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Why It's Time to Rethink the Programmatic Creative

Published: March 19, 2015

Author: Ben Plomion

It’s so obvious that it hardly needs saying: You can have the best programmatic targeting in the world, and your campaign will still fail if you have a terrible creative. Studies have found that more than half of a campaign’s sales impact can be traced to creative variables. In other words, the format, message, and design of the creative need to be exactly right for any campaign to reach its full potential.


And yet, obvious though all this may sound, the creative sometimes gets left out of the conversation in programmatic circles. In some respects, it’s understandable. Programmatic has ushered in a new era in marketing, an era that revolves around data and technology. Although the rise of programmatic was never intended to be a rejection of the importance of the creative, to many marketers it signified that creativity and design were taking a backseat to number-crunching. That’s a shame because the right creative is, of course, as important as ever. Indeed, one of the great advances of the programmatic era is that it allows for rigorous testing of the creative so that it can be constantly adjusted and improved.

Working With the Creative Team

So, how do we move the conversation back to the creative? We can start by bringing the creative team together with the data pros at the beginning of the process. The people designing the creative need to understand that programmatic, by its very nature, is not a one-size-fits-all phenomenon. The same creative that works on a desktop won’t necessarily be a success on a phone. And what works on a phone may not be the best option on a tablet. If members of the creative team understand what the data is signaling, they’ll be able to tailor messages not only to each segment but also to a number of additional variables — the device being used, the time of day the creative is running, and so on. They’ll also gain a better understanding of how one creative influences the success of another, an increasingly important concept as programmatic flow advertising comes of age.

The Shift to Brand Advertising

Another reason it’s now so important to bring the creative into the programmatic discussion is that programmatic has entered a new era. Gone are the days when programmatic was limited to direct-response marketing and remnant display inventory. More and more and brand marketers are now going programmatic —with P&G leading the way. And, at the same time, more and more premium programmatic inventory is being made available by the world’s most respected publishers.

Simply put, these brands and publishers are never going to fully embrace programmatic if the ads aren’t extremely well-designed. For direct-response campaigns on lower-quality sites, an ugly ad that gets a lot of clicks might be just fine. But top publishers don’t want ugly ads in premium placements, and marketers running branding campaigns are much less worried about clicks than about creating an experience that reflects positively on the brand.

It comes down to this: Programmatic has grown up and matured in the last few years. To the extent that there was a turf war between creative teams and data geeks, the data geeks ultimately won. But now is the time for humility rather than chest-thumping. The creative matters as much as ever, and, for programmatic to continue to grow, its practitioners will need to work more closely with creative teams. In some cases this will mean forming new teams and working more closely with vendors. In some cases it will mean changing the culture of the marketing department so that everyone has a clear understanding of how different formats work in different contexts. But one thing is clear: It’s time to bring the creative back into the conversation.

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