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Deep Dive 9 Jun 2021 - 5 min read

'It's a frickin' nightmare': Thousands of reasons marketers and agencies find automated creative so hard

By Danielle Long - Contributing Editor
Automated creative

Automated creative: Requires brands to flip content creation on its head, or it probably won't work.. Pic: iStock

Marketers have a huge appetite for "dynamic creative" - or automated, tailored messaging by the machines - but those that try to execute say it's still snagged. AmEx, BWS and Telstra are all trying, but just 2 per cent of marketing messaging is personalised to an audience. As the rest of the ad supply chain automates, is a serious bottleneck looming? Marketing and agency chiefs weigh in.

What you need to know: 

  • Dynamic creative is "the most under-utilised communication strategy" in the market at present. 
  • Marketers from BWS and Telstra believe it is hard to do and requires a huge amount of work to bring all the elements together. 
  • Good quality data is crucial for success, according to AmEx marketer Naysla Edwards. 
  • She says dynamic creative has improved the brands unique average open rates and content engagement. 
  • Too many brands are bewitched by the technology capabilities at the expense of strategic and creative objectives, according to Hallway CEO Jules Hall. 
  • Hogarth CEO Justin Ricketts says there is a 'massive gap' between opportunity and ability for brands. 
  • Digital out-of-home viewed as entry-level opportunity for dynamic creative, but it's still in the early days. 
  • Budgets remain a stumbling block for marketers. 

Dynamic creative was supposed to be a dream come true for personalisation. But so far, it's giving marketers cold sweats. 

"It's a frickin' nightmare", was BWS head of brand and CX Ken Russell's succinct assessment following its experiment with 14,000 pieces of creative last summer. 

Speaking alongside Russell at Ashton Media's Programmatic Summit in March, Telstra digital marketing group manager Amanda Nazar agreed it's a tough nut to crack

Nazar said Telstra's 'Create Once, Distribute Everywhere' project is centred on dynamic creative. The telco has been in the process of getting the project up and running.

“It's going to be great when it does; 'templatising' as much as we can; having that creative so that you put an asset in and it creates all the different variants that you need,” she said. “But it's not as easy as it sounds. It really isn't.” 

While Telstra later dismissed the suggestion it was “struggling” with dynamic creative, agencies say few, if any brands, are doing it well. 


Dynamic creative requires a transformational approach to how brands create content... I don't know if many brands are set up to leverage that opportunity or know how to do it.

Justin Ricketts, CEO, Hogarth

Technology for tech's sake

Dynamic creative is one of the most under-utilised communications strategies that we have available to us currently,” says Tom Robinson, managing partner of Mediacom Creative Systems.

It carries huge potential in its application for brands to reach new audiences with more relevant messaging. Too often, its true value gets lost in a conversation about technology, hyper-targeting, data and cost which ultimately results in it being a tactic that’s applied to performance, narrow segmentation or re-targeting.”

Robinson believes it’s the age-old issue of the industry focusing on technology for technology’s sake. “Technology serves us well but it’s a means to an end, not a solution and this is where the difficulties often lie,” says Robinson.

Not creatively clever

Jules Hall, CEO of The Hallway, says brands have been bewitched by the technology rather than focusing on the strategic or creative potential.

“One thing which happened early on with dynamic creative was a focus on how to make the creative hyper relevant to the individual. We suddenly started seeing millions of campaigns going, “It's a sunny day, you should buy a pair of sunglasses” or, “It's a rainy day, you should buy an umbrella”. There were buses travelling through Paddington with the Paddington postcode on the side of the bus," says Hall.

"Yes, it was using what you could do, but it wasn't very creatively clever, it didn't have an idea behind it, it didn't do a lot for the brand. It was just leveraging the technology and was totally technology driven, rather than strategically or creatively driven,” says Hall.

I think where people have gone wrong is by going hard on making it as personal as possible, but forgetting that core organising thought or idea.

Jules Hall, CEO, The Hallway

The Hallway worked with Google to develop a successful dynamic creative campaign in 2015. The ‘Ask the Google App’ campaign used outdoor and mobile sites to dynamically serve contextual and relevant headlines. The ads used geo-targeting to respond and react to major news events, weather changes and serve location specific information to encourage consumers to search via the Google App rather than their phone browser.

“We have developed a methodology that we use when using dynamic media," says Hall. "You’ve got to have a strong core organising thought and be able to nuance it to the moment or the context or the person that will be seeing it so that you can maximise relevance."

Hall says that's essentially what good dynamic executions boil down to: "What dynamic creative does is make your messaging more relevant. The more relevant, the more effective it is. I think where people have gone wrong is by going hard on making it as personal as possible, but forgetting that core organising thought or idea.”  

Funnel vision: think bigger

Dynamic creative, or dynamic creative optimisation (DCO), has often been relegated to the bottom of the purchase funnel, says Hogarth CEO Justin Ricketts.

