​Programmatic advertising has risen exponentially since it arrived on the scene ten years ago, with spend expected to hit $20 billion this year, it will account for half of the UK’s digital advertising. Programmatic (which was 92% RTB last year, but native is expected to rise dramatically this year) means we have the data and technology to serve every consumer the right ad at the right time. This can cover demographics, time of day, interests, and buying patterns, even down to knowing exactly what point a customer is in the sales funnel. Not only this, but it is cheaper and more efficient than traditional advertising. So why, then, are agencies not creating brilliantly targeted, engaging creative for each and every consumer? According to EConsultancy, 47% of agencies, publishers and brands believe programmatic is leading to new forms of creativity and storytelling in advertising. This is less than half. So what is preventing agencies breaking boundaries?

To date, the full scope of programmatic hasn’t been realised. It was initially perceived as a cost effective advertising system, and in the rush to start using it, a step backwards was taken in the world of digital advertising. No thought was given to how dynamic, relevant content might work in conjunction with these highly targeted ads, and the upshot of this is, in the most part, programmatic ads are intrusive. A highly targeted advert is just as annoying as a generic one if the content isn’t right. Therefore programmatic is gaining a reputation for poor quality advertising, and the rise in ad blocking consolidates this. Raluca Efford, head of digital and social media marketing at Direct Line Group, says: “We have definitely found ways in the ad world to serve people stuff that is more or less personalised, but we have not found a way for customers to enjoy it or respond effectively. How can we avoid the creepiness factor, the annoyance factor? I don’t think anyone has cracked that yet.”

So how do brands and agencies resolve the problem? The issue lies in the fact that creative agencies and clients see programmatic buying as an efficiency tool, so there’s very much a ‘you buy the media, we’ll do the creative’ approach, with media often bought before the agency has even seen the creative. “Rather than saying (to agencies) here’s some creative - now go and buy some media, brands need to tell their agencies; ‘this is my audience, here’s what I’m trying to do and these are the objectives I want to achieve, using data and technology to create a dialogue with consumers,” said Caspar Schlickum, Chief Executive of EMEA at Xaxis, when speaking at The Festival of Media. Consumers must not be shown the same ad repeatedly so that they feel they’re being ‘stalked’ – there is the technology to be served sequential ads, so creatives have an opportunity to really tell their consumers a story.

There are clearly many challenges, not least monetary, associated with having to create hundreds, if not thousands of iterations of the same advert – but according to the IAB, doing this successfully ‘can double yield on interaction rates and increase engagement by 50%’.

There are relatively few examples to date of how programmatic and creative have worked together to empower the technology to enable them to create fantastic, dynamic content. The best example of the genre is Unilever’s ‘Romeo Reboot’ for their Axe brand in Brazil, where over 100,000 versions of the Hollywood trailer-style ad were created, using data such as musical taste and hobbies to tailor the soundtrack and setting.

On a slightly smaller scale in Australia, Pantene launched their ‘Haircast’ campaign, which teamed up with the Weather Channel to geo-target consumers, and promote weather-appropriate haircare solutions when they checked the forecast on their mobile devices. The campaign drove sales up 24%.

Agencies are taking steps to remedy the problem, with Starcom launching a ‘Data Next Now’ training programme last year for all employees to really understand programmatic – the first step towards working together on truly creative programmatic ads.

With big brands like TUI, Nestle and GSK planning to break the mould with dynamic creative in 2016, watch this space – it should be the year that by evolving creatively, programmatic really finds its’ niche.