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My Campaign Is Ready, but Where Are My Creatives?

Manu Mathew
Feb 25, 2021

Originally published in Toolbox for Marketing on February 25, 2021.

One of the great things about digital marketing is that the creative assets themselves seem much simpler. There are no issues around color processing, bleeds, print lines, set delays, production lags, or physical distribution of signage. So, why does it often seem that orchestration between the multiple teams is left lacking, where the left hand usually does not know what the right hand is doing, with poor communication leading to growing silos? This often leads to hurried campaign execution, with media teams chasing assets for campaigns or less than optimal creative designs being used to drive campaigns?

Creative Ad Management Remains Archaic

In recent interviews we conducted with media and marketing executives at large global brands around the world, we discovered that one of their biggest issues is the lack of visibility into when the ad creative will be ready for the campaigns they are set to activate. Some of the common challenges we heard are as follows:

Creative teams are tasked with perfection

There is an adage attributed to Winston Churchill that goes, “Perfection is the enemy of progress.” 70% of the success of a campaign is driven by the quality of the creative that is used. Translating these designs into cross-format and cross-channel assets is key to success. If the creative effort is hung up on font sizes or the image gradients, it delays the production needed to put those beautiful ads and videos to work. It is a holdover from the long lead times inherent in TV and print campaigns. In digital, they still need to get it close to perfect, but importantly they need to get it done while preserving the creative design’s intent.

The brand elements come in massive file sizes

One of the CPG firms we chatted with was hampered by the wait to get assets from the brand team, which arrived as a massive Zip file. It is then up to the recipients in each region or office to open the files, understand the assets, then create the variations required for each campaign adding their local message, language, or flair.

Assets are delivered to the media team in an uneditable form, not a set of flexible assets

Media buyers and planners live in numbers and spreadsheets. How many analysts have the skills to edit an Illustrator file or Photoshop JPG? If the assets are sent as fully baked ads, any minor tweak requires additional, expensive production cycles.

Each unique creative requires approval from the CMO, legal, and/or regulatory departments

The process of getting digital ads approved should be well managed in our age of digital transformation at large companies. When interviewing media executives from financial services firms, hotel chains, and global CPGs, we were surprised by how many companies said the process of getting sign-off on final ads involved printing and delivering ads in-person to each department. During the lockdown, the innovation was to put the hundreds of versions into an email to get the OK from each stakeholder.

The TV-First Mindset Persists

When a brand, particularly but not limited to CPG, wants to produce a big campaign, the starting point is still typically a 30-second TV commercial. From there, the story gets broken down into multiple lengths and video outputs; then executions are created for digital banners, social media, and video. This misses the distinction between telling a story in its entirety — totally appropriate for passive, lean-back viewing — and grabbing someone’s attention at the start.  Remember, the definition of viewability for digital video advertising is a minimum of 50% of the ad is in view for a minimum of two continuous seconds. A 15- or 30-second ad put out on YouTube is not likely to show its logo if taken right from the TV script.

Creative Management Needs a Better Approach

How can media teams and creative teams get satisfaction? Today’s dynamic creative optimization (DCO) and creative management platforms (CMP) need to get beyond their history of being point solutions. For the marketing organization and their agency partner to improve workflow, they need a next-generation creative management platform that allows:

  • Cross-department participation in the creative brief. With media teams responsible for metrics, they know which audience they will go after and which channels will work best. They need a say in what gets built before the creative team gets going. In the same vein, creative teams need access to audience specifics and data to inform what has worked and what they think will work to reach those coveted audiences. Working collaboratively with the brand teams is key. Within creative management platforms, there must be the ability to set the requirements for the initial brief so that the creative team builds a big idea that applies to all the right audiences.
  • Cross-functional workflow and approvals. When the ad groups are set up, and the campaign is waiting on creative, that is time and money stuck in a holding pattern. Dynamic creative optimization and automation must be tied to workflow and approvals. Then the team driving revenue can see and flag delays in the process rather than sit and wonder when the assets will be ready.
  • Assets they can adjust. When a message does not work, and the creative images and text are fixed, the whole process needs to start from the top. Media teams need to be able to use creative automation tools tied to creative analytics to fine-tune the visuals and messages to their audiences. Flexible elements within an ad unit allow them to try different ideas on their own without losing the connection to the central brand concept.

With the number of media buying platforms growing beyond Google and Facebook to Pinterest, Amazon, TikTok, Snap, and more, the ability to manage a consistent campaign with non-standard formats is only going to get more challenging. Upgrading the rails on which the marketing team delivers their digital goods will be a requirement to keep up with digital consumers wherever they roam.

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