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Media Is From Mars And Creative Is From Venus


Data-Driven Thinking“Data-Driven Thinking” is a column written by members of the media community and containing fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Karl Siebrecht at AdReady.

“Media Is From Mars And Creative Is From Venus”

Cheesy title for a column? Perhaps.

Critically important topic that has been vastly underrepresented amidst all of the renewed innovation, growth and hype within the display advertising industry? Absolutely.

Here’s the thing, most—if not all advertisers—share a common goal: to reach the right audience with the right message at the right time. Yet despite the inherent structural potential of the Internet to deliver on this mission through display advertising, and fifteen years of investment and innovation in the industry, this goal remains unmet for many marketers.


I believe it is because media and creative have been managed separately from one another for far too long. From marketing strategy through tactical campaign execution, and from the services layer through the technology providers, the media and creative disciplines have not yet fused to the degree necessary to reach their collective potential.

For example, at a strategic level, it is still a stunningly common practice for marketers and their agencies to assume that they have the right creative concept or message selected prior to launching a campaign. This approach starkly contrasts from marketers that go into a campaign with a testing frame of mind.

I don’t believe that great creative concepts can be developed by machines or born out of metrics, but I know for a fact that we humans very consistently fail to guess which messages will have the greatest positive impact on our selected audiences. And as we start to get more sophisticated about buying discreetly targeted audiences, this guessing game becomes even more difficult. Bottom line, marketers need help (i.e., testing) determining which great ideas will generate great results. This job requires the tight integration of media planning with creative planning, but more importantly, it requires technology.

This leads to a second, related example. A marketer recently described how excited she was to now be able to buy targeted audiences through her DSP technology provider. She explained how she and her team had defined and were purchasing more than a dozen different audience segments defined by a combination of behavioral, demographic and geographic characteristics.


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This all sounds well and good, but there’s a catch: this marketer only had a handful of different creative treatments to choose from. This means the company was sending a marginally relevant message to the right audience at the right time. A scenario that is unfortunately widespread across our industry.

And why is this? Often it is because the creative and media teams operate independently. This disjointed effort starts at the planning stage (“the creative is built by someone else – we just use what we get”) goes through the budgeting stage (“they only had enough budget to build 1 set of ads”) and ends with execution (“the ad works or it doesn’t”).

Taken together, these two practices confirm display ads are underperforming for a lot of marketers. We know, both intuitively and empirically, that the only way to tap into display’s full potential, is to select several creative candidates for each audience segment, and then test them all to find the winners for each segment. And further, to then try additional concepts (“enter more horses in the race”) and see if we can’t beat the current winners at any given point. Think of this as disaggregating our historic notion of a campaign into lots of “micro” campaigns (or as we call them at my company – “precision campaigns” – combinations of targeted audiences and unique messages) all managed under a unified, cohesive (audience + creative) marketing and media strategy.

So, what is required to bring the creative and media sides of the equation closer together? In my view, three things must happen:

  1. The services layer (read agencies) must become more integrated. I see signs of this happening across the industry, but we have a long way to go.
  2. Technology solutions must also become more integrated across the media (audience) and creative functions. It is telling (and odd to me) that even the frameworks and industry diagrams used to describe technologies across the display ecosystem still bucket these capabilities separately. Nonetheless, there are a few solutions out there that do couple some aspects of media and creative technologies. I do expect that others will follow suit.
  3. The upfront and overhead costs to manage all of this sophisticated activity must come down—dramatically. Innovation on the media side including audience-based buying, real-time bidding, automated optimization and the like have helped to remove friction and lower costs. But widespread innovation on the creative side of the equation has lagged. When running a $500K “aggregated” campaign, spending $30-$50K on a few different creative assets can pencil out okay. But when you disaggregate this campaign to target many different audiences, each requiring unique messages, these creative costs are a complete non-starter.

I’ve long believed that the display market will grow to be significantly larger than the search market. At the risk of carrying my metaphor too far…I’ll bet that when we get to this point where display spend surpasses search spend, someone will be able to write a display-related opinion piece that leans on the follow-on book to the original, called “Mars and Venus Together Forever.”

You can follow AdReady (@AdReady) and AdExchanger.com (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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