There’s a lot of confusion about DCO,” says Ricketts. "People seem to think of the bottom of the funnel and banners and email. We prefer to use the term personalisation at scale (PAS) or omnichannel personalisation because this is what clients are really trying to do.”

Ricketts believes more education is necessary to lift the profile and potential of dynamic creative to enable marketers to maximise it.  

“DCO doesn’t have to be pure dynamic creative optimisation; there are different types of it. And you don't just have to personalise at the bottom of the funnel to make a conversion. I think the opportunity is to take the concept of DCO all the way up the purchase funnel," he says.  

"With addressable TV, I can serve a different message that is customised based on what we know about you, your postcode or your suburb. There's no reason why we can't take the concept of DCO across the pipeline or up the purchase funnel.” 


It’s difficult to piece it all together because it requires a huge amount of collaboration between the client, the creative agency, the media agency, and ultimately the channel.

Brett Poole, MD, Finecast

Complex moving parts

One of the biggest complaints from marketers and agencies is how complex dynamic creative is to set up and execute.

“The concept of dynamic creative always lands well with CMOs and agencies, but it is tough to do,” says Brett Poole, managing director at Finecast. “It’s difficult to piece it all together because it requires a huge amount of collaboration between the client, the creative agency, the media agency, and ultimately the channel – it takes a lot of project management to pull it together. But when it does happen, and we've seen it happen across a number of clients, it's a fantastic execution.”

Poole says Uber Eats has harnessed dynamic creative and addressable TV to tailor comms to different suburbs and also delivered location-based targeting using postcodes as part of its Australian Open sponsorship. But there are also examples where it has not worked so well.

“Often, the desire is there, but that lined up collaboration between all those parties is sometimes not there," says Poole.

"The building blocks for me are; does the client have a pretty good idea about the consumers they want to target? Do they have a rich data set to work with? Do they, or their agency, understand things like context and consumption moments? Have they got an asset suite that is cost-effective, and do they have a solution to create variations, which can map to those moments in an effective way? And lastly, is the media channel ready for that? You can see how complex it is pulling all of that together.

“Parts of that process have been more ready than other parts. But it feels like we're getting to a point where everyone's ready, where we can actually start pulling those things together – and everyone can contribute." 

The challenges we had to overcome when deploying dynamic creative relate to the data quality, for instance ensuring our data matches the trading business name and not registered name, which can create confusion.

Naysla Edwards, VP of Brand, Charge Cards and Member Experience, AmEx

Good data or bust

AmEx is currently using dynamic creative for its marketing activities and Naysla Edwards, VP of Brand, Charge Cards and Member Experience, says the brand is “leveraging dynamic creative as much as possible as part of our digital marketing strategy.

She says it has helped the brand improve unique average open rates and content engagement for its EDM channel, as well as drive greater personalisation above the line.

Edwards cites the pros: targeted relevant messaging, budget optimisation and reduced wastage, increased efficiencies for testing new products and, of course, better marketing performance overall. She also underlines that data is the most significant element to success.

“The success of dynamic creative, especially when executed below-the-line, relies on the quality of the data used to execute. If the quality of the data is poor, so is the end result.”

AmEx uses dynamic creative for its annual Shop Small campaign, which “allowed us to support small business by connecting them with the right audiences.”

“Thousands of merchants are part of Shop Small which is wonderful but for me, as a consumer, I want to know about those businesses that are relevant to me. That means being shown businesses that are located in areas that I visit, that sell the products I consume, and being shown to me at relevant times – for instance seeing creative for coffee early in the day is much more impactful," says Edwards.

“The challenges we had to overcome when deploying dynamic creative relate to the data quality, for instance ensuring our data matches the trading business name and not registered name, which can create confusion. Another watch-out is the number of creative executions we need to develop to match all consumer needs. It is important to map an effective and efficient approach to creative development to avoid unnecessary complexity.”

But not all channels have dynamic creative capabilities and “that’s something that needs to continue to evolve," she adds. "When it does, I think the relationship between brands and consumers will get stronger." 

Content creation overhaul

Hogarth's Justin Ricketts believes dynamic creative requires brands to completely rethink content creation.

“We're seeing this massive gap between the apparent opportunity and this lack of either confidence or ability to do it. I think it requires a transformational approach to how brands create content," he says.

“I don't know if many brands are set up to leverage that opportunity or know how to do it. In order to serve the right message to the right audience at the right time on the right channel, you have to ensure your content is broken down into modules and components and layers. And at the moment, too much of the industry is focused on made-for-channel assets.”

“First, it’s about getting your data, organising your martech or your adtech to plug together on top of your data. Then you need a very new type of content to feed that technology," he says. 

"We're trying to get clients to shift from, what we call, organised content creation, where you're creating channel-specific content and the associated processes behind that. And get them thinking about how they can create more modular content, where you can reuse, remix and match those assets to the localised message your audience or platform.

"But you have to disrupt what you are doing and fundamentally flip your approach to creation, if you want to do dynamic creative well," Ricketts reiterates. "You have to find new partners and new ways of working."

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