Marcus Harding is the Managing Director of Theorem Europe. In this article he examines the changing face of digital creative and explores the options available for publishers looking to create engaging and scalable creative for their advertisers.
In the last few years I’ve noticed a discernable trend towards media agencies leveraging their media buying power to get publishers to provide ever more cutting-edge creative executions.
Put simply, if you want to win large brand budgets, increasingly the industry view is that you have to go the extra mile.
But the downside is that publishers seek to sell their inventory at a higher price, media owners are also expected to pick up the bill for the creative execution of these rich media ads.
So why and how has this state of affairs come about - and what does it mean for our industry?
The rise of real time bidding (RTB) means that ever-increasing quantities of publisher inventory is sold through programmatic buying, rather than through sales teams. In 2012 the percentage of inventory sold via RTB was 16% and this is predicted to be a far higher figure by 2015. This in turn means that remaining targeted premium inventory and sponsorship packages sold by the sales team, is far more expensive and valuable.
To make this expensive inventory ‘pay’, advert iterations need to be highly visual, interactive rich media formats, especially given the rise and creative functionality seen within the mobile and tablet inventory. Media agencies are aware that by offering the inventory and the build in a single deal provided by the media owners, they can provide better value to their brands.
Yet increasingly publishers are bearing the slack by taking ever greater responsibility for creative build, as even brands that work with a creative agency, tend not to use them just for rich media design and build, but also for strategy and ideas.
My view is that something has to give.
Just like creative agencies, publishers want to focus on what they’re good at - being publishers. However if they want brand money, they need to face the reality that creative has to be made and recognise the way the wind is blowing. So what options do they have for getting creative built?
The first option is to use the in-house development team, whose main responsibility is the day to day maintenance of the publisher’s site. This team is a very busy one that is focused on user experience and as a result may struggle when working with rich media formats, so in many instances is not the best choice.
Another in-house option is to invest in specialist, in-house creative services teams. But this option requires a lot of investment and arguably creates a distraction from the main business objectives of the publisher. It is also hard to budget for, as projects tend to come in on an ad hoc basis.
A different tack would be to ignore the problem and instead focus on selling more RTB direct inventory or standard flash ad units that are easily built in-house or provided by the advertiser. However from speaking to publishers, we understand that this could mean a 30% loss in potential revenue, a percentage that some hard up publishers can ill afford to ignore.
The final option is to work with specialist partners - and within this option there are four different avenues, all of which have their merits. The first option for partnering is to work with the creators of the rich media platforms, for instance, MediaMind, Celtra, Canvas, Flash Talking and of course Google Double Click Studio, which the Telegraph worked with to create custom ad units such as the carousel gallery unit.
This approach draws on an understandably large pool of technological expertise, so direct partnership can be effective. But the case can always be made that these companies are primarily tech companies and their main focus is on the functionality of their platform, rather than creative design and build.
The second option is to partner with a creative agency for the design and build. However creative agencies tend to focus more on the brand relationship than on the publisher because, as described earlier, their focus is on overall strategy and creative direction, rather than design and build. This can also be a very expensive way to make ad units as you are paying for creative people rather than straightforward design and build.
Another potentially more successful option, especially in the early stages of designing rich media, is to work with freelancers, but this option can be tough to scale and usually ends up costing more, even if it is a good starter option.
Finally ‘the Goldilocks’ option could be to partner with a specialist rich media production partner such as Theorem. Media production partners are specialists in rich media production and are certified to build across all rich media platforms. The specialised focus on rich media production means that they prove more cost effective as you're not paying for a group of super high end 'Mad Man' when all that is required is compelling and interactive creative.
One example from our recent work at Theorem is a project undertaken for ESPN, who partnered with Nokia to build an interactive Super MPU ad unit which emulated the experience of the ESPN Hub that is available on the Nokia Lumia phone. In this example we were able create a creative solution that actually plays on the content.
Due to a close relationship with rich media platforms, production partners are able to get ads quality assured and will also be the first to learn about newly developed ad formats. As these partners are geared up to produce rich media builds across many clients, turn-around times are much quicker and the price is resultantly lower.
When it comes to rich media production, there’s more than one way to ‘skin the cat’ - but in today’s world of digital specialisms, being able to focus on core activity is an approach that a growing number of businesses are embracing.