A note to Cannes Lions attendees: Programmatic and creative are friends, not enemies

Cannes Lions in France has just begun, a collection of the most creative minds in the communications industries, which aims to award and recognise some of the most insightful executions out there today. Among the clientele at creative events such as these, there is often a perception that programmatic media buying, real-time bidding and retargeting solely mean ‘automation’, and are synonymous with a lack of creative flair. Programmatic  has a bad rap in the creative sector of the industry, or often it has no rap at all. The super high-tech engines that drive online media buying seem so far removed from the creative think-tank type rooms, covered in post-it notes and scribbles, cigarettes and half empty cider bottles.

We’re here to tell you: Programmatic and creative go hand in hand, and here’s why:

1. Programmatic fuels a data/creative feedback loop

The data that we gain from buying ads programmatically does, in fact, feed us and our clients creative ideas. We are able to find detailed audience segments by running pilot campaigns to make the data speak to us. More often than not, clients will find customers that they didn’t realise were interested in their product, especially niche customer groups. For example, we might find that, instead of the 32-year-old new mothers we wanted to target, the best performing segment was actually 45-year-old, left-wing, health conscious males.

This very specific audience data can completely change the creative direction, and the ad placement, as the persona of the target market is found to be completely different to the original assumption of the client. In this situation, instead of placing the ads on mum blogs for example, the client would very likely see better results producing creative for, and placing the ads on fitness blogs or perhaps websites supporting the Greens political party. We see great results altering campaigns to suit the data in this way.

2. Retargeting technology needs dynamic creative

On top of audience data based on interests and online persona, retargeting technology and tracking can also find out exactly where the customer is in the acquisition funnel. Are they close to purchasing? You can find out in real-time and alter your creative message to suit. In our campaigns, we often create lots of different messages to suit different customer states-of-mind, and these can be crucial to the success of the campaign. Instead of creating a blanket message for all users/customer groups, retargeting technology means you are able to completely personalise the campaign message to suit the user, not the other way around. Is the user still unaware of the brand or the brand’s place in its category? You can serve them ads that create brand awareness and positive connotations rather than being purely promotional or pushing conversion.

3. Creative strategy and attribution are at the heart of programmatic

Just because we are automating the buying process to get better prices for higher quality customers, it does not mean programmatic doesn’t need a great creative idea to engage these customers in the first place; we are just able to find them and convert them at a cheaper price and at higher volumes. As we are now able to track not just clicks and impressions, but deeper attribution metrics, such as CPEV (Cost Per Engaged Visitor), clients are able to find out exactly how connected customers are to their brands, and scale the creative ideas that had the best results. It is just like live, large scale A/B testing, but in all areas of the campaign. Although great creative ideas win awards, the agency clients we have that win more business are always the ones who created results, not just engaging ideas.

Wishing all the nominees at Cannes Lions this year the best of luck, and hope you now have an idea that as programmatic targeting, attribution and audience data become increasingly sophisticated, they are more relevant to creative than ever.