Best Practices: Creative Rotation

Optimizing Creative For Entertainment Marketers

Creative rotation and optimization is not a new concept in the digital advertising world.  For as long as I have been building ads (15 years or so), advertisers have been swapping images and videos for a variety of reasons.  But to truly optimize the creative in a digital campaign is no small undertaking.  Thankfully, with existing tools, a smart digital marketer can design and execute on a customer journey, while capitalizing on buzz and shifting consumer perceptions.

From the ad tech perspective, I see both the creative and media side of the equation.  While media agencies would prefer to have endless amounts of creative to optimize, the reality is that high quality creative production is costly and time consuming.  Striking the right balance can be difficult, but when executed correctly the outcomes can be very compelling.

I’ll make the distinction here between creative optimization at the audience level versus at the ad level.  Dynamic content optimization (DCO) systems such as Google’s Product Feed are widely popular and do a great job of swapping location details for car dealers and shoe colors for e-commerce retailers.  These systems operate at the ad level and are largely automated.  Conversely, at the audience level there are decisions that need to be made by humans (smart marketers) based on the intended emotional appeal to a given audience segment.  In this article I am focusing on the audience level.

I’ve taken the insights we have gained at Addroid and listed what I believe to be the best practices for optimizing creative, specifically for entertainment marketers.  While these concepts certainly apply to other categories such as fashion, automotive, video games, and action sports, entertainment deserves special attention as campaigns are relatively short and high impact.

  1. Map The Customer Journey In Advance

    The entertainment industry, specifically theatrical and television, is all about storytelling.  A customer journey should, at a minimum, lead a consumer through a specified set of messages to tell a marketing story. Along the way, marketers should set milestones that track the progress of the consumer and allow for measurement.

    For example, in a typical theatrical campaign the journey map might start with general messaging to drive awareness.  A completed view of a video ad on YouTube would represent the first milestone.  This means the consumer saw the basic messaging and can be moved along to the next stage of the journey.  On the ad tech side, this means the user was cookied and moved into a new audience segment.

    Ideally, and budget permitting, a separate journey map should be designed for each major audience group.  For example, “young males” and “young females” would have separate and distinct maps. Going a layer deeper, “young males in coastal cities” and “young males in Minnesota” could have separate maps as well…you get the picture

  2. Use The Right Tool For The Job

    The more data, the better.  How many times have you heard that said this year?  Like, a million.  But in the context of journey mapping and creative optimization, this can’t be overemphasized.  Most media teams these days use one campaign management tool as the central dashboard for managing campaigns, the most prevalent being Doubleclick Campaign Manager (DCM, formerly know as DFA).  Other peripheral/meta ad servers may tie into the campaign manager, examples being video ad servers or Addroid, and often DSPs are connected as well.

    A campaign manager is primarily a tool to maintain order in a large and chaotic campaign, but with the advent of Data Management Platforms (DMPs), these campaign tools now link to data sources that empower true optimization.  For example, DCM uses Floodlight Tags that are placed on web pages to track milestones as discussed earlier.  When these tags fire, the internal DMP catalogs user behavior and associated targeting information.  The platform can be configured to optimize creative based on what messaging performs the best, and consumers can be moved along the journey map towards the success metrics.

    The moral of the story is that without having full visibility into the data and optimization tools, marketers are not equipped to make informed decisions about how to optimize and rotate creative effectively.

  3. Define Success Metrics And Attribution Paths

    “OK Matt, so now I have a tool shed full of power tools, what next?”

    Now that you have created a journey map and selected the right tools for the job, it’s time to define what success means. In the digital marketing world, success is typically defined by an action the consumer takes, but without attributing the pathway that led to success, there is no way to measure and shift resources to the most effective paths.  Thus success metrics and attribution must go hand-in-hand in order to create a positive feedback loop to do better marketing.

    The best success metrics are simple: watch a video, buy a ticket, or share a piece of content.  Where marketers get into trouble is when they try to define every single fine point along the way.  For example, if a user sees a sponsored post on a publisher’s site, then eventually buys a movie ticket on their mobile phone, that equates to success.  The success metric is a ticket sale, and the publisher is the attribution path.  Smart marketers can certainly get more granular than this, but the rule of thumb is to get to success in three big steps.  Just make sure to embed your tracking along the way so you can keep the feedback loop tight.

    Attribution used to be really tough to measure, but now there are some great tools that allow for cross-platform attribution.  With the right technology partners, consumers who view a piece of content on their desktop can be linked to mobile usage, and vice-versa, so if a ticket is purchased on a phone a few weeks after a desktop ad is viewed, attribution can be linked back to the initial desktop pathway.

  4. Test, Iterate And Repeat

    The final step, and most important, is to experiment.  Every campaign is different, and every audience is different.  The strategy and tactics that worked on past campaigns may not necessarily translate to future campaigns, so a smart marketer is always testing, improving, and trying again.  With respect to creative rotation and optimization, cloud-based creative platforms such as Addroid make it easy to change creative assets in real-time. If a certain video, image or piece of content is not performing well with a given audience segment, a new experiment can be setup and run on the fly.  The relatively low cost of display advertising is a great way to test messaging with various groups, and in a matter of days the optimal messaging can be dialed in for the remainder of the campaign.

  5. Common Mistakes To Avoid

    In my experience I’ve also seen some common mistakes made when it comes to creative optimization and rotation.  I have listed the ones below that I see most often and can be easily avoided:

    1. Random Rotation:  rotating creative just for the sake of rotating requires more work for the creative and media agencies, and without proper measurement and attribution there is no real benefit.  Just because a consumer sees multiple versions of your creative, doesn’t mean that the creative resonates with that particular audience segment.  Delivering one message that hits home is better than delivering multiple messages that don’t.

    2. Trading Reach For Frequency: a cornerstone of advertising is that brand recall and purchasing decisions are heavily influenced by frequency.  By spreading your impressions too thin and not achieving enough frequency for a given audience segment, your milestones will be harder to reach and thus attributing success to the creative that works the best will be impossible.  The rule of thumb is to ensure you reach a consumer with 5-10 impressions before that consumer takes any measurable action.  It’s better to focus on fewer segments that can be reached with sufficient impressions.

    3. Ignoring The Data: marketers tend to be an opinionated group, and rightfully so.  Trusting one’s instincts is a valuable tool, yet with data tools a smart marketer now has many ways to validate if instinct proves true.  Just because an advertiser or creative agency likes one set of messaging better than another, does not mean the audience segment does too.  Keeping an open mind and listening to what the data shows about creative choices will lead to better campaign outcomes and you’ll gain new insights along the way.