Back to the Future: Why Ad Tech Must Learn from the Creative Past

With so much focus on data and technology, it seems the digital advertising industry may have forgotten how to be creative. Writing exclusively for ExchangeWire, Eric Visser, founder and CEO, JustPremium, argues that the future of digital lies in new formats that inspire creativity.

Is it just me, or does it sometimes feel like people working in advertising technology have forgotten the age-old elements of what makes good advertising?

Whilst there’s no commandments set in stone for the marketing sector, at the core of any successful advert is surely good creative. This is a fact that somewhere along the line appears to have been lost, to all our detriment.

When I say good creative, you know the sort… the kind of advert that stays with you – that makes you reminisce of your childhood, that connects with you on a personal level like the best art, film, or music. The ‘creative’, the ‘big idea’ – whatever you want to call it, is something that inspires us and satisfies us on a fundamental human level.

Yet, in today’s digital world, where ad success is measured by precious eyeball seconds, many in the industry seem to have lost their way in their race to ad tech platforms. Choosing to ‘spray and pray’ watered-down ads, rather than investing time, resources, and attention on the part that really matters: the creative.

If it seems to you that the old standards and staples of good advertising seem to have been left by the wayside, then you’re not alone. In today’s digital age, advertising is changing at an unprecedented pace; and unfortunately the industry of pumping out unengaging ads through the dumb pipes has exploded as budgets contract and reporting on ROI has become a daily battle.

The big clean-up

The advertising industry is trying to mature at rapid speed, yet only in the last two years have we seen the sector start to grow up when it comes to market clean-up and brand safety. The issues of ad blocking, fraud, and actual viewability are all issues engineered and exacerbated by a few ad tech bad actors – to the detriment of the entire digital advertising industry.

Google and Facebook control a huge swathe of the market, this year the Big Two are expected to take half of all worldwide advertising revenue. In the US, no other digital platform has a market share above the 5% mark. As the available market shrinks, everyone else is left fighting for a smaller slice of the pie.

We can all agree that, unfortunately, the ad tech sector hasn’t always put the consumer experience first, promoting ‘pop-up culture’ over high-impact advertising. Focusing on quantity over quality leads to a lack of imagination as adverts become increasingly commodified, causing customer trust to plummet in the process. Something has to change to bring back trust and quality to the advertising industry.

Creative thinking outside the box

The Coalition for Better Ads (of which we’re a member) was founded to reset the balance, implementing new global standards to ensure digital advertising prioritises consumer expectations by putting them at the centre of the experience. This is a positive change and an empowering movement for the industry – but it’s only one part of the solution.

Moreover, brands and advertisers have been forced to convey messages in poor quality, small formats for far too long. Banners and skyscrapers have both been staples of digital ad real estate since the explosion of the web, but their true impact is up for debate. Google has shown preference for such ad formats, increasing a market-wide rise of programmatic standard units as everyone else follows suit. Brands have been figuratively, and literally, put in boxes with their ads and not given the space or ability to be truly creative.

Think of it like watching the season’s biggest blockbuster at the IMAX compared to watching it on your phone. The sights, the sounds, and the size of the cinema are all key factors in providing the best possible experience. A 50ft cinema screen and a 5” phone display simply can’t compete in terms of an immersive, engaging, and inspiring experience.

The future is creativity

We believe that the future of advertising technology belongs to new formats that break out the box, that empower and inspire creativity. According to the IAB's 2017 Digital Ad Spend Results, online video has overtaken banners as the largest display format, up 46% year-on-year. It’s no surprise, as it’s proven that larger formats improve visibility and mean more streaming video and social interaction.

As the industry cleanses itself of the bad actors, the premium publishers that focus on creativity will rise to the top. As a result, the end-user experience will improve, ensuring that consumers are served and engage with the most inspiring ads across all their favoured devices. A win-win for publishers, brands, and advertisers alike. After all, the best ads are not only creative, but they’re also well targeted, are trusted, and enhance the user’s browsing experience as opposed to spoiling it.

The industry is at a turning point. It needs to clean-up its act, go back to the future, and get back to its roots by getting creative.

It’s time for everyone in the industry to enact their inner Don Draper, because there is nothing more valuable than a creative idea well executed and enabled by technology.