By Kristo Ovaska, CEO and Founder at Smartly.io
What is keeping marketers up at night these days? Ask any advertiser and a likely answer is how they can keep up with the ever-growing demand for personalized creatives in digital campaigns without blowing production budgets. The very same issue is causing gray hairs on the agency side, too, but for a different reason. Agency heads are worried AI and automation will gulp down their revenue by eliminating the need for the skilled human holding the Wacom pen.
The reality of the matter is that neither party should be worried. Dynamic creative – a form of programmatic creative – will shake up the creative process for the better.
Out With the Review-Iterate-Approve Cycle
In the old and often outdated model, brand marketers briefed their agencies or in-house creative teams with campaign and asset needs, and the team would then go back to their desks to dream up the concept for the next meeting, set weeks away. With all the feedback rounds, internal approvals and actual production times, the process could easily span several weeks to months.
Critics fear that tapping into interests and behavior-based ad automation won’t leave room for quirky, award-winning advertising. But that simply isn’t the case.
If you’re a serious modern marketer, you just don’t have the time for all that back-and-forth anymore. As ad targeting becomes more sophisticated by the day, audiences are expecting their ads follow suit content-wise. Nothing is as expensive to an advertiser as irrelevance. But mass-personalization isn’t feasible with the old production model. This is where dynamic, automated ad creation comes into play.
But before the industry can shift into arming themselves with creative automation, they need to shift their thinking. Marketers both need to understand the vast variety of use cases and opportunities dynamic ads present, and get comfortable with the idea of ads being automatically rendered, without that lengthy brief and review cycle.
Understanding Dynamic Ads
Dynamic ads are creatives composed of an endless pool of individual assets. They can be text, visual, or audiovisual components that usually live in product catalogs, also called feeds – product description, name, price, image or video, to name a few. These components can be dynamically pulled and arranged into ads based on user behavior, profile and interests.
Facebook as a platform has been a forerunner in the field of feed-based automation. It offers multiple ad formats that transform product data into compelling and, perhaps most importantly, relevant ads that resonate with the target user.
Advertisers like ecommerce or travel brands already have everything they need readily at hand, but, in practice, any brand can automate creative production as simply as arranging their data into a spreadsheet.
Don’t Fear the Machines – Harness Them
Digital-first businesses are already comfortable automating creatives for certain types of campaigns, namely retargeting where previously visited products are rendered into ads dynamically. Yet when it comes to branding or prospecting, advertising automation is still somewhat of an unexplored territory for many.
For the uninitiated, it can feel scary to leave ad design and production to machines. Many advertisers fear automated ad creation will result in lack of branding or compromise visual integrity. In reality, the role of the designer has shifted in the new process and, instead of approving all the versions and variations, they now design and control the master creative.
A practical example can be found in Facebook advertising. At Smartly.io we built an in-platform design tool called Dynamic Image Templates. It’s a visual formatting overlay tool that standardizes the visuality of ad creatives. The designer uses the tool to set rules and design the overlay, and machines then render all the versions. What does this mean for the advertiser? Their approval is needed on the template level, not the individual ad level.
Another common misconception is that dynamic ad generation will kill original thinking in advertising campaigns; critics fear that tapping into interests and behavior-based ad automation won’t leave room for quirky, award-winning advertising. But that simply isn’t the case.
When executed correctly, branding can also be automated the same way as direct response, prospecting and retargeting. Facebook has rolled out multiple formats that combine branding elements (video, lifestyle images) with shoppable product content, killing two birds with one stone.
Breakthrough Year of the Automated Creative
At Smartly.io we’ve seen firsthand how personalization drives revenue in digital advertising. Even for the most sophisticated advertisers, 2017 has really been the year of finally breaking through and scaling dynamically rendered advertising.
One of the most innovative digital advertisers we work with, TechStyle (parent company to Fabletics, JustFab, Shoedazzle), adopted dynamic ads this year, making it a markedly different year from 2016. The ecommerce giant has internalized this new way of approaching creative and is now looking to conquer video, the most challenging and in-demand asset to scale. Laura Joukovski, SVP of Media + Analytics at TechStyle Fashion Group, recently talked to us about how “creating customized videos manually is hard, which is why we’re extremely excited about taking our advertising to the next level with video automation.”
Dynamic ads should be regarded as a friend, not foe, both on the client and agency side. Human craft is wasted on iterating and reviewing thousands of visual variations manually. This semi-automation of creative assets will free up time for creatives to come up with more evocative, brand-transforming storytelling.
Automation isn’t a question of if but when. Agencies should not be holding on to old revenue models but find opportunities within the adoption of new technologies, and agility is what will set good and great marketers apart in the era of automation.
About the Author
Kristo Ovaska is CEO and co-founder at Smartly.io, a SaaS company that automates Facebook and Instagram advertising at scale for leading global advertisers. The Smartly platform helps brands create, launch and optimize campaigns with first-to-market solutions and features.