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How Can Technology Unlock Ad Creativity?

Adit Abhyankar
Jan 11, 2021

Originally posted Forbes by Adit Abhyankar on January 11, 2021

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When the usual pundits talk about the impact of technology on advertising, they often refer to the data and algorithmic equations that have changed media buying from a model that used to focus primarily on buying at scale to a model based on driving measurable results. Targeting and retargeting, programmatic bidding, use of first- and third-party data and loads of other signals allow an unprecedented ability to constantly optimize media to drive results.

All this technology has led to a new science of placing the right ad in front of the right audience at the right time using data as the decider. The investment decision is based on formulas and models, but it largely ignores the role of advertising in creating an emotional bond with consumers.

Missing from the discussion about technology is its ability to impact the creation and customization of the ad content itself. Even with the best of science and data, ugly and irrelevant ads will not turn a prospect into a buyer. According to research done by Google Media Lab, 70% of ad campaign performance is based on the quality of ad creativity. In the TV world, creativity is paramount. When your Super Bowl slot costs over $5 million, your ad better resonate.

Yet digital creativity is often an after-thought (or worse, given no thought). When each incremental digital ad costs pennies and is only shown to granular micro-segments that are most likely to buy your product, does creativity matter any less? Judging by the rise of ad-blockers, consumers are clearly telling us it does not.

Top-Down Storytelling Is The Way Of The Past

Technology can help us understand what makes a creative concept resonate and deliver that story in a way that is meaningful and relevant to the audience. Let’s take the example of advertising in the auto category, which is often an uncoordinated mix of messages placed by the manufacturer (Tier 1), regional associations (Tier 2) and local dealerships (Tier 3), all of which place ads for the same make and model.

What does that look like today? Let’s take a look at a typical set of automotive ads. A brand video for the vehicle model poses a dramatic question to hopefully inspire the viewer, along with beautiful views of landscapes, a soothing voice-over, all ending with a final shot of a few different models on a mountain top. Aspirational, but it could easily apply to any car brand that is reasonably fun to drive. Model-specific ads focus on abstract visuals and non-specific equipment or attributes. Tier 2 ads focus on sales events and often ignore the emotive concepts used in Tier 1, and Tier 3 ads simply show the car, the price and the “see details” button to encourage action. They often don’t use the brand’s tagline, the photos do not generate a mood and the primary feature is what it costs to buy. That ad is simply a carousel of dealer inventory, elegantly presented, with no connection to the brand’s aesthetic.

Flip The Model: Technology Can Inspire Storytelling

Rather than today’s approach, imagine using the downstream data and insights of each segment, as identified by the customers who show interest in particular models and needs, and use those details to define the stories and images that can be used throughout the tiers? Learning how to apply the brand story to well-understood customer types would help tie the whole story together, from brand to transaction.

Storytelling is critical to good advertising, and more so when the story shows up in so many places. According to research by Five by Five (formerly Headstream), if people love a brand story, 55% are more likely to buy the product in the future, 44% will share the store and 15% will buy the product immediately (slide 3).

By turning the approach to brand story creation on its head and starting with the consumer, we can leverage technology and data to make the entire marketing funnel on-brand and relevant. Consumer interactions with the brand’s communications, website and dealerships can help provide copywriters and designers with data and insights so they can build visual and copy variations that will be more relevant to each audience segment. Rather than designing for a single audience, they can design for a portfolio of audiences. There are two key benefits: the effectiveness of a consistent brand experience in the eyes of the consumer, and the efficiency of having brands and their retail partners localize the same creative assets to tell the story in a way that lands for their customers and prospects.

If this has been accomplished, such a creative ad would cater to the urban driver for whom the car represents a weekend getaway, just as much as the suburban mom investigating the latest three-row SUV to hold her crew and their stuff, and the semi-retired golfer who is ready to sign a lease for a new luxury sedan. They’ll still be shown a winding road by the brand and pricing details from the dealer. But with data to inform and technology to customize each ad, the images and storylines will be more connected to their unique buying needs.

In practice, this requires creative teams to re-architect the way they create and launch campaigns. By infusing data into the ideation and the execution of each piece of creativity, brand stories will resonate with a variety of audiences. The conversation around advertising and marketing tech should include its role in developing creative, branded ads that capitalize on what you know about your consumers.

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