10/04/2012 12:45 pm ET Updated Dec 04, 2012

Can Creative and Ad Technology Be Friends?

I said it before and I'll say it again: Advertising is hard. Despite its promise of targeting select audiences at massive scale, there's no single equation to get advertising perfectly right. The ability to deliver a brand's message in a beautiful, creative way and understand the who, what, where and when of how audiences are engaging with a brand is the real beauty of it all. But a lot of agency creatives might not agree; to them, creativity is most important. Clearly, there's some benefit to ad servers, programmatic buying platforms, real-time bidding systems, demand-side platforms, exchanges and the like. But I'm not convinced that either has more value; the buy-sell equation needs balance.

I was listening to a panel session at the IAB MIXX Conference on Wednesday where the debate focused on the collision of advertising creative and ad technology. If a brand like Coca Cola or Procter & Gamble wants to forge deep, lasting relationships and engage authentically with consumers, is it necessary for their team to be creative designers? Or will it be more valuable (and ROI worthy) if their Chief Innovation Officer holds a PhD in computer science? Or does an executive with a financial/trading background have the ability to analyze data and tailor a brand's advertising strategies to reach its target audience in a way that's authentic, relevant and informed? Just as this creative vs. ad technology battle heated up, Curt Hecht, Chief Global Revenue Officer for The Weather Channel, said "The marketing budgets are not growing at the pace of a world of infinite impressions."

Earlier in the day, I sat in on a panel session lead by two agency veterans who asked some really probing "filter" questions. In this session, "The Authentic Power of Co-Creation," Jon Hamm, Chief Innovation Officer of Momentum Worldwide and Tim Leake (formerly of Saatchi & Saatchi New York, now Global Creative Innovation & Partnership Director at Hyper Island) talked about the "connected protagonist." This character -- better known as today's 24/7 multi-tasking consumer -- was described as well-crafted, strategic and intrinsically part of popular culture. Then Jon Hamm said something that was so simple yet, unfortunately, a lot of agencies still don't put it into practice. "We have to think of ourselves as agencies without walls." Whether you're a creative director or copywriter at an agency, or a brand's in-house mobile director, we all need to start with a blank piece of paper before we put any message out to consumers. Human instinct or machine precision -- what would you prefer?

I can't ignore the simple truth that there are far more advertising creative opportunities than there are ad dollars, especially in the mobile space. But it'll be interesting to see just how quickly and efficiently new ad technologies emerge and catch up (hopefully) to creative.