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Programmatic DOOH 14 Sep 2021 - 7 min read

Programmatic DOOH and dynamic creative: What’s the hold-up; can marketers and agencies re-engineer creative dynamics to unlock growth?

By Danielle Long - Contributing Editor

An Mi3 editorial series brought to you by
JCDecaux and Hivestack

An Mi3 editorial series brought to you by
JCDecaux and Hivestack

Hivestack MediaCom pDOOH campaign

Dynamic creative: Woefully under-utilised in DOOH. Can marketers and agencies rethink creative strategy and process to unlock gains?

Dynamic creative – the ability to change ads in real time to better suit the audience and environment – was supposed to change the game. Brands are testing the waters, but it’s far from business as usual. Can Australia’s ad industry evolve? Digital out of home operators, supply-side platforms, creative, media and production agencies say so – but only if creative dynamics also change.

What you need to know:

  • Dynamic creative – even small tweaks to messaging – has shown to increase ad impact by 38 per cent, but Australia’s uptake is slow.
  • Agencies admit dynamic creative “is one of the most under-utilised communications strategies that we have available to us”, but they are challenged by legacy processes and budgets.
  • Even blue chip brands allocating significant resource to creative automation and optimisation are finding “templatising” of hundreds and even thousands of pieces of creative difficult to get right.
  • Production agencies think creative and delivery processes need to be upended to properly harness dynamic creative. 
  • But out of home media owners and SSPs think brands and agencies could unlock significant gains by taking a pragmatic approach: start with simple dynamic iterations, prove results, and allocate greater resource to what works best.
  • IAB data suggests next year could prove a tipping point for brands at least trying dynamic creative via out of home channels.

What dynamic creative does is make your messaging more relevant. The more relevant it is, the more effective. 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

While digital out-of-home now accounts for more than half of the industry’s revenues (56.1 per cent in 2020), marketers are yet to fully harness its dynamic creative potential. But that could be about to change.

According to the IAB’s latest report, Attitudes to Programmatic DOOH 2021, some 35 per cent of agencies have used dynamic creative in the past year and intend to do so again. A further 36 per cent have not yet used DOOH dynamic creative, but intend to do so next year.

If agencies are true to their word, those figures suggests the number of media buyers at least trying dynamic creative will double over the next 12 months.

If they can get the basics right, the rewards for advertisers are significant: A recent study by QMS and Neuro-Insight revealed dynamic creative delivered a 38 per cent increase in impact across a five-day period over a piece of static creative.

But there are hurdles to clear in making dynamic creative mass market. While the IAB's survey data is positive, there’s no guarantee that influx of agencies trying dynamic DOOH will simultaneously make it business as usual.

Media owners, marketers and agencies interviewed for this report coalesce around a need for greater education, improved creative and planning processes and – as ever – increased budgets. But all agree that as Australia’s programmatic digital out-of-home market begins to ramp up, more widespread use of dynamic creative will naturally follow.

Dynamic creative: Ad agencies not up to speed…

The potential with dynamic creative is massive, but it is probably not living up to its potential just yet,” says Neil Ackland, chief content, marketing & creative officer, oOh!media.

Studies by OOH firms indicate creative accounts for around 40 per cent of out-of-home ROI. Ackland says dynamic creative offers huge potential for brands to increase that figure, but suggests cultural and technological change takes time to filter down to marketers and their creative and media teams.

“Relatively speaking it’s still early days, especially in technological integration with things like QR codes which have only recently become ubiquitous,” says Ackland.

“To see greater utilisation of dynamic creative in out-of-home, it requires education of creatives as to the possibilities on offer so that it can be considered as ideas are being developed.”

David Sutherland, GM – Large Format & Programmatic at QMS, agrees. “A lot of it comes down to creative agencies being aware of what's actually possible.” 

“Every time we catch up with a creative agency they are surprised by what we can actually do. A lot of it comes down to a lack of education around creative.”

VMO managing director Paul Butler believes the slow take up of dynamic creative is linked to a dampened attitude for out-of-home advertising by creatives.

“Before digital outdoor was around there was this massive push by clients and creative agencies to do innovation. They wanted to do things differently and we had to create lots of bespoke types of innovations, like putting TV screens into bus shelters, to create some excitement and wow factor. There was such a huge desire and excitement for digital outdoor,” he says.

“[Digital out-of-home] has massively improved the efficiencies in terms of creative delivery but I feel the creative has actually become less impactful.

