What's the Future of Creative? Three Words: Ads People Want

November 17, 2015

Creative Advertising

Editor's Note: This post was submitted by Sam Karow, CEO, Adaptive Campaigns, a real-time creative platform enabling predictive display in programmatic media.

What is the future of creative?

The answer is three simple words: “Ads people want.”

“Ads people want,” these are the words my nine-year-old son uses to describe the work I am doing with real-time creative. And “Ads People Want” is the headline on the cover of the current issue of Rubicon Project’s magazine, The Programmatic Mind.

Ads people want. It is as simple as that. People want ads to tell them which highway exit has a Starbucks. Or when their favorite store is having a big sale. Maybe you can think of another example or two, but let’s face it; the list of ads you want to see is pretty short. The list ads you don’t want to see is long, and like big data, seems to double every few days. In-app mobile ads are so prevalent, the act of “x-ing” them out is a game in itself.

For advertising to survive the growing power consumers and their DVRs and ad blockers have to avoid ads, things need to change. Creative needs to catch up to media’s ability to understand who a person is and what they want.And the message needs to push way past being an interruption and even past being a relevant distraction. Getting to “ads people want” means going all the way to messages people appreciate, actively seek out and view as more valuable than even the editorial content itself.

More 50 years ago, one of my advertising idols. Howard Gossage said:

“The real fact of the matter is that nobody reads ads. People read what interests them and sometimes it’s an ad.”

Knowing “what interests people” has never been easier. Amazon knows how interest leads to orders and even starts to plan for orders before they occur.

Knowing if a consumer read an ad has never been easier. Data aggregators know what people are reading, see what they recently read, and predict what they will read next. Major publishers use this data to know what to publish in order to retain visitors. Soon topic-level predictive models will power advertising creative as well.

“The newest computer can merely compound, at speed, the oldest problem in the relations between human beings, and in the end the communicator will be confronted with the old problem, of what to say and how to say it.”  - Edward R Murrow

‘What to say’ will increasingly be guided by the opportunity to provide utility:

  • Getting an ad could be the only way to redeem a web-only promotion.
  • An expandable ad could offer consumers a preview of the website before they visit. With more than 50% of website visitors bouncing or leaving after the first page, getting a sneak peek would allow consumers to “look before they leap.”
  • Ads should sync to TV shows, songs, website visits, and events -- providing a second screen for shopping and redemption of time-based offers.
  • Ads viewed in stores should be help consumers locate products in the store, learn more and add coupons to be used at checkout.
  • Ads could allow consumers to add items to an e-commerce cart when a price advantage versus the in-store product is detected.

Scientific art or artistic science?

Humans are irrational, emotional and, when it comes to buying things, compulsive. So having the silver bullet of artificial intelligence to know exactly what to say and how to say it may never come to pass. Testing, adapting, adjusting brand message elements, combinations and sequences was impossible with the ads that ran even five years ago. Now it is just plain lazy to not produce and measure several versions of each piece of communication. Build a self-service ad campaign on a major platform and you will see prompts recommending you load several versions to see what works best.

Is your creative a Model T or a Tesla?

Do you ship ads out and wait for the cash register to ring? Or do you stay connected and push updates when improvements and enhanced features are available? Like Howard Gossage used to do so well, do you request a response? Do you try to understand if the prospect engaging with your ads is more emotional or rational? Do you try to learn if they are a quick decision maker or someone who does a ton of research? You will. Future advertising creative will not just adapt to each user before it loads, it will adjust to their signals during their experience. This means ramping up content as interest and engagement increases. But also “knowing when to say when” and give the consumer break when they clearly want to be left alone.


List-Offer-Creative, this was the mantra of direct marketers. It was the holy trinity of successful campaigns. And I believe for most cases, was written in priority order with creative being least important. The "list" or audience used to be the hardest part and the domain of the publisher (“If you want to reach my premium audience, you must pay a premium price”).  And it was brokered by the agency holding company (“If you want to want to reach premium audiences efficiently and at scale, you need to pay us a large fee”).  Programmatic media collapses both of those models. Now brands can find exactly who they want to reach based on a killer combination of instantaneous demographic and behavioral data. And they can pay as they go on a price they set. However, because everyone has this power, it is commoditized. On the level playing field, good creative remains the single best opportunity for sustainable competitive advantage. And it is an advantage that can be quantified and controlled. Brand and business performance are now tied directly to marketing activities and somewhat to creative messages. Attribution will go beyond media channels and campaigns; diving into the components of a creative message shown to create statistically significant differences in consumer appeal.

When you arrive at an "ad people want," you’ll know it. And your consumer will thank you.

Are you ads working? Download the new ebook, The Sophisticated Marketer’s Crash Course in Metrics & Analytics, for advice on how to determine the right approach to metrics and analytics to measure your advertising's performance.


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