The Ad Server Started with Pixels & is Figuring Out People: Q&A with Victor Wong, CEO, Thunder

What is a creative management platform and how could its increased implementation in marketer creative strategies force an evolution of the traditional ad server? ExchangeWire speaks exclusively with Victor Wong, CEO, Thunder, who explains that, ultimately, we have to remember it’s about delivering the best possible experience to the consumers interacting with your brands.
ExchangeWire: What is a creative management platform (CMP) and how is it being used to personalise campaigns?
Victor Wong: Creative management platforms enable brands to produce, personalise, and optimise consumer touchpoints cross-channel – for example, display ads on mobile, carousel ads on Facebook, or video ads for OTT (over-the-top) streaming. Brands add, combine, and edit assets to produce new ad units for different media channels and ad formats. They can set up dynamic decision trees for what audiences, on what channels, receive what message version. They can go further and split audiences to receive different messages to test which ad is working best for the campaign objective.
How does a CMP help inform or change a marketer’s creative strategy? 
CMPs help move marketers from being product-centric marketers to customer-centric marketers by making it easy to strategise and implement audience segment-specific versions for multiple channels, wherever the consumer goes. While most marketers today blast the same ad to everyone, more and more marketers are developing a messaging strategy based on what they know about the target consumer and adapting the message accordingly. Marketers are recognising that they need omnipresence, consistency, and relevancy cross-channel. The path there leads through a unified platform that supports creative messaging for so many different places and people.
What data insights are available through a CMP?
Leading CMPs enable measurement, analytics, and testing of the creative. For example, a CMP would track which audience saw which ad and whether the audience took action. Going beyond the click or hover, CMPs can optimise against sales, brand impact, and more, by connecting with other business systems instead of being just an isolated ad server. Increasingly, consumers are seeing multiple ads from the same advertiser, so advanced analytics, like multi-touch attribution modelling, also give creative insights into which ad is contributing the most to a conversion or which ad is actually hurting conversions.
CMPs can increasingly tag elements and designs to provide creative insights into which creative choices are resonating with different audiences. Going one level deeper, understanding which assets are related to which amounts of a sale can provide a marketer a deeper insight into what the brand should be promoting.
How do these data insights differ from what an ad server can offer? Where is the ad server going wrong in this process?
The ad server, historically, has been just focused on counting impressions, clicks, and online conversions. The foundational ad-serving technology was built before multi-channel, programmatic, and people-based marketing came of age. No one really bothered to rebuild it since it worked for so long. Ad servers took for granted being able to put whatever pixels they wanted on the page – whether it was the rendered creative or a tracking image.
Consequently, ad serving doesn’t work in all environments, such as the walled gardens, that don’t allow third-party ad serving or pixeling. So, a solution like the CMP has to do dynamic ad serving in open web and meta-ad serve by sending the creative/logic to the media platform to execute and report back. Programmatic ushered in the age of automated data sharing between systems, which meant more data could be utilised in optimisation than what one single system can record. Hence, the ability to feed back offline sales data to a creative server, or find an audience in another system to measure brand impact, was just not built in to the ad server’s foundation. People-based marketing also came about the same time as the CMP, so this new technology is often doing everything on an individual person level, rather than an anonymous cookie, where a user may have multiple cookies over time, or none, which really confuses personalisation and optimisation. As a result, the power of insight and testing is an order of magnitude better with a CMP, because personalisation and optimisation can be done by a person.
Ultimately, the CMP is about people, and not so much about pixels; whereas the ad server started with pixels and is figuring out people.
What does the future of creative optimisation look like? Does the ad server still have a role to play?
As marketers and consumers demand more personalisation wherever they go, more and more of the consumer touchpoints in general will move over to solutions like creative management platforms. Ad servers will likely become more like CMPs and rebuild for this new world.
Perhaps, CMPs will become more like ad servers in some ways as well, and embrace more of the data side than the creative side. For example, creative optimisation will likely become more about experience optimisation. It won’t be enough to know which creative works best, moreover needing to know the optimal frequency or rotation combination. You’ll care about file size and load times the way you would your website. In the end, the consumer is interacting with your brand and you want them to have the best possible experience.

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