Ad Tech Q&A: Creativity and Dynamic Optimisation

Effectively utilising creativity and streamlining dynamic optimisation during COVID-19

Following our recent COVID-19 Digital Ad Impact Study and the follow-up Q&A on managing brand safety in times of crisis we’ve had a lot of feedback on both the challenges and opportunities in relation to creativity during the ongoing lock-down period here in Australia. Businesses have had to be very agile in terms of their processes, utilisation of technologies and ultimately execution – and there has been a resulting impact on many of our members as a result.

Hence we have approached a few of our council members and local industry experts with some related questions on the topic of creativity and technology during COVID-19.

We hope that you find this useful…


Nick Mclachlan, AdCloud Product Marketing Manager, Adobe

How are Adobe helping brands to use their enterprise data in their bidding algorithms dynamically deliver campaigns during the COVID-19 crisis?

The COVID-19 crisis has dramatically changed consumer behaviours and the way that they do business with brands across almost all industries. When brands take a look at their site analytics, their reports will likely be looking very different to how they were a few months ago. Site paths are changing with these consumer behaviours, and real-world activities are moving online.

For example, brands like Sephora and Ulta have closed their physical doors and have launched digital experiences replacing face-to-face consultations, while more locally Accent Group, the owner of stores like Hype DC and Platypus, has opted to shut a percentage of their stores after achieving a surge in online sales.

All of this means two things:

• Segmentation strategies that may have been successful a few months ago may be dated or inefficient now, resulting in ads being served to consumers that are no longer in-market or may be in the market for a different product.

• The accelerated customer shift to digital over the past few months means brands likely have additional web analytics behaviours which can tell them more about their customers. Interactions such as chatbots, new eCommerce experiences or having more information on site can all be used to enhance audience segmentation. This data can then be used to inform all of the possible interaction a brand has, including in digital advertising, with the customer to ensure the experiences are as informative and as compelling as possible.

By combining Adobe Analytics and Adobe Advertising Cloud, brands can utilize hundreds of audience site behaviours such as cart addition, brochure download, or time on site in their weighted bidding algorithms across Search and DSP channels. You can also pass critical click and view-through data from the advertising experiences delivered back into Analytics to drive segmentation, optimization, and insights.

All good marketing should start with the customer – who they are, what their needs are, and how you can best help them. In times of crisis, adapting quickly to your customer’s demands goes from a best practice to a must-have. Our account teams have been hard at work with our customers to drive agile segmentation and bidding strategies to deliver effective creative messaging to customers, but also an efficient use of marketing budgets for the brands at a time when ROI is crucial.

Does Adobe have any success stories from utilizing technology and creativity during these times?

For over a decade, Adobe Summit, our annual Digital Experience conference, has hosted customers, partners, community, press, and analysts in Las Vegas. It’s our biggest conference of the year and requires a lot of work from a lot of people in order to get off the ground.

A month out from Summit, as the long-lasting impact of COVID-19 became clear, the decision was made to shift a physical 23,000 person plus event, to a global, fully virtual one. Even within this month, contingency plans changed with the nature of the lockdown and it became clear that live filming would not be possible and decide to host the whole event from our living rooms.

We recorded an exceptional amount of content (over 140 videos) over just a couple of weeks, across a wide variety of topics and knowledge levels. This included a star inclusion of Tom Brady as well, which drew a lot of views! Collaboration through technology to deliver a successful event was critical.

We measured all of our event performance in near real-time on Adobe Analytics, to ensure we can take all of our best practices and strongly performing assets learned to inform our future iterations as well.


Nathan Richman, Director, Elastic Studios

How are you, both reactively and proactively, managing the creative needs of your clients during these particularly volatile times?

Depending on which sector our clients are in, we have seen varied reactions to the current situation. In the most part, activity is down across the board but there are sectors that are thriving. This period of Covid-19 has brought with it paradigm shifts, revisions and resets in the way we communicate with each other and the way brands communicate with their audiences. Brands realise that their messaging, all of a sudden, carries more weight as it taps into a strong community sentiment. Creative executions are being scrutinised more than ever before, and it is important that brands are authentic and sincere in their approach. The brands that are finding success are those sticking to their existing values.

When it comes to the creative process during these “uncertain times", we took some advice from Douglas Adams’ “Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” and that is… “Don’t Panic”. In general, we’ve taken a patient and considered approach to managing clients' creative needs. We’ve observed behaviours, analysed data, watched market trends, trawled through socials and listened to people’s real “stay at home” stories. We’ve listened…we’ve listened alot. We’ve made a concerted effort not to let Covid-19 drive creative, instead it should only help shape it, finding new ways to connect and deliver the right message.

