Standardization And Imagination Can End Programmatic’s Creative Wasteland

jamesmurphyddtData-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by James Murphy, vice president of programmatic at RhythmOne.

The challenge of developing impactful creative that can scale across the programmatic environment is one of the biggest limitations to wider adoption.

“Premium” units – custom creative that isn’t part of IAB or MMA frameworks – are difficult to deploy in a programmatic environment. Unfortunately, these are the units that can overcome ad blindness and effectively reach target audiences.

How can we make compelling and impactful creative that can function within the somewhat restricted world of programmatic, the primary benefit of which is massive scale – a characteristic that runs counter to bespoke creative? It’s not an academic question. Impact matters in the area that matters most: the bottom line.

Rich media ads deliver 267% more click-throughs than a standard ad unit, according to Adform. Spending continues to move from direct buying to programmatic, with 63% of digital display ad spend predicted for programmatic by 2016, up 18% from 2014, according to eMarketer.

As this trend continues, the ability to deploy creative that cuts through the static is an imperative for continued viability and long-term investment. Big players in programmatic, such as CPG and retailers, are facilitating this transition and at the forefront of demand for a solution. The challenge is not theoretical, but quite practical.

The solution is not an easy one. Platforms and publishers vary widely in the kinds of ads they will accept. It is no small feat for a programmatic platform to keep publishers’ tagging structures in sync with the latest in delivery technology. Moreover, for emerging ad types like native, the effectiveness comes in ensuring they look like the site on which they appear, which means dynamically adapting to the context into which they are served.

The answer lies in striking the right balance between technology and creative, just as it has in the display arena as a whole. Arguably, creative has been in the driver’s seat to date. This won’t change, nor would we advocate for that. We would advocate, however, for co-ownership of this problem with the technology innovators out there.

This means we need some degree of standardization on both sides of the equation: the supply side with tagging and updating standards, and the demand side with creative templating and ad building solutions.

Tagging On The Front Lines

Tagging is an important frontier for standardization and remains an issue. For a publisher supplying high-impact units that need a fixed position, a single universal tag doesn’t work, which has implications for scale. Companies are trying to narrow the number of tag instances they are offering publishers to make it easier to manage relationships.

What I see is the community of small exchange players working exclusively with their own tags. To scale, tagging must be tied into standardization process. So, while there may be some of this provincial approach to tagging, the big players need to embrace standardization and get their publishers to accommodate.

Publishers would benefit if technology helped establish a means for units to be executed across all publishers. That would also prevent unnecessarily limitation, making that disconnect less of an issue.

Standards benefit the creative shop or creative tech solution provider, too. Imagine the efficiency of using one format across multiple exchanges, minimizing costs and the overtapping of resources to execute. It’s a virtuous circle, so you can see how tag limitation for the sake of ease or “publisher relationships” could happen at the expense of this type of scale.

Direct publisher relationships, known to enable rich and customized creative, actually hamper long-term broader, more open creative horizons for the industry as a whole. And “open market” is, after all, very much the spirit of programmatic.

Templates And Imagination: Not Mutually Exclusive

A template-based approach is required for scale, but this need not be a limitation. To the contrary, those behind the creative should keep an open mind: “How do we innovate around these template options? How can we reimagine visual execution, creative mechanics, versioning and more?”

And on the tech side, it becomes a question of how to encourage that kind of thinking, keep ahead of it and continue delivering options to ensure that the approach to high-impact creative in the programmatic marketplace is never limited by imagination or its technical blockage.

To solve the programmatic creative challenge, we must make creative and tech equal partners in every area of the business, creating a culture of imagination and tech innovation working hand in hand. If we allow technological parameters to advance creative and not hinder it, this will lead to a better experience for the end user, better creative performance and, at the end of the day, more revenue.

Initial Strides

The industry is starting to address the problem in a limited capacity. Certain more progressive exchanges, such as Sizmek and ReactX, are at least making high-impact and native options available to those who wish to serve them. These solutions are generally in silos, focused on specific ad types. While this is a step in the right direction, offering more encompassing solutions is what’s needed. As yet, no one has taken it to the next level.

Once that happens, money will eventually shift further from traditional spending, with few barriers remaining to achieving both scale and impact.

Ultimately, a strong tech stack helps break down silos and sets the stage for standardization. Standardization does a few things: It assists adoption and further strengthens the operation of the tech stack itself. And then supply and demand are in sync, allowing the programmatic opportunity to thrive.

Follow RhythmOne (@RhythmOneUS) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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