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1 unshakeable truth and 6 predictions about creative automation

Why the advertising industry of the very near future will favor creatives who care deeply about ad performance and embrace automation
Dan Pantelo

Creative automation scares creatives. They feel it will strip them of their autonomy and authority or — even worse — their authenticity.

But creative automation is not new. (Just ask any art director who once solely used a typesetter to design ads.) It’s simply moving faster than ever before, and with that comes hesitancy and uncertainty.

What does this mean for creatives? Will it render them mere software operators? Or dampen their creative instincts?

I think quite the opposite will be true. In fact, I want to share six predictions with you about how creative automation is set to shake up the ad industry in the best ways possible.

But before we get to my predictions, it’s important to understand the one, unshakeable truth that sits at the heart of each of them:

Creative automation will never automate creativity.

In fact, in a world where ad creative is more important than ever, creative automation actually empowers creatives with both the time and the data they need to craft the right creative.

These automated tools will always need input — big ideas, bold designs, mind-blowing messaging. And no amount of software will have the capacity to create those things the way humans do.

Imagine if we could go back in time, and run a multivariate test on the global launch campaign for the iPod. 

Apple iPod launch campaign creative

Would knowing which background colors and silhouettes resonated most with each target audience have taken away any of its brilliance? 

Absolutely not. It would have made what is arguably one of the most powerful campaigns of the century even more performant. 

This is the power of creative automation and, specifically, automated multivariate testing: getting to the very best version of our most incredible ideas, faster.

If we believe that the onus is still very much upon humans to bring great ideas to the table, then we can begin to see creative automation as a way for us to — once and for all — scientifically prove that our creative performs.

With that, here are six ways I see creative automation seismically shifting the advertising industry in the coming years.

Those who automate execution, giving creatives more time for strategy, will win

Creative execution is rote work. Creative automation allows creatives to spend less time on the mind-melting, soul-crushing work of formatting, resizing, rendering, etc., and more time where the magic happens — strategy and ideation.

Best-in-class design tools — Figma, Adobe, and more — automate the grunt work. Design one ad size and let your software do the rest. What once took days now takes hours, sometimes minutes.

Moving forward, those who waste their creatives’ time on production are missing out on even more great ideas. This brings us to my next prediction.

We will no longer limit the volume of ideas

In the traditional creative workflow, ad ideas live and die at the hand of creative leadership. Creatives pitch their best thinking to the creative director who approves or rejects ideas based on their discretion which, of course, is heavily polluted by their own biases and demographic profile. Concepts are usually whittled down to two or three that move on for consideration.

But with greater adoption of creative automation, and the ability — nay, necessity! — to test every possible option of ad creative comes the need to let go of this Devil-Wears-Prada legacy thinking.

The volume of ideas will be imperative for fast iteration and creative testing, and every idea should be considered worthy until they test otherwise. Those brands and agencies that move away from the “one great ad approach” and focus on idea sourcing will be able to pinpoint the ads that best resonate with their audience first. 

This shift is emblematic of the current flattening of corporate structures toward remote culture. Power is becoming decentralized and worthy ideas can come from any corner of a company. To continue to ideate and iterate with speed, creative leaders will have to shift their role from “supreme arbiter of taste” to “creative sherpa at scale.” Greater value will be placed upon one’s ability to lead a team of creatives toward ideas that perform, and less so upon their ability to dictate or “predict” what good creative looks like.

Creatives of tomorrow will be compensated for their ad performance

A creative’s portfolio of work was once the only way to evaluate their ideas; see if they understood how to capture attention. Bonus points if their ads and ideas actually moved the needle.

But now that we can prove, through automated multivariate testing, which ads and creative elements are winners, we have a new way to evaluate a creative’s work. And it’s all based on their ability to produce ads that actually perform.

Because ad performance data is now readily available to creatives — in a way that can actually help them build better creative — we’re starting to see a segment of designers, art directors, and copywriters emerge who are significantly more performance-driven.

This rare but growing breed of creatives is at the top of their game. They care just as deeply about the creative quality of an ad, as they do its conversion power. 

Creatives like this will be very much in demand as the adoption of creative automation grows. And, in order to attract, incentivize, and reward this caliber of talent, brands and advertising agencies will start compensating them in line with their performance contribution. In fact, “Performance Creative,” is an emerging and quickly growing niche of ad creators whose comp structures more closely resemble that of a sales team than a traditional creative.

Awards will become (even more) irrelevant

Creative awards were once the hallmark of a successful advertising team. But that’s simply because they were one of just a few available proxies for creative prowess in the pre-digital era.

The big brands of tomorrow — venture-backed DTC companies growing 200% a year — don’t care about the gold lion or pencil on your shelf. They need to see how your ad creative has boosted sales, lowered CPA, and increased ROAS for your clients lately. Nothing but performance matters. And because creative automation allows us to track that performance so easily now, it’s become an expectation. 

TL;DR: If you’re still banking on that slide of awards in your pitch deck to win business, it's time to adapt.

Full-service agencies will be forced to choose a niche

Full-service agencies made sense when our media options were relegated to print, TV, and radio. 

But creative automation has exponentially expanded the channels through which we can reach current and potential customers. And each of these channels is hyper-specialized with its own set of best practices, automated tools, analysis, and so on. 

How could one ad agency possibly do it all — with a focus on performance — while still pleasing their clients and making a profit? It’s becoming an impractical business model, especially with the rise of performance-minded, channel-focused agencies out there. 

Those big brands of tomorrow will seek out the specialists; one agency for SMS, one for email, one for paid social, etc. in order to get the best return. Over the next decade, I think we’ll see traditional, monolithic agencies build or acquire these niche capabilities in order to survive.

The RFP process will (finally) die

This is one I think we can all agree is a huge boon for the ad industry.

For years, agencies have called to boycott or reject the RFP process — essentially giving big ideas away for free in order to win a brand’s business. 

But if creative performance is now the yardstick with which we measure an agency’s success, then this process becomes a waste of time and resources for both agencies and clients.

Because all that’s going to matter are the numbers — how often you test (back to that idea of volume again) and by how much you’ve boosted performance and conversion. That’s it. Your metrics and success rate become your pitch. Those with the best numbers win.

Get ready for a creative revolution

If there’s one thing you take away from this, let it be that unshakeable truth. Creative automation will not only never automate creativity, it will enable it; allow it to flourish and find success faster.

Creatives who embrace this — who champion automation and double down on performance — will be indispensable. 

And they’ll be the ones behind the next globally earth-shattering ad campaign: driven by creative minds and made even more powerful, accessible, and performant through automation.

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