To date, programmatic advertising has delivered growth largely for performance marketers. Scalable precision, agility and accountability have enabled huge strides in their advertising effectiveness and efficiency. While most of the performance advertiser set now use programmatic consistently, brands haven’t yet embraced it in the same way.
Perception is beginning to change, as early adopter brands start to trial programmatic advertising: eMarketer’s latest UK programmatic report says that UK programmatic digital display ad spending will reach £1.8bn ($2.96bn) this year, accounting for 59% of total UK digital display ad spending. But that still leaves plenty of brand marketers who don’t use programmatic.
So what’s holding them back? One reason is purely historical: the industry has focused on performance-focused buying, execution and measurement. Until very recently, tools for proper programmatic brand building simply didn’t exist. Some brand marketers have dipped a toe in the water, but with shoehorned, unsophisticated implementations of the technology.
But there’s another reason why programmatic hasn’t made it big in brand marketing yet: using data responsibly.
Brand marketers are sometimes nervous that digital data-gathering and targeting capabilities might put users off. In fact, an Econsultancy survey saw almost a quarter (23%) of respondents citing data privacy as the main barrier to increased investment in programmatic branding. Brand marketers can’t risk losing the consumer trust that they work so hard to build. They know that consumers can be seriously put off by ads that follow them round the web – and they fear the fallout. They want to know how they can create more personalised experiences to engage consumers while avoiding the ‘creepy’ tag and resulting damage to their brand.
The good news is that marketers have the ability to choose where they draw the line by using the right technology, audience signals and digital media to tell rich, data-led creative stories. Brands and agencies want to do this: last year a poll by AOL showed that 47% of agencies, publishers and brands believe programmatic is leading to new forms of creativity and storytelling in advertising.
To see how data can drive great storytelling, we first need to unpick what makes a great story. There are three main components to think about: who we’re telling the story to, where we’re telling it and what it’s about. In each case, data can steer a brand’s creative strategy and produce a more effective, engaging campaign.
Let’s look at some recent examples. A Mini remarketing campaign focused on ‘who’ by changing the creative depending on the website viewer’s gender, age and interest, with colour and features changing accordingly. Programmatic enhanced targeting allowed them to cut the manual setup by 94%.
Jeep focused on ‘where’ by partnering with the Weather Channel to create location-specific messaging for mobile, showing the Cherokee Jeep taking on the local weather conditions. Consumers engaged in record numbers.
Both campaigns used data in a smart and elegant way. They used the principles of good storytelling and were rewarded with strong audience interest. But of course, the heart of any story is the ‘what’ – the content – that will engage the audience and build the brand. Data is an incredibly powerful tool in the creation of great content.
Brands spend huge amounts of time, money and effort on their TV storytelling. But with programmatic they can take it so much further, making it far more personalised and experiential. Programmatic enables brands to capture data with every engagement and use audience signals to develop a story over time. They can measure and change as they go to see what’s working for each audience segment, message and format – making every interaction smarter and more valuable than the last.
A fantastically ambitious example from this summer is Unilever’s Brazilian campaign for its male grooming brand Axe (known in the UK as Lynx). It’s a video trailer for ‘Romeo Reboot’, an imaginary film remake of Romeo and Juliet – programmatically served in 100,000 variations, depending on a user’s interests, such as musical tastes and brands they identify with. Of 11 scenes, six can be changed to match the viewer’s profile. These variations range from updating the music to giving the story a sci-fi setting, and the digital agency can keep altering them to optimise campaign results. This approach uses rules-based technology to execute personalised advertising in real time; without programmatic technology, this degree of scale and precision would not be possible.
It’s early days, but the high completion rates for the minute-long videos already indicate strong consumer engagement. With 25,000 permutations of the ad shown to each customer segment, the result is an impressively personalised experience that enables two friends to see very different trailers and feel that each was in tune with them. Again, a responsible use of data and a highly creative and effective way to make connections and build conversations.
‘Romeo Reboot’ relaunched Axe in Brazil, so it was an important moment for the brand. The project’s storytelling scale and imagination certainly brought it back with a bang – something only programmatic advertising could deliver. This campaign is a poster child for programmatic as the friend, not foe, of creativity. Brands can use the data to make every ad dynamic – not with stalker-like targeting, but with brilliantly relevant creative that adapts and evolves. According to the IAB, doing this can double yield on interaction rates and increase engagement by 50%.
Some brands may still be afraid to try programmatic advertising. But it’s time to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’. Now is the time for brand marketers to get involved and take control, talking to their agency partners and encouraging planners, strategists and creatives to consider how to use this technology – which, when used properly, can significantly enhance digital storytelling potential to build their brand. It’s a genuinely exciting opportunity – the future, actually – and it’s too big to miss out on.