Creativity has been a big topic in advertising for a number of years. There was many a panel discussion about discussing whether creativity or data was more important – and the industry’s obsession with data always seemed to answer that question long before anybody ever stepped on stage.
In more recent times, we’ve been away from the stage over the course of the pandemic and we’ve seen the amount of data available fall, as third-party cookies disappear, Apple makes changes to IDFAs, and data privacy regulations are implemented all over the world.
Now, creativity is being looked at as one of the ways that the industry can overcome the lack of data available to them.
“It’s not going to work in the same way that it used to. There is no longer that opportunity to gather conversions through crappy, below-the-fold creative or serving of ads. You’ve got to think about your messaging, and you’ve got to be able to control your messaging,” says Oli Marlow Thomas, Founder and CEO of creative management platform Ad-lib.io.
Marlow Thomas, an ex-Googler, setup Ad-lib four years ago after noticing that the industry paid a lot of attention to media, data, and targeting, but wasn’t really interested in the messaging side of things.
While at Google, he worked on a study that found that, while media, data, and targeting provided a small uplift in performance when optimised, creative drove around seven times the performance of the others. In response to this, Marlow Thomas left Google and “foolishly” sold his flat to begin building a platform that focused on messaging and creativity.
“We got going and it was a bit messy. It started with, ‘we’ll do personalisation – that’s the thing that everyone wants to talk about’, but we realised that was quite painful. Then we looked more at DCO, and that was quite painful,” explains Marlow Thomas. “Where we’ve ended up is with a next-generation creative management platform that goes well beyond standard templates or message customisation. The thinking being that everyone understands that good creative drives business results, but no one really understands how to deliver good digital creative. It’s that we’ve been focused on.”
Ad-lib has been built with five pillars in mind: creative governance, reusability, greater scalability, greater media alignment, and creative agility – and all of that is underpinned by data. This all means that everything is built to best practice, it’s built with fixed and flexible elements, it has tools to build and automate cross-channel production, it’s about leveraging the media agency’s work to inform the creative messaging framework, and it enables brands to talk to consumers at the right time, in the right place, with the right message.
Even with these pillars in place, Marlow Thomas acknowledges that the Ad-lib platform hasn’t always been up to standard.
“The platform was in need of an overhaul,” he says. “We’d bolted on loads of bits. We’d been very customer-led, and we bolted on little features here and there. Over the last four years, we’ve responded aggressively to what our customers ask. And, whilst this has been very good, it’s meant that the platform had become very difficult to navigate. It wasn’t bucketed into our five-pillar ‘creative success framework’. It was more like, ‘oh, here’s everything you can do to do creative’, and it didn’t flow logically.”
That’s why Marlow Thomas and his team came to the conclusion that it was time to overhaul the Ad-lib platform. The latest release aims to provide marketers with an easier, faster, and better way to deliver hyper-relevant digital creative at scale.
The process for getting ads from ideation through to activation has been streamlined. And there are code-free tools for marketers to produce and activate ad variants across channels, formats, and media platforms. The updated platform was trialled by the likes of Nestlé, Estée Lauder, and Shell.
“Our customers are super engaged in our journey. They want to help us, they get us in, we spend a lot of time with senior management. For example, L’Oréal have us at all levels of the customer trying to help their business, because everyone understands how important this is,” says Marlow Thomas. “Media spend is accelerating in digital rapidly. But no one has really spent time thinking about digital creative. It’s probably time to think about how we allocate some of that TV budget to thinking a bit more about how we manage content more holistically for digital.”
Looking ahead, Marlow Thomas is “super interested in what happens with the walled gardens” and will keeping a close eye on whether creative can be a consistent thing across platforms like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and TikTok.
“The audiences are going to be largely the same within the media buying platforms but, if the creative is working on Facebook against ‘X’ audience, could it be activated in a simple way on Google against ‘Y’ audience,” Marlow Thomas explains. “I think this idea of having those levers to optimise and adjust the content in real-time across many different platforms and many different formats is so powerful.”
From an Ad-lib standpoint, he’s “really excited about giving advertisers those tools to truly manage their messaging”, aiming to simplify and streamline the processes involved. Marlow Thomas is also determined to prove that creative data can be just as powerful as media data, especially to creative agencies.
“We have a responsibility as a company driving this to go out to the market and say, ‘look, creativity drives business results’. When you roll that all up, you have to be able to show that, and that’s our responsibility. We’re doing a lot of work on that at the moment. If we can show that creative really does drive business results – which I know it does – then people will start to listen more,” Marlow Thomas concludes.