News & Views

Opinion / Automation Breeds Greatness… When Algorithms Decide

by Contagious Contributor
Michael Davis, head of creative at Conversant, argues that dynamically changing and personalising ads can gain attention and drive conversions


If you want a front-row seat to the struggle between reason and emotion and the battle for re-definition of what ‘great’ means in advertising, be careful. You might blink and miss it.

Most static and dynamic ads reach your browser in 300-500 milliseconds. That’s from the bid, receiving info about you, the determination if you should see the ad, and finally the delivery. It may seem fast, but 500 milliseconds is an eternity for digital media delivery.

While those photons are meandering their way to the back of any given eyeball, there’s a whole lot more that can be done to match data to real humans and send a personalised ad that’s relevant.

So why are advertisers sending the same ad to people who aren’t engaging? How do you know if your brand is reaching a real human, let alone someone who cares? All this waste and inefficiency that’s plaguing digital media buying can be fixed. There’s a creative algorithm. Let me tell you how it works.

Typically, advertisers customise by segment for SKUs, then write a headline and a call to action. But there’s more personalisation possible, across several visual treatment options, calling in device identification context, screen size, time of day, locations, hobbies, life events, propensity to buy, browsing history, video plays, history of brand interactions – the list goes on.

Whether it’s display, mobile or video, you can render layers of images and messages that apply directly to any of an individual’s attributes within the first 300-500 milliseconds that they hit a site or app. Adding personalisation takes less than 40 milliseconds.

Employing creative algorithms is more than automation. It’s a mental shift to embrace decision science after work has been produced. The algorithm dramatically increases the odds of people engaging with ads, appreciating them and acting on them beyond just clicking. Clicks aren’t required for driving real attention and conversions.

Here’s a sample creative algorithm. Keep in mind, it’s not the only one. Algorithms are infinite depending on the engagement, types of channels and media.

Ad Unit for Brand A: x 3 (campaigns) x 7 (treatment styles) x 30 (headlines) x 103 (product images) x 11 (lifestyle images) x 3 (brand colours) x 7 (cross-device sizes) = ∞ (infinite potential ad permutations).

For Brand A’s ad unit, the quality and quantity of the attributes known about an individual will exponentially raise the output into millions of permutations. And an individual’s qualities are changing daily. They’re literally living and breathing. With this type of 1:1 personalisation, there’s no need for names and addresses. That’s all stripped out. It’s about the decision, the rendering of layers and delivery in real time. And it’s automated.

Take approach to cross-device messaging we helped The Land of Nod devise, for example. The high-end children’s furniture and décor retailer wanted to re-engage customers whose needs changed over the years. Imagine a parent whose baby outgrew its crib and needed a new toddler bed. How do you know it’s time to reach her, when to reach her with a relevant message and which three (or more) devices she uses a day?

It starts with creating an anonymous view of her as an individual – based on online and offline transactional data, cookies and more – and accurately matching her back to each device. She doesn’t see the same toddler bed from The Land of Nod over and over again. Instead, she gets different ad units, and based on dynamically changing data, may see the toddler bed again when she’s ready to engage. This eliminates ad and brand fatigue.

With more than 1 trillion decisions for personalisation being made a day, The Land of Nod took advantage of the algorithms with thousands of unique creative iterations that commanded attention and drove conversions.

For years it was uncomfortable for me to hear the word ‘automation.’ Not so anymore. Digital media is seeing new verticals, channels, promotions, shopper marketing, sweeps, social, campaigns driven by events nearby, or product feeds changing by weather report – it’s limitless. The variety of executions the industry always dreamed of is only limited by our imagination.