Ad Tech Turns To Social Creative To Bring Life Back To Banner Units

Remember the last time a banner ad caught your eye?


But one way that advertisers have overcome the low response rates of standard display ad units is to recreate social media content as creative.

It’s not a crowded category, notably featuring the programmatic startup Spaceback and Nova, the buy-side business connected to Polar. But it’s now feasible to extract the creative and unique elements of each social platform – the TikTok watermark, say, or live tracking of Instagram likes and shares – and make the content fit in an IAB standard 300×250 or 300×600 banner.

“It’s opened an area of opportunity for us that’s much more rich and engaging, often, than static display ads,” said Ben Morse, manager of digital marketing for the shoe brand Deckers, and a Spaceback client.

In the past few years, social creative has grown to between a third and half of programmatic display ads depending on the brand, Morse said. Deckers owns Teva’s, Uggs and Sanuk, among other footwear lines.

There are reasons to use traditional creative. Morse pointed out that some mobile display units might be too small to show well as social posts.

There’s also room to grow, however. Deckers uses its Instagram posts as display creative, but Spaceback supports content from Snapchat, TikTok, Pinterest and more.

For brands, creating social media content is already a priority, whereas programmatic display is often an afterthought or outright stock imagery, said Spaceback CEO and co-founder Casey Saran.

Spaceback plugs into a brand’s social account, but its strongest pitch is to performance agencies, who are stymied by diminishing click-through rates and consumer attention for banner ads.

Tinuiti, one such performance agency, now recommends Spaceback’s social creative for any display campaign, said SVP of addressable media Kolin Kleveno.

“Brands are more apt to be AB-testing in the social realm, and often come to us with a generic set of banner ads,” he said. Instead, Tinuiti requests the brand take posts that perform well in their ongoing social creative tests and repurpose them for banners.

The social units do a better job getting users to stop scrolling midway through a page (that’s what they’re going for on social feeds, after all) and potentially click on that ad, Kleveno said.

“The standard static banner ads or units with GIF elements are just not driving performance,” he said.

Poaching social content does require some new programmatic checks. Deckers, for instance, can use influencer content that’s been posted by the main account, but can’t use images from an influencer’s account directly.

Another rub: platforms like Spaceback have to make sure any individuals in the image have given consent to appear in an ad. And for TikTok and new video-sharing posts on other platforms, there can be songs embedded in the post. Spaceback scrubs those too, if the brand doesn’t have licensing rights.

Spaceback also has to balance user expectations. When someone clicks on a “heart” icon as if to like the repurposed Instagram post, the ad will link back to that in-app post, or users will be angry and bewildered, Saran said. But brands want the ads to link back to product pages or campaign landing pages, not send traffic to Instagram. So Spaceback inserts a call to action button atop the social content. Saran said about 90% of clicks go back to the brand landing page, and 10% to a social app.

He said the goal for social creative is to automatically plug into social feeds the way a company like Criteo uses ecommerce product catalogs. But social content is updated far more often, and reflects the brand’s identity, often dealing with trends or news.

“A brand’s social feed is a living, breathing thing compared to a product catalog,” he said.

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