Programmatic Buying Can Only Take Us So Far: Next Stop is the Creative Tech

Matevz Klanjsek, Celtra

Our industry sometimes has a tendency to present the creativity vs data debate as a zero sum game. Words like ‘automation’ and ‘programmatic’ tend to grate against the sensibilities of the creative types, while occasionally the ad tech world is guilty of overlooking the importance of the actual message. Here Matevz Klanjsek, CPO at Celtra, discusses the role of programmatic creative technology, Google’s decision to disable Flash in its Chrome browser, and the cultural tensions between those in ad tech and creative agencies.

VF: When you’re talking about technology and creativity coming together, are we talking about simply enhancing the performance of advertising, or are we talking about giving creators tools with which they can unleash their creativity?

MK: If we distinguish between media and the message, creativity typically refers to the message. However, I think the ‘message’ part of the campaign has been missing in advertising for quite some time now, as most of the focus has been on media. There has been some creativity on the media side of course, but when you talk to creatives, they care more about the message but feel it hasn’t been getting enough attention in recent years. So it’s not just improving performance, it’s about thinking about the message at all and it’s been really absent. Technology can help bring back the message to the table.

VF: Who’s the typical Celtra client? Are you seeing more media agencies being interested in getting involved in the creative process?

MK: Our clients come from all sides. Obviously everything starts with brands and media agencies as representatives of the brand, but they are not necessarily the only clients. Sometimes we partner with the sell-side, but ultimately everything starts with the media agency and they are starting to pay much more attention to the content and to the creative, and I think brands in particular are starting to pay more attention to these aspects. I think brands are rather frustrated that the message piece was largely missing and they have come to realise that you hit a ceiling when it comes to what you can do with media. After perhaps five years of being a highly media-focused industry, we’re seeing the big return of creativity, as programmatic buying can only take us so far. At this point, if you want to further improve the advertising, you have to focus on the creative, on the message. I think it’s kind of a natural evolution for the industry.

VF: Would you say that creativity could become an important point of differentiation between different tech platforms? Do you think other tech platforms should be focusing more on the creative aspect rather than just the media trading functionality?

MK: Yes I think we should have both, so I think what’s happening is we’ll be having a couple of layers of technology. If you talk about the buy-side, you’ll have programmatic buying and optimisation technology. Then you’ll have a creative layer, creative technology, crafting the right message for the audience and then you’ll have a verification layer or you have a verification layer, which will keep everyone honest. This is keeping the media piece honest and the creative piece honest. So now I think that generally technology will pretty much stack like that so I think there will be tech companies that will be specialised in creative aspects and I think we’ll see more and more of that.

VF: Are there really still tensions between the creative agencies and the ad tech world?

MK: It might be a little ironic but I think that creativity is making its return through the technology. It might seem like tech is killing creativity and that machines will replace human genius and so on, but if anything I think that our focus on technology has led us to realise just how much we need creativity. I think that technology was exactly the vehicle to bring us back to the starting point to see that we actually need creativity and we actually need the message. Through the technology we’ve realised that the technology is not enough. I think that creative and technology guys are starting to work much much better together when they realise that they actually need each other. Three years ago engineers thought that they don’t need creatives and twenty years ago creatives thought they don’t need technologists. Now everyone realises that both parts go hand-in-hand and the results are more effective advertising.

VF:  To what extent are people actually engaging with the interactive rich media formats on mobile? Aren’t some of these formats a bit gimmicky?

MK: There are always gimmicks, and there are always things that perhaps brands or advertisers are interested in. Sometimes they want to do it they want to be a ‘media first’. However, it’s always nice to be doing  cool stuff, and even if it doesn’t necessarily improve performance, it’s an important part of the process as it’s the experimentation you have to do. It’s a process you have to go through and you can learn what works and what doesn’t work . Interactivity obviously works and mobile is an inherently interactive medium, so they work very well together. The engagement rates are fantastic and completion rates are great too, so interactivity is right at the core of how we define mobile advertising.

VF: What do you think of Google’s decision to shut down Flash in Chrome?

MK: I would say, finally. I think it’s been coming for a very long time. Three or four years ago when Apple actually decided not to support Flash on iOS, we started talking about how it represented the end of Flash. Obviously it was not even the start of Flash on mobile devices because Flash never got to mobile devices. It took a bit longer to realise that there is a lot of legacy technology out there. It’s finally happened and, while I like Flash a lot, I think it’s high time for it to happen. HTML 5 developed so much in the meantime that it can easily replace it. It’s much more flexible, it’s much more dynamic, and it’s much more scalable so yes I think it was a good decision. I think it was also well-orchestrated from the Google side.

VF: Do you think there are more opportunities opening up as more advertisers are looking at video as more outstream?

MK: On the video side there is a ‘problem’, but it’s a good problem to have i.e. there’s more demand than supply, which is why display inventory is becoming so interesting for video. I think smart publishers will be smart enough to not be very short-termist and they’ll look to the long term. Their inventory is actually the most valuable thing that they have so if you hurt it very early on to get more money, it’s a problem long-term. So I think smart publishers will be smart but you’ll always have publishers that just want to grab as much money as they can right away so it will be alwawys a problem with advertising. Advertising that isn’t done discretely so to speak, is always a bit of a problem. But I think what perhaps on the other hand could solve this situation, is that maybe we should start seeing advertising not as something which is annoying but as content that’s equal to any other content. So we shouldn’t see it as an intruder, as an alien, we should see it as quality content, when it’s done right and when it’s quality advertising could be something that people actually like. I think we’re seeing a lot of that, I would hate to call it native, I would like to call it quality advertising, it can be a great thing and again Snapchat are doing a fantastic job of that. It looks like content. They’re doing an amazing job there.

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