Creative Needs to Catch Up

By Claudio Vaccarella

Since its inception, the internet has allowed us to generate creative ideas together, from across continents, keeping lines of communication open through a vast advertising landscape even during a global pandemic and myriad lockdowns.

While the internet has pushed creative execution and collaboration forward, the advertising industry – particularly ad technology – has lagged in delivering the ad creatives themselves. As a result, consumer expectations exceed what's delivered. Consumers are well-practiced in bidirectional communication and are more responsive than ever to sophisticated video and messaging. Knowing this, even the most generous assessment of digital creative would show that advertising has failed to keep up.

This diagnosis comes as widespread signal loss inhibits how advertisers deliver their digital ads. Diminishing access to and quality of third-party data requires advertisers to find another area to use to their advantage. This makes creative the perfect place to add more quality back to the product.

This is easier said than done. The trick is for advertisers to develop, deliver, and measure creative in a fashion that matches consumer sophistication. The creative-ad-tech divide can be broken down into three challenges that require an evolution in creative technology.

The Modern Consumer

For decades, advertising was built on a one-directional model, whereby one ad spoke to all consumers who saw or heard it. That era has been replaced by a bidirectional paradigm. We're seeing an entire generation that grew up with the internet enter the workforce and accumulate spending power. These consumers have no attachment to the old one-directional epoch, and they expect ad messages to match their mode of thinking.

Today's consumers are used to engaging with content that combines video, text, audio, and interactivity in what is known as multimodal content – multi-layered or interactive video made up of various content types, including audio, text, video, and data/product feeds. Technology and connectivity have aligned to the point where brands need to take advantage of multimodal communication strategies to engage with brands. The challenge of doing this is that brands need to develop more creative assets, with greater speed and scale, than they have in the past.

The Advertising Disconnect

While consumers have evolved, a gulf has grown on the brand side between digital ad buying and creative ideation. During the first two decades of digital advertising, creative was an afterthought, with the focus on bidding on placement and understanding the user profile. Third-party cookie deprecation is introducing a new set of challenges as the industry catches up.

While ad buying transitions, creative advisors on the production side are still clinging to an old-school concept of the "big idea," whereby one brilliant idea and ad encapsulates a brand's message to the entire world. The keyword there is "one," as in, the idea is executed with a singular piece of creative. Super Bowl ads are the purest example of "big idea" syndrome, relics of the bygone one-to-many era. The spectacle of Super Bowl ads feels unobtainable to modern consumers, meaning these ads fail to sell.

So, why are marketing decision makers still thinking this way? They believe it's the best way to reach consumers given the assets they have, without the burden of overhauling workflows and making large investments in creative production teams. The creative thinkers who are still chasing the one-directional "big idea" model are failing to connect the creative to how it's supposed to impact its audience.

The always-on consumer is craving something more tactile, engaging, and customized. They don't want to see the same ad again and again. They want something dynamic that changes and responds to them. The "big idea" is not dead, but its delivery must change. So, how do we do that?

Delivering the Idea

The short answer: In order to deliver the idea, use intelligent ad technology.

My favorite recent piece of creative is the Miami Bull, a concept developed for TradeStation by Small, a creative agency. Not only did the agency make a crypto version of New York's famous charging bull statue, but it promoted the idea through different content formats, including 360-degree video and GIFs.

To fully take advantage of the multimodal era, creatives need to immerse themselves in how ads are distributed, especially online and across emerging channels like CTV, and then utilize the best mechanisms to deliver these experiences. Dynamic creative optimization (DCO) is one of the best ways to build engaging ads that deliver the "big idea" in a one-to-one, multimodal capacity.

But DCO as the industry has known it for more than 10 years doesn't make the cut. Traditional DCO doesn't take into account the potential hundreds or thousands of audience clusters that need to be reached with content that is relevant to them and their evolving situations.

True multimodal DCO requires the use of intelligent technology to make up for the lack of automation and true scale required to successfully implement multimodal content strategies. Yet, there is widespread fear that AI will replace human creativity and ingenuity when it comes to advertising. I call that impossible.

AI and its applications, like DCO, are not a replacement for the "big idea" or creatives themselves. It's simply a tool that makes the juice worth the squeeze by making the boring work easier and faster.

Brands need to mix and match their creative elements in ways that appeal to certain segments of their target audience. The easiest way to gain an advantage right now is through creative experimentation, automated measurement, and optimization. Agility is currency in today's market, and intelligent end-to-end technology introduces speed and flexibility to the "big idea" in ways that many creatives have never dreamt of.

The simple truth is that we've reached the era of multimodal advertising and advertisers are behind when it comes to creative execution. If creatives continue to invest only in ideas and never in the tech that helps automate the process, the talent pool will shrink, and so will the engagement opportunities with consumers. To keep the "big idea" going, it's time to embrace the creative future.

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

Claudio Vaccarella is the CEO of Connected-Stories.