Is Outdoor Where Programmatic Creative Finally Comes Out to Play?


One of the oldest and continuing gripes among naysayers is that programmatic automates the easy parts – how the media itself is bought and sold – thereby exaggerating their own impact, plus the overall importance of efficiency versus effectiveness in general.

Those ‘math men,’ that Don Draper would surely have despised, misunderstand the very essence of the business. And therefore, everything they do from the off is automatically a loss. And they can’t help but undermine what is, above all else, a creative industry. After all, in the art world, does the artist or the auction house take credit for the Mona Lisa?

The uncomfortable truth is, the anti-programmatic brigade might just be onto something. The vast majority of ad tech focuses on similar problems, and compounding the problem, there is a lack of diversity in how to solve them. The case for the prosecution might also call on the vast array of examples we see in the news right now of how an over-focus on tech can make you lose sight of what’s really important. To take just one, you’re sitting on a data goldmine that’s unprecedented in human history, but still can’t connect the idea that political ads paid for in Roubles might be coming from Russia.

If there were still any doubt, research such as Data2Decisions’ confirms that creative execution is overwhelmingly the most significant ingredient in successful advertising. In fact, creative outweighs budget setting, or variable media cost, by a factor of five or more.

But while the naysayers may have a point on where advertising has gone wrong, they rarely talk about how it redeems itself. Neither do they seem to acknowledge it’s unlikely the programmatic genie is going back in the bottle. The only question that remains is, “Can programmatic can be part of a creative renaissance in advertising, instead of ending up the villain that kills it for good?”

Enter the Outdoor

According to the OAAA, at the last count, outdoor is a medium that may still only be little more than 28 percent. In other words, we may still just be at the start of understanding what it can do creatively – more than purely around media buying efficiency – when digitized and data-led.

For creatives, the switch to programmable OOH means a shift not just to motion video, but full HTML5, and with it, all types of live integration via API. Not to mention linking up creatively (and not only for micro-targeting) with that other unacknowledged ‘outdoor’ medium, the smartphone.

In terms of building in live, location-aware data to a campaign, there are the obvious (though often still effective) options around marrying creative with local data triggers – weather, time of day, social feeds, events, breaking news – the list goes on. Then, there are also the true media firsts it makes possible, if you take your tech imagination a little further. Some might even remind us why we in marketing fell in love with tech to begin with. British Airways’ #LookUp campaign was one of these. Using live flight tracker data and seeking to remind us of the wonder of flight, it showed a child pointing to a plane and tracking it as it hovers over the billboard, alongside details of its destination. Bringing tech and live data into the heart of its creative, #Lookup created one of those ‘how did they do that’ feelings of wonder among those who saw it. It’s hard to imagine a simple motion video achieving the same impact. The same could be said for the March for Giants campaign, which brought social networking, outdoor and mobile together beautifully. Allowing donors to support elephant welfare, it allowed them to brand their own 3D animated elephant, which could then be seen stampeding on a screen near you.

Creative Planning

This brings us to the less sexy, but still important subject of how we plan the creative seamlessly alongside its technical or programmable aspects.

The reality, as is still unfortunately common, is the tech conversation happens as an afterthought towards the going live date, by which time amendments to creative don’t happen because of budgets or simple time pressures. It may take time to break out of this chain of events in many cases, but where it has already, I have seen clear benefits in terms of the final result. And once those creative data conversations become the norm, I believe we will truly see outdoor reach a new peak – at least in part, buoyed by its programmatic nature.

Hopefully, if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it is that creativity is unquestionably what makes advertising great. To return to our earlier example of the Mona Lisa, even Da Vinci had assistants. Like them, let’s step back out of the limelight, and in so doing, ensure our creatives deliver the true masterworks of the future. 


About Author

After joining The Netherland’s first digital media agency, Advalue (later Reddion) in 1999, Melvin Holman built up a wealth of experience working on all sides of the industry. After learning the initial tricks of the trade on the agency side, he moved on to work in various roles at both publishers and ad technologies. Since joining Platform161, he has become heavily involved in consultancy, business development and project management. With his operational and technical skillset,  he has successfully integrated custom solutions for many partners, helping them to transform their media buying efforts, across all channels. He is currently leading the international expansion of Platform161 in North America.

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