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Why strategy is the new creative

Advertising used to be so much simpler. In the "Mad Men" era when Don Draper walked into a conference room with some creative mock-ups, there was only one audience to reach, and therefore, only one ad. With digital, there are so many audiences to reach, and so many options for targeting that ad. You can target based on location, age, gender, or product.

But that presents a whole new challenge. "How, as an advertiser, can we be expected to execute those complicated campaigns with a single creative strategy?" asked Rob Rasko, COO and president of CPX Interactive, at a sponsored panel at ad:tech New York. "We target to seven audiences but use the same creative every time. Strategy and creative have to become one."

The big argument is that online advertising has moved too close to science, with its focus on metrics, and too far away from art. But the ability to target small audiences has opened a huge new opportunity for campaign development and strategy.

For its part, CPX has waded into the waters with its own proprietary ad management platform, adROIt. The technology allows advertisers to serve dynamically targeted creative display, depending on the audience. For example, men would see a sports-related promotion, women would see a shopping-related promotion, and Gen-Y girls will see a social media promotion. Taking it one step further, you can then geo-target the ads so that males living on the East Coast see New York Jets-themed creative, while someone living in the Northwest would see a Seattle Seahawks-themed ad.

But technology is not enough. For there to be solid campaign results, there must be consistent strategy up and down the line for every creative campaign. But for all this talk about strategic potential, there's very little collaboration.

"What is the end goal? To make the client happy," said Mike Seiman, CEO and founder of CPX. "Our biggest concern is how to achieve the highest ROI. Ad network goals are not aligned. We don't have any insights into what the back-end metrics are for clients. We see that conversation needing to happen more so we can get in on ground floor."

Ad networks often come in at the very late stages of campaign deployment, and often get murky instructions. Seiman said it was comparable to hearing about the sport of football for the first time, then being told you had to win without knowing the rules. The only way to better campaigns is through collaboration on strategy.

"Rarely are the agency, publisher, client, and creative in same room," said Sergio Alvarez, COO of Ai Media Group. "People are being protective. If you understood the rules clearly, and you had a discussion, you could push toward a goal. Unless we have clear communication, it's just going to be a ball of confusion."

Campaign success comes down to what an advertiser wants. You can produce lots of creative, but not every channel necessarily needs it. One of the smartest ways to target audiences is to go after intent. When it comes to intent, search is the most important channel, according to Yong Sung, associate director at [email protected] It also happens to be one of the least creative.

"When people want to search, they want to buy," Sung said.

So if strategy is the new creative, how are we going to achieve the best results? According to Daniel Blasko, senior manager of strategy and business development for Cars.com, it's collaboration and a clear goal.

"Having a conversation between the publisher, agency, and client will give us the most effective execution, and I think we're on our way there," he said.

Rich Cherecwich is junior associate at WIT Strategy.

A former reporter and editor, Rich Cherecwich has an intimate knowledge of how journalists conceptualize, craft and write their content. At WIT Strategy, he works closely with clients to develop, edit and publish high-level thought leadership...

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