The birth of the creative chameleon

by JONATHAN MILNE, CELTRA

January 2016

Talented Italian artist Johannes Stötter was back in the news recently with a stunning optical illusion of a chameleon created from two female models and an impressive amount of body paint. Imaginative, attention-grabbing, artistic, and arguably a little curious, Stötter’s chameleon is all the things we used to associate with creative advertising.

The advent of programmatic technologies initially shifted the focus of advertising away from creativity, and exceptional ideas and brilliant design were pushed aside in favour of data and performance. But the tide is turning. A recent study from Celtra revealed that the majority of marketers (92%) believe creative messaging is more important than ever before and that budgets dedicated to building creative are growing year-on-year. This means that creative is once again taking centre stage, and programmatic might actually be more relevant to the subject of Stötter’s chameleon illusion than first thought.

So what possible link is there between programmatic ad buying and Stötter’s bizarre-looking human lizard? The chameleon’s best-known party trick is the mind-boggling ability  to change its appearance according  to its environment, an impressive feat that we’re now seeing in data-driven ad content. Enter the concept of programmatic creative.

A chameleon responds to its environment, social context and temperature, and alters its appearance accordingly.

Programmatic creative ads can adapt too, altering messaging and visual elements according to audience and situational data. By responding to these data signals, the creative can be tailored in real-time to tell a story that speaks to the individual consumer.

Programmatic creative is giving new life to advertising, combining the power of technology with the beauty of creative to deliver a highly engaging experience tailored to the user and their specific situation.  A single ad execution becomes  a creative chameleon that adjusts its appearance to suit the context or situation of a particular consumer  at any given moment in time.

So we’re talking about dynamic creative optimisation, right? Not exactly. DCO is reactive in nature, recognising the combination of creative assets that delivers the best performance and serving that combination over and over again. Programmatic creative, on the other hand, is proactive, using more assets against a variety of data points in real time in order to serve ads that are relevant to individual consumers.

All this talk of data signals doesn’t sound particularly creative or artistic, but the fact is that everything starts with data – even creativity. Advertisers are already used to handling audience data for media targeting, so now they can take one step further and use data to personalise their message. They can make brand messages more relevant by combining data about the consumers viewing the ads, including demographics or previous behaviour, with data about the context in which they’re viewing the ads, including location, time-ofday, and weather conditions.

Yet surprisingly, while the vast majority of marketers (91%) value the ability to optimise creative according to data signals, few are actually adopting the technology that enables them to fully optimise their creative campaigns.

Programmatic creative allows advertisers to apply as many dynamic elements as they want within just one creative, providing more opportunities for artistic expression without increasing their workload. This means that ad designers with the talent and imagination of Johannes Stötter can completely focus on their creative vision, leaving the ad production  to a programmatic creative platform.

So what does this mean for advertising? Display advertising objectives are being redefined  to focus on brand advertising  and other upper funnel activities, rather than being used primarily  as a conversion tool, and almost three-quarters (74%) of marketers already use display advertising to drive brand awareness. New interactive and creatively complex ad formats are coming to the fore – enabling an enhanced user experience and increased scalability – with a particular focus on native ads that fit seamlessly within the ad environment. Combining these new ad formats with the programmatic technology that drives them has signalled the start of a whole new era for brand marketing.

Advertisers will overcome  the barriers to programmatic creative technology and  data-driven dynamic ad content will become the norm with every impression, delivering a far more personalised ad than ever before.

But will they have the impact of Stötter’s creativity expression? In fact, they’ll have far more impact than that. Artistically stunning as it may be, the painted chameleon  can’t actually perform the stunt that its species is known for and adapt its appearance to suit any environment – whereas data-driven dynamic ad messages can.

Programmatic creative is proactive, using more assets against a variety of data points in real time to serve ads that are relevant to individual consumers

This article was also published in THE_EDITION, a print and digital magazine exploring the vast opportunities in digital publishing.