Creative in Programmatic: The Death Of Storytelling And Why We Should Be Okay With It

“Not everything has to be aspirational. If you’re selling a car to a parent, tell them how easy it is to put their kid in the back seat, not how it is going to change their entire life.” –Adam Cahill

In a world where (successful) advertising has become completely driven by data, it’s time for creative to catch up but continuously lags behind. The media world has advanced and is praised for its use of tools and insights to zero in on the consumer; what they like, dislike, where they live, and how we should talk to them. Creative is left in the confusion of creating crafted brand stories, that don’t quite fit in a banner ad.

Adam Cahill, founder of Anagram, spoke on Creativity In A Programmatic World, hosted by MIMA. As a digital savant and seasoned programmatic expert, Cahill shared his thoughts on the role that creative plays in the programmatic space. He noted that, “people don’t see algorithms, they see ads”. So how can creative adapt to being as successful as the data has set it up to be?


Soon, everything will be programmatic. Although some platforms try to hold out, all will turn at some point and creatives need to be prepared for this shift in thinking. TV spots are stories. Radio ads are stories. But advertising doesn’t always need to tell a story. Sometimes, it is just saying the correct message in the blink of an eye, and this is the creative approach needed when thinking about very specific audience targeting.

When we are given the tools to test different variables, we’ve learned that it is important not to overcomplicate things. Cahill suggests starting with variations that are always true, like location, date, and weather. Once this first step is made, you can build for direct audiences, and then finally build for distinct audiences across a journey.

What does this approach mean for a creative? Follow through.

Following up on how certain pieces performed will inform the next round, but Cahill notes that agencies need to give their creative teams access to this information. Creative people are often shielded from data, but bridging the gap between media and creative is key and one way to do this is through creative management platforms, such as Thunder and Celtra.

Now if you’re a creative reading this, I understand that you may have rolled your eyes a few times and thought, “How are you expecting me to be okay with making banner ads and call myself a creative?”

Been there. Felt that.

But the truth is, crafting creative for programmatic is an exercise in problem solving. It is reframing the creative process from storytelling to scenario planning. It is taking known data and very specific audiences, and telling them what they want to hear and showing them what they like to see.

Still not convinced? You CAN win a Lion for programmatic. Spongecell’s “Tennessee Vacation Matchmaker” analyzed consumer’s online behavior and served a personalized vacation video. Over 2,000 videos were created and in the time that it takes to load a pre-roll video, one of these 45 second videos were chosen for the viewer based on variables such as location, likes, subscriptions, and search history. The Tennessee Tourism website saw a 46% traffic increase over two weeks and 93% of viewers surveyed said they were planning a visit to Tennessee.



OH, and it won a Lion in Creative Data Enhancement and Data Storytelling.

Creative in programmatic has room to experiment, push it out to the world, see how it performs, and adapt to what works best. Sometimes, all it takes is thinking of just the right thing to say.


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