This slightly quieter time has given us the space, and motivation, to be more proactive in market as well. Our team has jumped onto many passion projects and new opportunities presented by the market. It lets them flex their creative muscle by stretching and challenging different formats. We love it, as it lets us collaborate internally and also reach out to others in the same line of work. One thing we really appreciate is the support amongst those within our industry as we see competition put aside for collaboration. This type of work starts conversations and we often find that the seed of a campaign comes from something we did for ourselves.

Our industry is ever changing and the rate of change has always been accelerating year on year… we’ve have always embraced that as a creative agency. Covid-19 is like someone has bolted a turbo to the engine. At first we are going to see a little dip in power, then BAM! We are going to observe activity and innovation like we have never seen before. It’ll be exciting and frightening all at the same time. It’s always been part of our role to take uncertainly and deliver certainty for our clients. That means helping our clients communicate to customers that have new habits, new ways of using technologies and changed expectations.


Have you had to evolve both your internal and external engagement processes (i.e. with clients, and other key partners) during the COVID-19 crisis - in order to remain both agile and effective?

We are as agile and effective as we can be on a muddy field. The ball is slippery, the ground sticky and the referee is still working out the rules of the game. You can still score goals but it takes more effort and concentration.

We have systems of process evaluation in place such as ISO9001 so we are constantly looking to improve the way we work. However, it’s safe to say, Covid-19 has forced our hand when it comes to internal and external engagement processes. Social isolation and remote working has meant that existing systems have been tested and forever being revised. Technologies have been employed, and some have been promptly dropped. We want to make sure there is as little friction as possible when it comes to communication. With clear comms comes high engagement.

We have made a conscious effort to be involved in industry and business groups. Forums, webinars and Zoom catch ups...e find different perspectives tackling the same challenge keeps us grounded and informed. It helps us understand what is important to others and we can explain to them how we can help. It means we can get in front of challenges and offer the appropriate solutions.

Our team has been innovative and resourceful with strategies and production of work. This will influence how we navigate client briefs and challenges in the future.


Georgia Brammer, Regional Director APAC, Flashtalking

How are Flashtalking utilising dynamic creative optimisation currently to ensure that the digital advertising solutions you deliver for your clients remain as relevant as possible?

Digital media inventory has skyrocketed in recent weeks as people around the world have stayed home and, predictably, spent more time engaging with media across all channels. Additionally, many marketers have been employing strict wholesale blacklisting measures or grounding their efforts to a complete halt.

For brands that have built their infrastructure around an authentic message and brand promise, these market dynamics provide opportunities to efficiently reach large audiences with effective, resonant messaging—provided they put the right tools to work in adapting their messaging to reflect radically new human and economic realities. .

Authenticity in tone and relevance counts more than ever. Brands that want to be a part of the global community at this time of crisis can’t just be papering the world with ads. While programmatic buying is about machines talking to machines, programmatic creative is about brands talking to people. Therein lies a key shift in mindset in terms of how advertisers utilize the tools at their disposal.

Flashtalking has been supporting brands globally in leveraging our technology to react swiftly, unlock the opportunity to reach customers and make a positive impact across all channels. In addition to our dynamic creative and decisioning tools such as Flashtalking Decision Trees and Hedges, our integrations with leading audience and buy-side partners help advertisers  react to  audience segmentation, context, circumstance and time. These four pillars to effective personalisation are good practice in normal circumstances. They are essential practice at times like these.

How else are you currently enabling your clients to deliver cohesive creative ad experiences to consumers during this COVID-19 crisis?

This current climate is uncharted territory for all of us, and we know advertisers are navigating new challenges on a daily (or hourly) basis. Our clients are approaching COVID-19 in a number of ways, but the #1 trend we’ve seen is that clients are looking for ways to remain agile and responsive.

Most advertisers are coping with some level of organisational and team restructuring, as well as budget constraints demanding new workflows. Working through this disruption, it is even more challenging to quickly find and execute  authentic messaging that reflects the times. Under these conditions, agility isn’t just a question of technological capability, but of the level of service and strategic counsel that your partners can bring to the table. At Flashtalking,  we have been working closely with our clients and partners to activate and support these reactive initiatives, whether it be operationally or strategically, or even emotionally. Client service makes a huge difference at all levels.

While the restrictions on everyday life are frustrating to all, this time also provides the potential to foster more creativity and presents opportunities to add real value to our communities, customers and clients. Advertisers have been leaning on Flashtalking’s creative production services to optimise and refresh creative suites ready for relaunch; Strategies are being rethought to encompass tactics and executions that were always thrown in the too hard basket due to time constraints; and Flashtalking Campus subscription is 300% up with agencies and advertisers using the time to up-skill.


Robert Leach, General Manager APAC, Kargo

How are Kargo effectively enabling creative and messaging flexibility in digital campaigns for your clients during the COVID-19 crisis?

