Firstly I think it's important to define 'creative' and 'creativity'. Stereotypically, when we think of creative we think of sexy, brand-led advertising and creativity is the process behind that which powers the production of these sexy ads; a process normally handled by a creative agency. When we think of programmatic, we think of data, automation, audience segments; functional, cold, definitely not sexy. Remove those stereotypes and we have the ability to target the right consumer with the right creative at the right time in the right context.
Programmatic media buying and the technologies that sit behind it have allowed marketers to use rich data signals to reach the right consumer at the right time and for the right cost. However, it could be argued that we have placed too much emphasis on data and may have neglected a fundamental point. When we find that consumer in the right place at the right time, what do we want to tell them?
Take it back a year and programmatic was being used to reach consumers at the end of the journey, where creative was being used at the beginning to entice consumers to engage with a brand in an idealised world. Now we are living in a world where programmatic is reaching up into the brand space and creative agencies are struggling to react fast enough to produce enough creative content for a programmatic world. This then makes creative (specifically content produced by a creative agency) an afterthought. But are we being too narrow-minded when we refer to creative? When we talk about creative, are we really not just talking about "message"?
Trying to deliver dynamic creative in an automated world points to a need to deliver creative at scale. Dynamic ad unit templates exist, but seem to be underutilised by creative agencies and the reason for this is? Well, potentially because it goes against everything that creative agencies know. It removes the ability to perform consistent, in depth and robust creative testing and instead requires the creative agency to focus on testing formats. Formats first, creative second. Sure, it does mean that the ability to BE creative is slightly reduced, but it will also remove the heavy lifting and allow creative agencies to evolve their offering. Digital teams have had to evolve to keep up with the rise in programmatic, but creative agencies are slow to catch up.
Creativity in programmatic doesn't need to spell the death of the creative; it needs to spell the evolution of the creative. We can create more engaging experiences if we allow media and creative to come together. It's too easy to fall into the trap of creating ultra HD quality branding creative and applying a one-size-fits-all approach. The concern of creative agencies is that you can't apply automation in the creative process. But this isn't about diluting the creative, it's about being smart about where you apply the automation; build a quality creative base and applying individual messaging on the top of it. It requires creative and media agencies to be working towards the same KPI and from a creative perspective that means they will need to turn their attention more to data signals, with the creative agency, media agency and client all collaborating to drive the process.
Collaboration is the key word here. In the programmatic world stronger and closer working partnerships between all the parties involved will drive better results and greater success for our clients' brands. Ultimately, what I am saying is that programmatic can provide the bedrock for creativity to flourish. It just needs to be approached differently from what has gone before.