The "right message to the right person at the right time" is the ideal that all marketers strive to achieve every day, with every campaign, media buy, email, and display ad.

Achieving that ideal becomes more difficult as consumers' digital media consumption patterns shift and new device and technologies emerge and fragment the market.

Advertisers have so many moving parts to adjust that by the time advertisers get one lever adjusted perfectly, another lever is off. You manage to hone in on a highly qualified target audience—but you can't get the message right. Or you get the message right—but you can't seem to find the right time to put it in front of your targets, so they never see it.

Have you ever seen an ad that made you cringe at how irrelevant it was or how inappropriate the timing was? That's the result of the inherent difficulty of getting all the levers just right. Even if just one is off, the entire ad comes off as irrelevant and intrusive.

Why Testing Matters

So, how do you know whether you have all the levers correct before you push the launch button on a campaign that costs hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars?

Multivariate testing used to be enough to address many of the above-mentioned concerns, particularly as they related to media sources, but variable and emergent ad formats and rich media have made that process far more complex. And multivariate testing doesn't tell the whole story.

Moreover, creative itself needs to be tested. It's that all-important "message" lever.

Testing the Creative

Not only do creative elements need to be tested within audience segments, creative elements also have to be simultaneously tested across screens and devices. When you're using a variety of ad formats to reach out to multi-screen consumers, you have to test not just a message's content, look, and feel but also viewability and functionality on various devices and how different ad units perform against the others.

Testing creative elements has always been a stumbling block for modern-day advertisers. In the old days of print and even broadcast, agencies and market researchers could gather a cross section of a particular audience or population in a room, show those audience members an ad, and then ask them questions about it.

Using a small sample size to inform large-scale campaigns is questionable anyway, but the sheer speed and scope of the digital space means that gaining personalized feedback on creative this way is not an option. It's too expensive and too time-consuming to create and run the various ad iterations necessary for the purposes of multivariate testing. Ultimately, the insight gained isn't worth all that effort because it can't scale.

With programmatic, all that can change.

Marketers are using automation more and more in online advertising. The trend, called "programmatic marketing," has been growing over the last two years. It is a holistic approach through which media buyers and sellers may align organizational processes with automation technology.

What's Programmatic Creative?

Smart marketers won't only look at the automation of ad serving as their solution, but they will even automate the process of making creative; this is called "programmatic creative."

Programmatic creative enables advertisers to use automation technology to generate, iterate, and optimize creative assets to promote high-touch engagement, regardless of digital strategy or budget.

Automating creative testing via programmatic platforms delivers superior insight to standard multivariate testing not only because it has the reach to return response indicators across entire campaigns and audiences, but it can do so in real time while a campaign is running.

Programmatic creative solutions give advertisers the opportunity to effectively create a focus group for every display ad, across channels, audiences, and screens.

Campaign optimization on the front end (before it goes live) is a vital element of development, but it's not enough. How much budget are you willing to waste before you get things just right? How much longer can you wait to get the results you want?

By testing creative elements in real time across targeted audiences, advertisers can immediately know exactly what's working and what isn't, then optimize on the fly—all while running an active campaign. Programmatic creative can help marketers test in far less time and for far less money, and deliver far better results than standard multivariate testing and optimization.

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image of Jeff Hirsch

Jeff Hirsch is president of CPXI, a digital media holding company.

LinkedIn: Jeff Hirsch