Topman programmatic advertising
Topman is using programmatic to show different creative to customers dependent on their interests

Programmatic advertising has been one of the more divisive topics in the marketing industry over the past few years. When it works it offers brands a unique way to deliver relevant advertising to consumers. However the rise of ad blocking and a backlash against the type of retargeted ads that follow people around the web suggests challenges still remain.

Why programmatic needs creativity

Much of the initial hype around programmatic was around the fact it would make buying online ad space cheaper. However Jim Freeman, group sales and trading director at Telegraph Media Group, speaking at Marketing Week’s ‘Creative Programmatic’ event, said that means brands and agencies have started to ignore everything they have learnt about advertising and creativity in other mediums.

He said while the rise of ad blocking might make it look like advertising is “the enemy”, in fact consumers like advertising, as long as it is good. He pointed to the example of Doritos’ Super Bowl ad, which sparked a huge debate on social media, more than 97% of which was positive.

However he said people are “treating digital differently”, pointing to an example of a 300-word online article that was surrounded by five ads and “completely cluttered”.

“Advertising has to live off the medium it is made for but in digital all those learnings and thinking about how creative works in each medium is forgotten. When brands buy programmatically they don’t even know where their ads are appearing. All the thought that goes into other media is gone,” he claimed.

“Digital is being abused and people find it stalkerish and creepy. We are trying to allow fantastic tech to do it all for us and it can’t.”

Brands and agencies must remember, he said, that even in programmatic the old rules of standout, relevance, engagement and context are still important.

Getting creatives on board with programmatic

So far, programmatic has been seen primarily as the preserve of media agencies. They have played a key role in educating brands on how and why to use automation and included it in the planning process when buying media across the web.

That has left the creative agencies on the sidelines. VCCP founder Charles Vallance admitted that creative are more interested in creating one big brand idea, for example The O2, rather than lots of little executions.

“Creatives want to create one unifying idea for a brand, although that might have a lot of expressions. Something that can bring people together, not just appeal to a specific demographic of people aged 20 to 23. They want to create one big Star Wars-type idea, not 78 versions of it,” he explained.

One of the big discussion points at the event was how creative agencies need to start thinking more about how their content can work in a world that is increasingly become digital and shifting to automation. Both clients and media agencies complained that too many creative agencies simply try to take a 30-second TV ad and stick it on digital assuming it will be just as effective.

“The biggest challenge is the need to marry dynamic creative with the way digital adverts behave. Too many agencies cluster around the 30-second TV content and are reluctant to change.”

Bob Wootton, director of media and advertising, ISBA

TUI’s head of programmatic Sammy Austin admitted some brands are just as guilty of this too and simply put their TV ad on pre-roll.

The resource issue

Topman’s senior digital creative manager Tom Lancaster said part of the reason for some brand’s reluctance to bring creativity to programmatic is the big increase in resources needed. Topman currently segments its audience in to five ‘interest’ personas and then shoots its four key season trends for these different audiences. However this means it now has to shoot 20 looks each season, rather than just four.

“There is a lot of work behind that to make sure it is still high quality creative,” he said. “We have seen order value go up but it requires more resource and energy. It doesn’t end with the media bought either. We then have to personalise the site to ensure the products visitors see matches the ad.

“We do get a positive response but it is much more complicated.”

Vallance pointed out that there is still a debate to be had around the role of creativity in terms of creating highly targeted advertising more aimed at closing a sale versus ensuring a message gets out about what a brand means to everyone.

“There are limits to how far [data-driven creative] should and could go. There will always be a significant role for creating pieces that stand alone and don’t need to be personalised. Brands still need to have a purpose and tell people what they stand for as well as creating relevance,” he said.

The great data debate

Key to the success of programmatic is how effectively brands can use data. However Freeman highlighted AOP research which showed that just 4% of campaigns are using first party data and a huge 68% are using no data at all.

“Programmatic can take advertising to a whole new level if we can overlay it with clever tech and data. But the advertising will only be good as the data and how that data is used,” he explained. “Not all data is created equal.”

He pointed to retargeted advertising, which he said all too often backfires, annoys consumers and has a negative effect on a brand.

TUI’s Austin said the way the brand overcomes this is by using data more cleverly. It uses dynamic content and first party data, as well as third party data to ensure ads are relevant. For example TUI will use weather data and information it has on which people have searched for beach holidays to then show ads for sunny destinations when the weather at home is rainy.

o2 refresh

O2 has also seen big success by using personalised ads. Nick Adams, head of digital excellence at O2, claimed the brand saw a 128% increase in click-through rates on mobile by using personalised ads. On Facebook, ads for O2 Refresh, its early upgrade programme, saw a 49% decrease in cost per order.

“The earlier we can get people to upgrade the more value that is and the more it protects our customer base. It is very simple but it shows you the power of data and segmentation and how subtly different messages can drive results,” he said.