It is commonly said:

“You can have the best creative in the world, but what good is it if no one sees it?”

With programmatic media, a $15B industry and 25% of the $59B US digital ad market, it is the opposite. The “right people,” based on their demographics and their online behavior, are served your ads. Data and technology underpinning programmatic ad buying see to that. But because developing and serving the “right ad” is hard to do, all of your targets see the same display ad, typically a static JPG. These display ads look exactly like they did 21 years ago when the banner ad was born. It is no wonder engagement and conversion rates didn’t exponentially increase, despite the exponential increase in precision targeting and timing. The problem is far too many display ads don’t take advantage of the data used to deliver them or the derived data they produce about how prospects respond to them.

Over 50 years ago, one of my advertising idols, Howard Gossage, said:

 “The real fact of the matter is that nobody reads ads. People read what interests them and sometimes it’s an ad.”

The un-interesting banner ad itself is the rate-limiting factor in programmatic media. And it is ripe for reinvention. A grad student of mine asked: ‘How do you know if the audience liked the ad?’ Good question.

So why can’t real-time data also power real-time creative?

 “Programmatic techniques have brought speed and efficiency to media buying. Now it’s time for the creative side of the ad business to follow suit and become more efficient, nimble and innovative.” ~ eMarketer, May 2015

 Real-time creative

Real-time creative is a new way to develop, deliver and manage digital marketing communication. The approach Adaptive Campaigns takes is unique. We build HTML 5 ads with dynamic content components.  Each component contains a tracking tag to read user signals.  This data helps us understand who they are and what they want. The ad function and content instantly update, during the user’s session, pulling from our real-time content management system, to calibrate the most relevant message possible. A fingerprint or profile of the user is generated to understand preferences and step in the purchase path.  Our real-time data management platform allows campaigns to predict and deliver content before the consumer even indicates they need the information.

Real-time creative uses the same data powering the programmatic media buy, calls third party data segments as needed (ex. BlueKai, Bombora) and populates third party data sets with a new and powerful marker for propensity to buy: Ad engagement data.

According to an IPG Lab/AOL Study: The Power of Real Time real-time creative doubles ad interaction rates. So it is clearly worth the trip for the performance gains. It also produces a treasure trove of creative analytics, filling another huge gap in digital marketing today.

 5 steps to marry real-time creative with real-time bidding

  1. Find the right partner

Traditional blackbox DCO options are tied to media and not able to plug into programmatic media platforms. Ad server companies with dynamic offerings tend to offer cookie-cutter templates, limited data and primitive logic to make the ads dynamic. This is why the barrage of dynamic ads you’ve seen as a consumer are regurgitations of your abandoned shopping cart and tend to stay with you, long after you’ve actually made the purchase. DCO partners like Celtra and Flite are agnostic to platforms for media and ad serving. As is Adaptive Campaigns, the real-time creative platform I co-founded last year.

  1. Start small

You don’t have to spend a fortune to test real-time creative. Start by ensuring you have a stable sample. If you estimate your initial real-time campaign will convert 20% better than standard ads, 400,000 impressions will suffice for achieving a 95% confidence interval (95% chance the test is accurate). At $5 CPM, the working media cost of the test is only $2,000. Use building blocks of minimum impression per test cell (partner, targeting strategy, message) to build a budget recommendation as I have done with hotel and credit union clients in the past. This Statistical Significance Calculator from Rags Srinivasan is a helpful tool for playing out scenarios of sample size needed.

  1. Keep it Simple

Borrow a page from Apple’s playbook: Simplicity wins. Start with a simple A/B test in one ad size. Then measure, adjust and scale the top-performing approach in multiple sizes. I like to use a 300×600 ad. It is a standard IAB size that is widely available in programmatic media, yet has a large canvas for housing several dynamic ad components. Define the ad function and variable content used to version and optimize the user experience and key performance indicator. I recommend conversion rate. It is a metric to track without needing to know media costs and without having to track revenue with a tracking tag on the client’s order confirmation pate. Run the real-time ad test in parallel to a static ad to serve as a control. Analyze reporting to identify drivers of performance. It may be a photo or a color that is associated with a significantly better performing set of ads. In the case of a DCO campaign I ran for an online retailer, is was simply the word ‘gourmet.’

  1. Connect the dots

There are ‘too many links in the chain,’ making it hard for the teams with passion for innovation and creative testing to get a real-time campaign off of the ground. Take links out of the chain, by plugging in to existing platforms. For example, if you are a BlueKai partner, consider using your BlueKai data and an Oracle Marketing Cloud partner to test real-time creative.

  1. Obey the golden rule

Treat others the way you want to be treated, in life and in the ads you send to your best prospects! If the brand message isn’t helping, it is hurting. Put yourself in the shoes of your consumer. What utility or piece of useful information can assist (and accelerate) their purchase decision at this step in the path? What level of frequency is aggressive but tolerable? Consider pulling landing page activities into the real-time ad. And support the consumer’s need for objective content during the “active evaluation” phase of their journey by pulling in user photos and reviews. It is “early days” in real-time creative and early adopters will define the design.

Future direction

Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” contains the lyrics ‘here we are now, entertain us.’ Programmatic media solved the ‘here we are now.’ Real-time creative’s ability to understand and deliver what interests users most can solve the ‘entertain us.’

Howard Gossage would flip over the awesome power of this new way to communicate. Let’s make him proud.