makes use of WPP’s proprietary LemonPI dynamic creative platform.

Xaxis had been testing its ability to quickly deliver creative for new media formats in the US market through a pilot project called Ad Labs. "The idea was to push the envelope when it comes to new formats available on new media channels, like Snapchat or Instagram," Bidon explained. "But it was very small in nature – a couple of people in the US – and we never scaled it.

"Our focus in the last three or four years has been on that model to deliver ROI from clients’ spend on programmatic. We’ve spent a lot of time focusing on targeting, micro-segments, ‘how do I ensure the right audience’, on brand safety, supply chain optimisation and the like. But, frankly, we hadn’t spent a lot of time on creative."

XCS was launched sooner than originally planned, he revealed, because the coronavirus pandemic has placed a greater urgency on delivering a service that would maximise return on investment for digital advertisers.

Bidon continued: "Yes, we understand the big creative ideas; yes, we have assets. But we don’t necessarily have what we think will drive the best engagement for this particular audience on this particular channel or device. So in our quest to continue to deliver better outcomes, we felt we needed to do something about it, especially now – with Covid, everybody is looking for ways to maximise resources."

Although the hub is based in Bogotá, XCS will work on Xaxis client business in markets across North America, Latin America, Asia-Pacific and EMEA. Bidon said Xaxis’ Bogotá office was the most appropriate place for the hub because of the designers and creators who work there, while staff working from home in recent weeks has proven that the company can work well remotely for international clients.

When asked if this move showed that creative and media were coming back together, after having been generally separated in the 1990s, Bidon firmly said: "It will and it should."

"If you look at what [WPP chief executive] Mark Read has done within WPP, he is already making moves to marry digital-first-type agencies – putting together VML and Y&R, Wunderman with [J Walter] Thompson. This is client-driven, to have more integrated solutions, because people do realise when it's more efficient, it’s fast and delivers better outcome," Bidon added. "We definitely will, at some point, see more often that more bridges are being created."

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