Targeting: The Creative Downside

If it seems like I’m always coming down on the latest technology advances, it’s because I am. This week is no exception, because I’m still recovering from AD:TECH. There, I came to a few opinions on how our industry is at a notable turning point. Technology is leading the way, as usual.

AD:TECH is very much about tools and technologies that help ad delivery, thus helping media and analytic professionals do their jobs better. There’s very little about how to improve creative so it can exploit technology advances. But that’s OK.

There’s something very exciting about getting to the point where creative ideas can be delivered to the people who appreciate them. That’s one reason I started in direct marketing and now work in interactive media. Yet such targeting goes against the principles of creative as a universal, nonverbal communication tool. It’s an aspect of advertising that brand marketers love, direct marketers ignore, and companies strive to preserve. With the possibility of such a high level of targeting capabilities, are brands in jeopardy?

With so much possibility, advertising “truths” are colliding with what we can do technologically. The middle layer of our industry is spending lots of time refining practices that have traditionally been done manually by media planners. Now they’re being done with technology. This week’s Google Image ads announcement is really a consolidation of media-planning knowledge and a technological solution. It’s not a bad thing. It’s just now, this kind of targeting is a function rather than a discipline. It’s an application that helps planners target content at consumers — not demographics.

What’s wrong with such precise levels of targeting? Segmentation is good for those who seek the best result for their online dollars. But for companies seeking to proliferate a true brand message to the masses, it fails. Instead of delivering the pure brand message to online users, it fragments that message so it’s relevant to only a few individual viewers. Here’s an example — albeit extreme:

Old school: “Coke is it.”

Online: “Get a Coca-Cola Diaper Bag with your next purchase of Huggies.”

Brand managers struggle to develop brand standards for such emerging technology. Maintaining brand unity will be more and more challenging in the coming year. Traditional and online agencies must work more closely and share brand stewardship, but that’s something we’ve known and have been trying to achieve for some time now.

Technology and creative have an eternal love/hate relationship. Up until now, it’s just been the two of us. Now, we’ve must make room for the brand folks. It’s their turn to hate technologists… and, yes, sometimes even to love them.

All these recent change in ad delivery affects how richer experiences are meant to be built. Some can be mass-market executions, some targeted. We can build beautiful, targeted experiences in ad units, but it will take more dimensional thinking and planning for the creative than just beautiful execution. And brand preservation, no matter what form it takes, will always be in question.

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