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Programmatic Meets Branding - The Science Behind The Art

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By Oli Whitten, Head of International - Rubicon Project

It's being asked a lot lately: Does the automation of advertising compromise the creativity that is so important for the industry? In particular, are we becoming so focused on data and performance that we are ignoring the importance of brand?

The very idea of branding has human emotions at its root: more than ever this year, there has been debate around branding, automation and creativity, and how each of these three key factors in advertising can interact. Advertising automation does not diminish the capacity for creativity; rather, it gives brands the opportunity to be proactive instead of reactive.

In short, automation offers immediacy and data to further fuel branding campaigns, and as the industry matures, there seems to be increasing consensus on this point. Heineken USA Senior Media Director Ron Amram probably explained it best at last year's Cannes Lions: "Programmatic is a fantastic learning engine that allows you to apply data to see what's working and then feed that back into your creative process."

Maturation of the Market

Automation originated as a means for publishers to trade unsold inventory, but has since evolved far beyond that. It has naturally progressed up the value chain to now include premium inventory, luxury brands and the top global advertisers, and it is also now a dynamic space in which branding campaigns can thrive. As more and more buyers and sellers are embracing the automation of digital advertising, its potential as a creative catalyst is starting to be fully realised.

Art versus Science

Automation's disruption of the advertising industry was initially met with its fair share of naysayers; and this scepticism still endures with some today. The dominant industry view is that automation is simply a tool, or a means to achieve better results for branding and performance campaigns alike; and this is reflected in a report from the IAB, which forecasts that advertising automation is set to account for up to 80% of display ad spend in the next three years.

It has become apparent that advertisers have started to change their habits accordingly - a report from Celtra for example indicates that 74% of marketers are already using display advertising to build brand awareness. This number really speaks volumes about the paradigm shift we are seeing, as rich media innovations such as HTML5, native ads and video have unleashed further opportunity for advertisers to create impactful brand engagement across all media.

Adapting to a Changing Advertising Environment

Automation is clearly affecting everyone in the industry: from agencies, to publishers, to brands. And some of those brands have embraced it with open arms, seeing it as another weapon in their creative arsenal, rather than a threat. Changing the creative mid-stream, in response to how a campaign performs will become an automatic process. Rather than simply building a handful of creative executions and targeting them at pinpointed audiences, creative will be broken down into elements that can be automatically constructed for the specific viewer. It's a process called programmatic creative and it's the ultimate in personalisation.

Awareness and Affinity, through Automation

As we've seen time and again advertisers are increasingly using automation to deliver impactful branding campaigns that will engage and connect with the right consumers.

Instead of seeing programmatic as a threat to branding and creativity, buyers and sellers alike are increasingly casting themselves as advocates for automation. By using data to support creative intuition, it means that branding and technology can not only co-exist, but also push the boundaries of advertising into a whole new realm.

See Rubicon Project at AdWeek Europe, Tuesday April 19th, 10.30am on Stage 2 for their 'Future of Automation' panel moderated by Rubicon Project's Head of International Oli Whitten, and featuring some of the biggest names in TV, Print, Radio and Outdoor media.