Creativity and Optimization in Mobile Advertising - Solving for the Oxymoron

(Originally published in 2015 at

Data, data, data, it’s the talk of the town and an important one. Agencies are slowly jumping aboard, two weeks ago WPP announced the formation of Gain Theory, a new agency dedicated to data analysis, platforms and models.

Data and algorithms are helpful, but they can not replace human creativity – human creativity requires empathy. Creativity requires an understanding of humanity, the capacity to imagine being that person for a while and drawing from personal experiences and stories. There is no formula for it. It comes from thinking outside the box, looking at new ways to solve a problem or simply out of thin air when we get lucky.

Mobile ad optimization certainly takes brains, but these days, only in the oddest of cases does it require creativity. With so many metrics tied to media and creative performance, creative changes after an ad has been flighted are becoming so prescriptive that anyone with a basic understanding of graphic design can optimize for better mobile ad performance.

Optimization has become a routine, arduous and creativeless process – a creative administrative task. And by nature, our teams are best motivated by big ideas, challenges and visions. Therefore, optimization no longer fits the nature of creative work or people.

We are experts at building visual solutions to storytell a brand into new households and marketplaces, challenging technological capabilities and finding ways to make the impossible possible. This expertise is lost in an organization that places us in a corner to spend the bulk of our time executing against a set of directions.

Although it looks like it, ideas don’t come to us in a split second. Each idea requires years of experience learning to iterate and visualize. Once an idea is put to paper, lots of time is spent perfecting it by the designer and within the creative team. For example, laying out the type within an ad and finding the correct visual balance can 30 minutes alone.

Dynamic creative optimization, through a/b testing and multivariate, automates all of the administrative creative tasks my team would rather not do. Creating multiple versions of an ad takes hours, I would rather my team focus on building really strong initial concepts, stories and interactive designs. We will gladly take back the hour it takes to change the background of a live ad to win more RFPs and set forth smarter campaigns.

While we are experts at storytelling and positioning, we are not mind readers. Multivariate empowers us: it makes our creations perform better by reading the data for each member of the audience, in a way, mind reading each user’s preferences. Say I were to create a campaign for an auto brand, to read the minds of my 10 million target audience members. To begin, creative directors will need to generalize and design with the knowledge that young women usually prefer red over black sedans. But user preferences can change depending on a wide number of factors, multivariate optimization will know for sure if young women have shifted to prefer white sedans instead because multiple celebrities have been sporting white cars. It will not only know the preference, but also dynamically change that property. This leads to more conversions and stronger affinity for the auto brand, by improving the original concept to create a more relevant story for the target audience.

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