Solving the Creative Conundrum

Taking the Dynamic Approach

In today’s digital advertising world, fast is key. And, as attention spans shorten, webpages load quicker, and clicks become swifter, advertisers are increasingly vying for consumers’ attention at breakneck speeds.  

On the sales side, the architecture to buy and sell advertising in a matter of milliseconds is already in place. In fact, programmatic and real-time bidding is more than a passing fad or some sort of novel idea; automated sales and buying has become a formidable force in the digital ad world. According to new numbers by real-time ad platform company PubMatic, RTB accounts for almost 50 percent of non-direct sales on its network.  And, its CEO Rajeev Goel expects programmatic premium to be a $1 billion business by next year.


But, as the momentum of automated sales roars towards what some may call an inevitable preeminence, online creative has stayed comparatively stagnant. And, in an industry known for its shrewd and inventive problem-solving ways, creative’s push into this new wave of digital advertising is, in gist, uncreative.

Brands and agencies are beginning to understand the importance of changing creative; and, companies coast to coast are popping up with novel ways of solving the sluggish evolution of display creative in today’s rapid digital ad world. From content redistribution to eye-popping visuals, companies are employing a wide array of tactics to grab consumer attention and pump up conversions.

Today, brands realize that the content and context of an ad is just as important, as if not more so than, the presence of an ad on a website. Engaging with consumers is crucial to the conversion process (and always has been); but, today, that engagement has to happen almost instantly, with consumers making that connection with a brand or product at the ad’s point of impression.

Here are three companies who believe that display itself isn’t the problem; rather, it’s the ad industry’s lethargic and non-evolutionary take on display that leaves such a bad taste in brands’ mouths.

Let Big Data Do the Heavy Lifting


There’s lots and lots of data out there, covering everything from someone’s eye color to their preferred beverage; and, tying that wealth of data to creative is the goal of Cognitive Match, a firm that uses both cookie data and its own data backend to help target creative to individual consumers.

“Everywhere a brand wants to be, we can tell them more about their audience,” Cognitive Match’s Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Natalie Kubitz, told AdMonsters.

Microtargeting is tedious; and, for some brands, almost impossible. But, with data-driven creative, brands may be able to get closer to a consumer than ever before, using a crazy array of data points — from environmental data, such as weather and location, to third-party and CRM data, such as demographics, income, interests, age, etc. — to target consumers across wide swaths of varying audience segments.

“Some of the things dynamic creative solves are true marketing challenges – things that just aren’t scalable,” Kubitz said.

There’s never been a time before in which the consumer drives and controls the ad experience as much as she does today. A consumer chooses when, where and how she sees and interacts with an ad. And, in such an environment, creating consumer engagement means knowing the consumer – and being able to act quickly on what you know.

“It doesn’t have to be a perfect data set to make an ad relevant to the user,” Kubitz said.


Brands and advertisers that employ engaging creative that takes advantage of a variety of different data will ultimately lead the curve. But today, many data-driven banner ads aren’t the flashiest or the most innovative, and hardly work to mask the fact that they’re using data.

So, what’s next? Well, for one, moving away from the humdrum look and feel of data-driven banner ads. You know, the ones that tell me I just looked at the new Justin Timberlake album because, well, it’s telling me to pre-order the new Justin Timberlake album. Data-driven ads should seem seamless, in ways, concealing the idea that the consumers’ data is driving the advertisement.

Building Engaging Creative Is Simple

The conventional creative-building process took a lot of time, and even more money.  Many brands relied on the creative cognoscenti of Madison Avenue to develop impressive and humongously scaled campaigns, all while hemorrhaging money and garnering fewer conversions than expected.

Los Angeles-based firm Steelhouse is committed to proving that developing rich media and eye-popping display ads doesn’t take a creative agency – or $20,000.  With its A2 ad-creation service, Steelhouse offers brands video-based and interactive display ads that take no more than four hours on average to create, using a brand’s readily available video and image assets, social media properties, and more.

