The Programmatic Creative Complex

David Sanchez
Jan 11, 2016 · 6 min read

The beauty of the algorithmic efficiency of ‘programmatic advertising’ is the delivery of data-driven audience targeted tailored messages.

Every time I work on a programmatic campaign I see it as an orchestra, the media plan informs where the tune (brand) of the music (message) is going to reach its audience (medium, interface and user), the variation of music is tailored to a specific listener (different but similar tunes) concurrently during a time period (concert) or campaign.

This orchestrated cacophony only makes sense to a system or machine powered by a DSPs and RTBs dance, and pure algorithmic logic. Programmatic Creative should be designed by humans and produced by machines. At least “creativity” is our minds fire, but machines are not too far.


The mobile era and the resulting IoT’s like Smart TV’s have induced new and evolving media consumption behaviors stimulated by interfaces with inherited concerns like security, privacy and power management have simply caused the downfall of Adobe Flash which was the ultimate authoring environments for generating advertising units.

The scripting capabilities of the ‘Flash’ sandbox was amazing and capable of wonderful creativity, programmatic could have been easier by just embedding variables into creative units that are either pre populated with failsafe content or dynamically generated by the algorithmic pipeline, nevertheless it was standardized with Third Party Ad Serving partners like PointRoll, Atlas Solutions and DoubleClick API Kits and it was all good.

The friendly old .SWF and the standard backup units satisfied the client needs all across the world. It is not dead yet, flash still has its case use scenarios when ever is acceptable, I personally find that SWF is ever so less demanded. If you can afford to redundantly produce SWF files for all your media buying needs, then good for you. When you are working with a limited budget things need to be by design more efficiently produced specially with programmatic, we have to produce all possible variations of the creative as demanded by the media plan strategy.


Advertising tech providers aim to automated the biding, serving and quantifying process, but none at least for now have mastered the actual creative production automation. There is a wide variety of Creative Management Platforms across the industry, some in association to big media agency groups which makes them a less desirable creative production partner.

I am sure most have their best intentions for standardization, of clickTag (ClickTag, CLICKTag, clicktag) management and event tracking handling, JavaScript animation libraries etc but when you are an independent agency, media neutrality is essential to you and your clients, and when Including a CMP across the production pipeline, you are increasing the CPM for the convenience but I think it offers improved margins.

The CPM is a middle man into the production + media planning, buying and serving process, who has the best “Studio Tool” to help you construct those hundreds if not thousands of advertising units. Some CPMs try to enable the tag delivery, but honestly I will be hesitant to skimp on top tier CDN infrastructure. Why would you double or sometimes triple abstract your ad tags? It makes me nervous if the ad delivery system infrastructure is not to par with the big player, milliseconds matter on this business.

The standardization of production methods is important, specially when producing large amounts of inventory, we don’t have the luxury of advertising unit rejections through pre-flight check or QA. We just need the units to ‘tween’ happily.


HTML5 authoring environments are catching up with atomizing capabilities of the Flash Environment, although there is still long way to go. Adobe is continuing to transition the legions of creative that worked with Flash into Adobe Animate CC.

Google Web Designer is the standard for anyone producing creative advertising for DoubleClick, worth investing the time and effort to master it.

Most of the publishers or media partners are still catching up to the realities of bandwidth consumption. Everything is a fight for the page load time through the HTTP request, ad packages and publisher bloatware and content that happen in milliseconds, nothing makes sense when consumers are digesting content on a LTE network or over a fiber optic connection.

I can’t recall a moment of my career where I am not baffled with the 40KB or 50KB file limit on advertising units. And the disparity all across the industry. Creative concepts often require larger desirable bandwidths, trying to explain the nuances to a client is an impossible task.

Advertising Units can be segmented between High Production Value vs Low Production Value which for me is all subjective and it truly matters on which performs better and effectiveness of the performance.


After a laborious year developing and producing creative concepts for a global client we where finally reaching a significant milestone to finally deploy a sophisticated programmatic advertising campaign all across the target audience in Asia.

At first we knew that working with 7 of the IAB Ad units will make production of the advertising units (classic banners) more predictable in terms of proportions and file size handling. The advertising production becomes a matrix of complexity.

Producing 7 units per 7 creative concepts, each of these concepts addressing a unique business, industry segment, united under one brand.

The initial production scope planned was for 7 creative IAB dimensions by 7 creative concepts that will be 49 units per set. By two content variances or call to action that made a total of 98 units, totaling 105 including 7 special units without retargeting messaging.

The scope of production shifted from 7 units to 27, thus the production matrix exponentially grew to 378 units, totaling 405 including 27 special units without retargeting. The campaign analytics will guide any variability of creative towards business KPI’s thus for every optimization instance, 27 new units will be created per concept, although I suspect that not all the units will not be top tier performance, therefore I expect not all dimensions per plan will offer a maximum utility against hypothesis.

It was most intimidating to produce such a large number of units, a combination of team skills, great client brand guidance and proper design created a common visual frame work of elements that helped inform the optimal path to production. Ideally the production method should be a system that includes variables and brand parameters to produce “device” agnostic media. If I know the nuances or brand parameters of how these banners should look like, why not work with a system that takes brand nuance and build them automatically. Creative look and feel is broken down (atomic design) to its basic components and then let an advertising server use the campaign look and feel rules to deliver the proper media.

Embracing programmatic creative doesn’t have to be cumbersome, our focus should be to enable the best brand experiences powered by data and creative ideas not worrying about how to produce the media for discreet and definable audience or hypothesis that are so ephemeral or task intensive.

This campaign example was a eye opener for me, I am certain that there are creative executions with variances that are more complex in numbers and difficulty, but creative agencies all across the world are dealing with the new problem of scale. How to produce programmatic creative more cost effectively without hurting the bottom-line.

Key questions:

How do you maximize your media budget without given away production fees?
How can you produce the most effective and efficient inventory to supply your demand of inventory and still remain tailored?

Originally published in @LinkedIn

David Sanchez

Written by

Associate Creative Director, AI Strategist @APCOWorldwide, enabling ideas, innovation to business value, products, services, and experiences. + views = My Own!

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