Programmatic Is Not an Excuse for a Lack of Creativity: Q&A with Andrew Buckman, MD EMEA, Sublime Skinz

Identifying the user and connecting the customer journey across devices and platforms is fundamental to maintaining creativity in video advertising, believes Andrew Buckman, MD EMEA, Sublime Skinz. Speaking exclusively with ExchangeWire, Buckman explains how creativity in video can still thrive in a programmatic environment.

ExchangeWire: What does the future of digital video look like?

Andrew Buckman: Mobile devices will drive the growth of digital video consumption. The latest Zenith Online Video Forecast indicates fixed device viewing is already reaching a peak, while smartphone viewing is set to increase by a substantial 35% globally this year.

This shift to mobile viewing will have significant implications for video advertising. The industry will need to embrace lighter ads that don’t increase load time, use up data, or drain battery power, as well as deliver nonintrusive video ads that adapt automatically to different-sized screens without intruding on the user experience.  This will mean – among other things – forsaking Flash in favour of HTML5 in line with the IAB’s new ad portfolio.

How is it possible for advertisers to find the right balance between engagement, immersion, and intrusiveness with users?

First of all, advertisers need to consider which ad formats can create maximum impact without intrusion. Outstream video, for instance, is considered less intrusive than traditional pre-roll video ads, and is also more effective in driving key brand metrics, such as ad recall, according to our research. As long as they are designed to work seamlessly with the content on a page and allow users to initiate interaction with a clear action, such as a click or a swipe, outstream video ads create maximum engagement with minimum disruption.

In addition, advertisers need to focus on personalising the advertising experience for maximum engagement. Programmatic has long been thought of as a method for delivering invasive, irrelevant ads at scale; but in an age of programmatic creative, the technology can be used to serve hyper-relevant messaging – adapting to the real-time context of the user ­­– and deliver immersive personalised ads that resonate with individual needs and interests. Creative and media agencies need to work together, and communicate more effectively, to strike the balance between engagement and intrusiveness when implementing programmatic advertising.

Netflix has announced it will start experimenting with personalised pre-roll ads. What are your thoughts on this, given that online publishers such as YouTube and Facebook have started to move away from this ad format?

The situation with Netflix is slightly different to YouTube and Facebook as its pre-roll ads will only be used to promote the platform’s own original programming. But Netflix is still failing to take into account that users find pre-roll ads frustrating as they block access to content. On the plus side, at least the ads will be personalised to the user’s viewing habits.

In general, it’s not surprising some platforms are still exploring pre-roll video – as we saw with Twitter earlier in the year – because it is a well-established format with plenty of demand. Even YouTube isn’t totally abandoning pre-roll, just reducing the length of the ads.

But the future of pre-roll is bleak, especially given the growing influence of Generation Z, which expects instantaneous access to video content without having to sit through lengthy ads. In the long term, both publishers and advertisers will make the transition to more innovative, higher-quality video formats, such as outstream, that do not intrude on the user experience.

Some would suggest that a lack of creative diversity in digital video campaigns has led to users seeing the same ads over and over. In your opinion, what more can be done to combat ad fatigue and keep creativity alive?

With consumers using a variety of devices and platforms to access online content, there is a risk they will be repeatedly exposed to the same video ad, even when frequency caps are in place.

To avoid this happening, it is essential to identify the user and connect the consumer journey across various online environments, enabling seamless brand storytelling through a variety of creative ad formats, including video and rich media. Delivering personalised ads targeted to the real-time context of the user, and their position on the path to purchase, is one way to ensure ads are relevant, not repetitive.

Is programmatic creative the answer to 100% viewability?

As viewability standards continue to evolve, the answer to this question may well change – but in the short term, the answer is no. Logic tells us highly creative, non-standard ad formats, such as homepage takeovers and content-rich native ads, are exceptionally viewable, but they rate poorly for viewability against current standards, although they do perform well against other brand metrics.

Viewability is measured using pixels in relation to screen size, so it is most effective for standard display ads that fit within the confines of the page. Until viewability standards are adapted to measure formats that go beyond the page, they will have the effect of stifling creativity as publishers avoid non-standard executions for fear of not delivering on viewability.

While viewability is a vital marketing measure – and a prerequisite for engagement –it should only ever be seen as a baseline for assessing campaign performance and should never be the basis of advertising strategy. Viewability must be combined with a wider range of metrics, such as exposure, brand recall, and engagement to achieve a true picture of campaign success.

What are the challenges of rich-media creative ad units and programmatic?

Aside from the issue of measuring viewability, the key challenges around executing rich-media ads using programmatic technology relate to user experience. Ads must be lightweight and fast-loading to avoid latency issues, and must have the ability to adapt to various environments and work seamlessly with on-page content, regardless of screen size or device. Updates to the IAB’s Mobile Rich Media Ad Interface Definitions (MRAID) go someway to addressing these issues, but there is still more work to be done.

Programmatic is not an excuse for a lack of creativity – it allows relevant, engaging rich-media ads to be delivered at scale to highly engaged audiences and, once again, it is down to creative and media agencies to work together and ensure this combination of creativity and efficiency is realised.