The company’s philosophy is simple – moving images and interactive nodes draw consumer attention. And, according to Steelhouse CEO Mark Douglas, the numbers show it – with an average 1.8% click-through rate for A2 ads served in the wild, and around 20% for those served on a brand’s website.

In the 12 weeks since A2 platform’s introductions, Steelhouse has created and delivered more than 1,000 ad campaigns, all of them 100 percent rich, interactive media. Big names, including TOMS shoes, Aldo, Calloway and MLB, are among the company’s list of clients.

Steelhouse’s ad campaigns are driven by two concepts – being fast and being friendly. Ad campaigns are built in two to four hours and employ HTML5, meaning a single ad can be easily served across different platforms – desktop, smartphone, tablet, you name it.

Some brands and advertisers can find themselves resistant to the all-in-one ad process, Douglas says. But, when you’re paying a fraction of the price that you would pay a creative agency (both for the creative and delivery of an ad), your ad campaign may become more of a low-stakes gamble. For instance, underperforming creative can be redone in a matter of hours rather than weeks, and without major cost.

Why would brands go down the dynamic display path? Well, for one, the speed at which campaigns are created. The quick and modular nature of dynamic display offers an alternative to conventional display advertising that is both less costly, faster, and seemingly more efficient at driving conversions.

But, with a modular platform like HTML5, creativity can seem somewhat finite in its permutation. For instance, a Ralph Lauren ad may employ its Twitter feed, a product carousel of its latest line and some video footage of its brand at New York Fashion Week. Another may have in-house b-roll, or even contain some sort of real-time offer. But, brands looking for a wider breadth of creative flexibility may feel shortchanged by dynamic display’s capability.

Content Driving Conversion?

Distribution of branded content is a whole other challenge – how do you get eyeballs on this or that sponsored post? OneSpot, which recently snagged up Steve Sachs as its newest CEO, has an intriguing method – using ad exchanges, algorithms and big data to target and retarget users, with brands using existing earned and owned media as content – say a brand-authored blog post or a well-known publisher’s review of a product.

OneSpot draws in potential conversions from higher up in the consumer funnel by figuring out who’s clicking on and engaging with a brand’s content ads (via a cookie drop), and retargeting content back to similar consumers. What OneSpot collects from that cookie drop is data, and tons of it, giving advertisers greater insight into who’s interacting with their advertisements (and, in turn, who to target).

“We use content to create ads that are interesting regardless of the channel,” said Matt Cohen, OneSpot’s president and founder. OneSpot builds relationships with consumers by collecting data and curating content-driven display ads that coincides with their place in the consumer funnel.

Taking On the Funnel

Dynamic display creates and targets ads that are appropriate to the relationship a consumer has with a brand, using data to pinpoint a consumers’ place in the so-called funnel. Being able to know whether a consumer is, for instance, seriously investigating a car purchase or simply just browsing a car brands’ latest models can be quite beneficial to the consumer relationship-building process.

Through dynamic display brands can target consumers higher up in the purchase decision-making process, building rapport with consumers both earlier and more effectively.

OneSpot, Steelhouse and Cognitive Match each point to a growing demand for display advertising that, through data, knows the consumer – display advertising that can morph with each consumer at the speed of a mouse click.

Data-driven dynamic display ads offer simple and effective solutions for many brands, especially those looking to launch large-scale campaigns over large segments that lack the resources to do so conventionally. But, dynamic display firms are just sliver of the pie that is the fray of big data ads.  


From publishers and media buyers to sellers and agencies, data (and a lot of it) is everywhere; and, as the lines blend between who sells and buys ads, dynamic display technologies may, ultimately, move away from a third-party solution, and land on the shores of agencies, publishers or even advertisers and brands themselves.

But, for now, dynamic display offers up a glimpse at the changing face of creative as display and banner ads try to keep pace with a hasteful digital ad world.