Kargo always places great store on creativity - it is one of the pillars of our business. Bearing in mind that 70% of standard banners are simply never seen due to our inherent banner blindness, we believe that creativity is wildly undervalued and that the industry gets too bogged down in digital hygiene metrics like viewability.

During COVID-19 we have seen a huge increase in mobile web traffic and attention as readers increasingly turn to trusted news sources for their information and for global stories. However, as has been widely reported, the spike in consumption has not been met by an increase in advertising dollars - and to a large extent this is understandable. Lack of demand caused by retail closures and lack of supply brought about by border closures have created significant issues for advertisers that have meant that they have had to pull or pause campaigns whilst they rethink their advertising plans.

It obviously takes time for brands to adapt their messaging and their creative to these previously unexperienced circumstances and it is incumbent on publishers, platforms and digital technology companies to really try to assist advertisers as they wrestle with these dilemmas. We hear and read a lot from publishers and broadcasters bemoaning the fact that brands are not advertising through the tough times, but how easy are we making it for those brands to continue to run campaigns?

At Kargo I am proud of how quickly we reacted to these creative dilemmas. We launched the Kargo COVID 19 FAQ section of our website back in early March which offers a range of information around industry trends and Kargo mobile trends that should assist advertisers in shaping and targeting their messaging.

In the same month we also launched our Kargo Q2 COVID support plan, which offered our partners immediate relief and accommodations for current and/or upcoming campaigns.

The first area we addressed was creative value where, amongst other things we waived minimum spends on a variety of Kargo formats; granted our advertisers full entitlement to any custom standard display or social assets to run on other Supply Partners; offered a 48hr turnaround time on all creative builds; made copy refreshes available upon request and offered free Social Asset Creation and Video Optimization Services (using our unique Video Intelligence Platform, we can dynamically optimize and shorten video assets by aligning various cuts of media and matching it to adjacent context).

Secondly we wanted our partners to be able to get these campaigns to air quickly, bearing in mind the messaging is likely to change at short notice. So we offer quick & easy activation, guaranteeing to get any social or standard assets live within 24 hours, including Display, Native, & Video.

The third stage of help we wanted to offer in this journey to enable creative and messaging flexibility was to ensure that insights and measurement did not suffer with the short campaign turnaround times. So we implemented an Insights & Brand Intelligence programme that includes a complimentary brand perception field study (KBR), allowing valuable insights into how different audiences perceive the brand during the pandemic.

Are you seeing unique opportunities from the savvy execution of dynamic creative and audience data segments, particularly for Australian online retailers, during this lockdown period?

With increased social isolation and distancing measures, we've seen a corresponding massive increase in content consumption in mobile web environments. Savvy marketers are quickly coming to terms with the severe limitations of cookie/desktop based targeting tactics at reaching the majority of these potential customers in the environments they are consuming - mobile web. As a result, we are seeing a much smarter adoption of reliable contextual and sentiment based targeting techniques as these marketeers empathetically assess and target based on the content consumption patterns of their customers. There are various levels of sophistication in terms of the technology utilised, but it is very much a back to basics approach in terms of finding the right place, at the right time for your message.

Targeting of course is moot if your creative is not up to the job. Marketers have long understood that the most effective component of advertising is creative storytelling and that this takes primacy over any tech or targeting solutions. However, in a digital world where we have become obsessed with targeting and delivery metrics, care needs to be taken that environment selection, tech and targeting don't compromise the story telling.

Kargo is seeing heightened interest in high impact made for mobile creative to deliver the cut through that brands need during this pandemic in order to impart community centric messaging. There is also a view that as economic activity recovers, competition will be fierce and so better, more adventurous (and non-intrusive) creative solutions will give brands the edge they need to sell their product. A new and interesting challenge for marketers and creatives, and hopefully a positive trend to emerge from this otherwise terrible crisis.

At Kargo we have enhanced our proprietary technologies to guarantee brand safety for advertisers. Working through our trusted partnership with Oracle Contextual (formerly Grapeshot), we have the ability to add COVID-19 / coronavirus related topics to all negative keyword and content exclusion lists.

However, what our ongoing research has clearly demonstrated is that the COVID-19 coverage is not all negative and that there are a huge amount of stories of hope and even happiness around the CoronaVirus. So why negatively blanket target COVID-19? In an effort to support our publisher community, which relies on ad revenue to deliver a free digital press, we are asking brands to revisit their media strategies and include news publications that provide information and resources in the public interest. Kargo can leverage our existing Sentiment Targeting technology to identify and avoid content that is classified to contain anxious or negative sentiments, while maintaining scale and reach across our entire marketplace of premium publishers. We can layer this sentiment data with additional contextual signals at the article level, including site and keyword lists, to develop a highly customized targeting strategy for our customers during these difficult and trying times.