Monday, May 17, 2010

How Creative is Changing and Why the Real-time Web and Analytics Force a Change in How we Think About Creative

Since Widgetbox launched ClickTurn last year, I have become a student and participant of the online ad industry. This post marks the first in a series, where I plan to share my learnings to date.  This post deals with how technology is impacting the very nature of banner ad creative and why that harbors big changes for the industry. 

Over the last fifteen+ years, the banner ad markets has grown into a $20bn global industry.  Despite the industry's scale and size, the nature of today's banner ads remains very unchanged from the very first internet ads - static pictures of products that increasingly fail to capture the interest of consumers nor the nature of today's web.

Banner ads are akin to highway billboards - static combinations of text and images - seeking to encourage the driver/consumer to take the next exit and visit the advertiser's location.  The creative process, therefore, focused on building the "perfect" creative - one that best captured the product, the call to action, and the brand's goals.  Given, that ads were developed for a seasonal or temporal campaign, the creative process sought to build the best possible set of assets and to then pass them onto media planners for distribution to relevant sites and media properties.

Two big changes make the concept of "finished" creative a relic. The first is the rise of the real-time web - Twitter, Facebook YouTube, blog posts, etc.  Brands are no longer investing in "snap shots" of their brand, but rather in conversations with their target audience, whereby the "creative" is the dialog.  The real-time web requires a shift in perspective regarding creative from something that is fixed to something that is programmed by ongoing marketing initiatives.  The brand does not seek solely to craft a static campaign that will live through the season, but rather it is also investing in daily, even  hourly, updates that build on the brand experience.  Creative, therefore, needs to reflect this change in frequency of message and provide a way to reflect the real-time brand in the creative being trafficked.  Creative also needs to reflect the two-way nature of conversations and the ability of the web to amplify said conversations through social sharing.

Since these changes occur each and every day - the traditional and serial process of locking down creative no longer makes sense.  And since these changes are real-time, the creative must become a living asset that can be programmed by the brand's marketing channels.  This is a huge change and means that traditional creative will not work. 

The second key change is analytics and retargeting.  Rather than design the "optimal" creative - brands are leveraging dynamic creative solutions that seek to personalize ads based on retargeting and analytic optimizations.  Again, the traditional creative shop is no longer a credible provider of the solution.  Each ad load can be programmed and "designed" based on observed behavior to date over the life of a campaign, information known about a given web surfer, and other variables.  Ads, therefore, become a set of programmable config options - with the final config of a given ad impression occurring at run-time.  

ClickTurn is working to leverage both trends - the shift from episodic to real-time banner ad marketing and the reality that "perfect" creative is evolutionary and will be a combination of a series of defaults combined with a series of variables that the web at large will program. The real-time nature of such changes means that traditional "locked down" creative will slowly fade away.