How to Make Programmatic Marketing More Creative

It all starts with attracting talented creative people to the industry.

People don’t see algorithms. People see ads.

Yet as the ad industry quickly moves toward an inevitable end state where the vast majority of media is transacted programmatically, something kind of important got left behind: creativity.

The programmatic industry has spent the last 7+ years focused almost entirely on targeting and efficiency, but that’s starting to change, for a simple reason: programmatic is fundamentally about optimizing toward outcomes, and creative has more influence on results than media does.

Companies like Celtra, Paper G, Spongecell and FlashTalking are all tailoring their platforms to improve creative in programmatic environments, which is a great start. But the bigger challenge is a human one: until great creatives are motivated to work in the space, programmatic creativity can only go so far.

At the moment most creatives just aren’t interested in programmatic, and I doubt I would be if I were in their shoes. To begin with, “automation” sounds like the antithesis of creativity. More importantly, the path to career advancement as a creative relies heavily on building a portfolio of award-winning or news-generating work, and programmatic doesn’t really deliver when it comes to hardware and the right kind of headlines.

But in other ways, I think working in programmatic could be a very attractive proposition to creatives, by offering them things the rest of the industry doesn’t in terms of autonomy, respect, and compensation.

These are three approaches we’re trying at Anagram to make programmatic a potentially interesting career path for talented creative people…

Show Them the Data

Creatives usually don’t have timely access to meaningful data about how their work is performing, if they have any exposure to results at all. As a whole the digital world is metrics-obsessed, and there are certainly lots of people poring over every cell of data — they’re just not the people who made the work.

If you’ve ever done something as simple as create and distribute Facebook post you know there’s something very powerful about having access to real-time data about how that post is performing. It becomes a game you want to win, and if something’s not doing well, you don’t just sit by and watch it tank — you intervene to make it better. And you certainly come up with ideas about what to better next time around.

Almost every programmatic platform has great reporting and visualization features. We think creatives ought to have full access to these tools, and that good things will happen once they do.

Let Them Own the Outcome

Once a campaign is in-market it usually enters the domain of media and analytics departments, who own responsibility for improving outcomes.

The problem is, the only way media and analytics people can impact performance is by eliminating things that don’t work, and shifting investments to the existing assets that are performing relatively well.

But nothing new can ever come of that process. Less bad is not the same as better.

If empowered to participate in the optimization process, creative people could instead be looking for signals that inspire new pieces of work to put into the marketplace. Creative people could lead an optimization process that becomes expansive, not reductive.

Our plan is to let creatives own responsibility for the work that is in market, from the day the campaign launches to the day it ends. Look at the data. Change things. Make new things. Do whatever it takes creatively to improve results.

Give Them Upside

If programmatic can’t compete when it comes to the awards and prestige that lead to career advancement, then it has to make up for that in other ways in order to attract creative talent. Here’s a good one: money.

If creatives have access to data, and are empowered to make improvements in-market, then the logical extension is that they should make more money if their works performs well.

By definition every programmatic campaign has a measurable objective that represents success. Creatives should have financial upside for their ability to influence that success. There are all kinds of ways to structure that — a dollar value for each outcome, or a bonus based on improvement over the course of the campaign, or a reward for the number of in-market adjustments made over the course of a campaign.

The point is, the better a creative person’s work performs, the better they should do financially.

Taken together, these three ideas challenge one of the most entrenched stereotypes in our business, which is that creative people don’t care about business results. In my experience, creatives are often the most business-savvy people in the agency, and the hope is that for those kind of people, programmatic might become interesting as a way to demonstrate that.

I don’t expect that creatives will be giving up dreams of Cannes Lions for programmatic any time soon, but it’s a start.

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