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The Art Of Programmatic: Bridging The Gap Between Creative And Technology

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Scroll through the articles on any site about advertising and technology, and you’re bound to run across enough Mad Men and Don Draper references to put you at risk of secondhand smoke. That’s understandable. It’s a helpful shorthand for distinguishing between the creative side of advertising – catchy slogans, beautiful imagery, emotional storytelling, product heroes – and the dominating world of algorithms, data segments and attribution models.

There is a problem, though, because this distinction between creative-driven advertising and technology-driven media extends beyond the articles we write and into the ways we actually operate as an industry.

Programmatic technology unlocks new ways to structure campaigns, but if these capabilities are not considered when creatives are developed, we aren’t tapping into the full potential of the media.

Out-of-home’s technology shift

When it comes to programmatic out-of-home (OOH), we often use the Mad Men vs. technology comparison as a rallying cry for trying to shift buyers from a traditional view of the channel – static placements and long-term flights – to programmatic activations. (“Brands and agencies are still in the Mad Men era of OOH! It’s time to advance!”) And it’s true that some buyers do still limit OOH to a narrowly traditional scope in their media plans.

But many more are embracing digital out-of-home (DOOH) as a key part of the omnichannel media mix, and using the same kinds of granular audience targeting and detailed measurement as other digitally native channels. As the technology evolves, brands and agencies are leaning into sophisticated plans for implementing programmatic DOOH. By looking closely at consumer movement patterns via advanced data solutions, they can activate DOOH in the right place and right time to engage their target audiences.

Proof of this adoption: programmatic OOH is seeing more than 40% year-over-year growth.

So it seems we have finally pushed OOH into the data-driven era. And in OOH, we are obsessed with the relevancy of the context of our media. We build custom behavioral audiences based on visitation habits, and use first-party CRM or third-party data like Foursquare or IRI for targeting. All of this is to iterate on the data-driven approach to context.

But if relevancy and context is so important, why do the majority of creatives that we run have nothing to do with the context?

Creatives missing the mark

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OOH media is known for creative advertising – custom builds, big splashy moments, even tying NFTs to traditional billboards. But this heavy investment in creative has historically been focused on traditional and experiential OOH and not equally applied to programmatic campaigns or even digital out-of-home.

DOOH creatives are often repurposed banner ads or spots from other media channels. Ever seen a billboard with a call-to-action button? (I have.) What about still images running on screens capable of full-motion video? (Happens all the time.) Even more commonly, I see a campaign with hyper-specific audience segmentation running standard creative assets nationally. There are clearly benefits to activating DOOH with existing assets, but an untapped opportunity exists for creative teams and media planners to better collaborate for higher impact.

Creatives: The Next Data-Driven Target

DOOH can create truly beautiful, engaging outdoor art that sparks conversation and consumer action. Much like TV and online video, at the core of a highly visual ad format like DOOH is branding and awareness. While getting a logo or company name in front of eyeballs can drive some awareness, truly capturing consumer attention requires tapping into an emotion, providing something unexpected or delightful and highly relevant.

DOOH is a smart advertising channel through which advertisers can launch personalized campaigns based on an array of data sets and also switch out creative in real time. Campaigns can evolve based on triggers to improve contextual relevance – for example, pushing sunscreen when the UV index is high or featuring product images of ice cream and iced tea during a heatwave.

If we can merge the Mad Men approach with technology, we can create campaigns that use data to inform the media strategy, through targeting and activation, and the creative itself. Thanks to recent developments in the space, dynamic creative is now available at scale across the entire out-of-home ecosystem. Marketers no longer have to choose between precision, real-time messaging and scale of activation. They can run complex creatives that integrate elements from multiple data feeds, locational relevance, time of display … and so on.

The capabilities exist. Now we need creative teams to do what they do best: imagine compelling ways to bring messages to life using the full possibilities of the media.

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