The programmatic paradox

Agencies have become obsessed with targeting with pinpoint precision but less so with the content they deliver to that target

Five years of phenomenal programmatic growth and this is where we find ourselves. A $20 billion-plus global industry that is bursting with technological innovation and the ability to target a prospective customer with pinpoint accuracy, but with complete disregard for what made advertising so successful in the first place.

That is great creative that has the ability to make you happy or sad, laugh or cry — and, importantly, creates a lasting connection with a brand. We did it with digital advertising and we did it again with programmatic — we focused too quickly on direct response and didn’t mind too much about the stories we told.

We have become obsessed with targeting, but less so with the content we deliver to the target. As technology continues to improve, we have seen a marginal improvement in our creative and content, but only as far as the banner is concerned. Companies such as Criteo set the early benchmark with the combination of text and image linked to a specific signal, but this is way too basic when you look at the potential of a totally blank canvas. All the companies that specialize in what is called dynamic creative optimization have to recognize that the output is — compared with the brilliant ideas that come to life in other media — neither dynamic nor creative.

Programmatic capacity has now developed to the point where we can do almost anything we like with any format we like — be that homepage takeovers, skins, large formats, expandables and so on — all based around a particular insight. However, the reality is that these options are not being exploited and it remains the most dramatic missed opportunity of our time. A particularly harsh reality for an industry that rises and falls on its ability to deliver relevance. Relevance is within our grasp and the people who paint pictures and weave stories should be scrambling to grab it.

We know so much about people and we have so many data signals that there is no reason why anyone staring at their screen should not see an ad tailored to their journey. There are tens of thousands of data opportunities to allow us to build bespoke audiences, and the press is full of advertisers wanting their own data management platform so they can harness and leverage all the data available to them.

This is all admirable and correct, but they equally need to turn their gaze to their siloed creative structures and bring their multiple agencies into choreographed harmony.

Take cross-screen advertising. So many column inches and hours of conference debate are dedicated to this topic du jour. There are so many companies offering the ability to have a single view across screens and devices. But who is designing bespoke creative for this solution?

I am not talking about resizing; I am talking about a dialogue and a story that traverses screens. One in which the message and creative are crafted to make the most of each environment. Sequential advertising is another great example where only a few are really attempting that approach and making the most of all the tools we have.

We are starting to see more interconnectivity of agencies within the holding groups on behalf of advertisers (such as Publicis Groupe’s Always-On Platform), which gives everyone access to marketing intelligence, and the ability to identify and build audience segments, create engaging content and deliver campaigns across all media channels.

But so far, those platforms seem to be the domain of digital and media agencies that recognize the power of aggregating and engaging with audiences based on a shared, profound understanding of individual customers. Again, we need more big brains and artists focusing on the message. Imagine the impact if the bigger, "traditional" creative agencies came to the table.

The past five years have been exciting and, yes, technology has revolutionized the way media is planned and bought and will continue to do so. But we have reached a pivotal moment. Now is the time for creative agencies to embrace and improve the potential of programmatic.

And if they don’t? There is huge potential for media companies to step into the space and produce great creative that is relevant, measurable and appropriately targeted. If creative agencies continue to dismiss programmatic, I can guarantee that media and other companies will fill the void.

Advertisers also have to demand action. Dear client, don’t just ask your agencies to create endless audience profiles without also asking for the ability to talk to your customers with passion. If a customer is willing to make us part of their daily journey, we have to entertain, inform and captivate them in return.

Marco Bertozzi is the president, global clients, at VivaKi.

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