The State of Creative in a Data-Driven Advertising Universe

Sandy Drayton  | 

It takes only a quick scan of the video ad publications, or our blog, to see how much time this industry spends focused on the technology advancements that help marketers get eyes to a screen vs the creative that keeps those eyes open, interested and wanting to see more. Keeping tabs on the tech is critical in today’s dynamic, data-fueled media environment, but the reality is that even the biggest, most strategic investments in targeting, audience measurement, programmatic, AI and other capabilities won’t mean a thing if the brand storytelling behind them doesn’t hold sway with the consumer. How well is the industry aligning its creative with all the new ways for reaching audiences? ER’s Chief Revenue Officer Matt Timothy moderated a panel discussion at NYC Television Week to elicit some insights. Innovid’s Tal Chalozin, Parsec Media’s Marc Guldimann and Heat + Deloitte Digital’s Jocelyn Lee weighed in on the right balance between new-world technology and old-fashioned creative. Here are some takeaways.

Wield the Power of Technology Judiciously and with Specific Goals in Mind
Has creative kept pace with tech advancement? The panelists all acknowledged that today’s technology offers unprecedented precision in targeting and customizing ads to specific audience segments. But they were divided over whether relevance should be a defining factor in creative development. Tal and Jocelyn believe consumers increasingly expect hyper-personalized ads, while Marc worries about the “creepiness” factor and noted that Apple has managed to build one of the strongest brands on the planet without collecting reams of data on individual consumers. In addition, Marc pointed to recent studies showing personalization faring less effectively than contextual advertising as consumers react against perceived invasiveness of highly personalized ads. Following up on that point, Matt noted that Progressive has built itself into the number two insurance brand over a decade of advertising that relies solely on character development and storylines rather than personalization.

An Art to Using the Science
Panelists agreed that for all the efficiencies that AI, machine-learning and automated data analysis offer today’s advertisers in planning and delivering campaigns, efficacy still depends on the human intervention that lends artistry to all the new tech capabilities. Jocelyn, a big proponent of AI, maintained that “machines should be able to figure out what parts of an ad will be interesting to particular viewer segments and serve them accordingly…but that doesn’t mitigate the human element.” Heat + Deloitte Digital now employs data interpreters to help guide the creative teams on how to incorporate data findings and targeting technology into their creative remits.

For the Future, the Rising Tide of Technology Will Continue to Lift the Bar on Creative
For all the tech force advertisers can wield in targeting viewers, consumers increasingly have similar power in deciding what and how much advertising content they will tolerate. Which is why the panel, in a moment of total agreement, noted that new targeting technologies are having the possibly unintended consequence of raising the bar on creative rather than making it easier to short shrift the storytelling or media planning. As Tal emphasized, consumers have more options than ever for penalizing bad ads, such as paying minimal fees for ad-free subscription streaming services or unleashing ad-blocking technology. Research has shown again and again and again that consumers don’t hate advertising—especially when they get free programming or deals and discounts in return for watching ads. What they do hate, however, are bad ads—those that are irrelevant to their interests, repeat endlessly and follow users around their devices.

Technology may make it easier to target specific groups of consumers and better understand their particular interests, but the task of effectively engaging audiences rests on the creative. All the new bells and whistles advertisers have in their arsenals don’t change the fundamentals of effective storytelling.

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