Originally published on LinkedIn’s Pulse
Data driven automation is a wonderful thing that has turned digital marketing on its head. Everyone loves the efficiency, the measurability and the real-time control over spend, yet it seems that the industry got so high on audience targeting that it forgot about the actual messages it delivers to those audiences.
Right this minute, across the globe, thousands of people, algorithms, databases, servers and platforms with sci-fi names are working tirelessly to shift budgets from one set of media inventory to the next in hope to squeeze a few extra clicks or to hit a few more points on the audience target index. The data says that ‘Site A’ is delivering a higher index on clicks, so I better increase the bid on that property, or the data says that ‘Site B’ delivers more video completions so I better bet on that, and the data says that ‘Site C’ is indexing better against my target demo so I better bank on that… and so on and so forth.
The more automated this process becomes the more technical and blunt decisions become too. In the heat of the effort to squeeze another percentage point of performance there is a tendency to forget that behind every impression there is (or sadly isn’t…) a human being who’s probably trying to do something other than consume an ad. Marketers, of course, are looking for is engagement, but what is there in a certain media property that would make it more fertile for click farming? Audience targeting is vastly important for relevancy, as is the contextual relation between the site content and the ad, automation can help with both, but it doesn’t end there.
I once witnessed a team of very smart technicians who were optimizing a video campaign for a large CPG client, success was measured by clicks and video completion. At first things seemed great, drag a few sliders in a platform and viola – the system yields great results, but after eliminating suspicious and non-viewable inventory things got much tougher and performance struggled for a while then the campaign started performing again for a few days then stopped, then performed again for a few days and then dropped… the team pulled every lever and every slider, but it was only 2 weeks after the campaign ended when they realized that someone was experimenting with different creative on the back end while they were “optimizing” media.
Ultimately what drives engagement of any type is creative, not media. The brand’s message is in the ad, not the content around the ad. Yet, endless amount of effort and tech is invested in real-time media optimization while the creative often runs on a separate track. Creative concepts are usually managed by different teams than the teams that manage media optimization, often the creative gets swapped mid-campaign on the ad server without affecting the media optimization strategy.
I often claim that ad-tech has hijacked the digital marketing industry and this is a perfect example of that. Marketing used to be all about creative, brands invested most of its efforts on conveying its message in the most attractive and compelling manner. Algorithms can crunch numbers very effectively, but they cannot produce new creative concepts. Dynamic creative optimization (DCO) is an insult to the term ‘creative’, while it may have some merit in the relevance of the offer to specific audience, the price for the automation is usually paid with unattractive, cookie-cutter look.
Creative requires human talent, it cannot be automated, but in an industry that fell captive to automation quality creative concepts have no room. The impact of quality creative is difficult to explain with algorithms so it gets marginalized. Only five years ago, before most people could spell the word ‘programmatic’, we were all still running expensive rich media ads and page takeovers because those ads drove higher engagement rates. Today rich media is almost a bad word, not because it wasn’t performing for brands, but because it could not be pushed through the programmatic pipes. Yes, you can be creative with a jpeg ad, but you cannot argue that we have lost rich media for the sake of efficiency and not for better results.
Technology is allowing us amazing levels of agility and real-time control over digital campaigns, but for best results the creative team and the media optimization teams need to work together in full transparency. The decision to change the buy or introduce new creative concept needs to take one another into account, along with context, frequency and post click performance on the landing site. Teams that work well together in this manner will most definitely yield better results than those that optimize media and creative in isolation.