“It's almost like it's created a bit of paralysis because it offers so much and there's so many opportunities and ways to deliver the message. But more often than not we just get a static image provided to us,” Butler continues. “There's a knowledge gap end-to-end in the process, from creative ideation into amplifying that message onto the appropriate format for that environment backed by the audience insight.”

It's interesting that some people still think dynamic creative is too hard, because I think if agencies are trying to do the right thing by brands, they should be trying to promote the most engaging and effective creative.

Steve O'Connor, CEO, JCDecaux

Creative agencies: blame the marketers

Creative agencies suggest that the problem lies upstream – with marketers and planners focusing on data rather than smart insight and creative ideas to better hardness that data.

Jules Hall, CEO of The Hallway, says the tail is often wagging the dog: Brands have seized the opportunity to create hyper-relevant contextual advertising, but some have forgotten that without a core strategy to support it, the ads can only do so much.

“We 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. Yes, it was using what you could do, but it wasn't very creatively clever,” says Hall.

"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.”  

Where are the results?

While media owners have been banging the dynamic creative drum for years, strong local case studies remain scarce, presenting a stumbling block.

“There's not a lot of examples available and the reality is, [dynamic creative] is not yet done en masse. Typically, it gets just chucked in the too hard basket,” says QMS’ Sutherland.

It doesn’t help that the marketers, who have tried dynamic creative and had lacklustre experiences have been vocal about their frustrations, such as BWS head of brand and CX Ken Russell who called it “a frickin' nightmare”, and Telstra’s Digital Marketing Group Manager, Amanda Nazar, admitting dynamic creative is a tough nut to crack.

Russell and Nazar were speaking at Ashton Media's Programmatic Summit in March.

Nazar said Telstra's 'Create Once, Distribute Everywhere' project is centred on dynamic creative, with the telco aiming to “templatise 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 [automatically],” she said. “But it's not as easy as it sounds. It really isn't.” 

However, JCDecaux CEO Steve O'Connor thinks marketers will overcome technological challenges because of the sheer volume of work that must otherwise be performed manually – across all digital media channels. And he says it is incumbent on media owners to help them: JCDecaux has established a team to work alongside agencies and clients to ensure the resources and facilities are in place to deliver dynamic creative campaigns.

O’Connor says it’s paying off and forecasts a 100 per cent increase year-on-year for dynamic creative campaigns: JCDecaux ran 30 dynamic creative campaigns in the first half of the year, “which is more than what we did in 2020” for brands including ANZ, Toyota and the AOC.

“It's interesting that some people still think dynamic creative is too hard, because I think if agencies are trying to do the right thing by brands, they should be trying to promote the most engaging and effective creative,” says O’Connor. “I think we all know contextual creative is without doubt, more effective than not. So, we should all be on this journey. If there are barriers to entry, we should be trying to overcome them – and that's what we're doing.”

[Dynamic creative] requires a transformational approach to how clients and brands create content. This is not a tweak; you've actually got to find a fundamentally different approach to enable you to get the best out of the opportunity to make your advertising more relevant.

Justin Ricketts, CEO, Hogarth

Complete process overhaul required

While media owners such as JC Decaux are attempting to lower market barriers, agencies say there are structural challenges to overcome.

Justin Ricketts, CEO of WPP-owned production agency Hogarth, believes the legacy structures within ad agencies and marketing departments – including financial constraints – are not compatible with the necessary processes for dynamic creative.

“Say it used to cost $1 to make an ad with a traditional agency, but now you need 1000 versions of that ad. You can't pay $1,000 because you still only have $1. What you have to do is look at new ways of creating 1000 versions for $1. Which means you need to look at how you could use automation and AI technology to effectively template that piece of creative so that you get 1000 versions for the same price,” he says.

In order for dynamic creative to thrive, suggests Ricketts, marketers need to be open to a completely new approach.

“[Dynamic creative] requires a transformational approach to how clients and brands create content. That transformation means change, which means you've got to disrupt and fundamentally flip your current way of working on its head. And you've got to find new partners operating in new ways.

“This is not a tweak; you've actually got to find a fundamentally different approach to enable you to get the best out of the opportunity to make your advertising more relevant,” says Ricketts.

“When you look at how many digital panels might as well be static ads, you have to ask yourself why? Because it doesn't make any sense, you bought digital creative, you can change it.  Every client knows they have an opportunity with digital out-of-home to update and make the advertising more relevant, yet 90 per cent of them are still putting one message out across those screens.”

Sharper results require sharper planning

Media owners agree that current processes and systems don’t mesh well with the requirements of dynamic creative. Out-of-home can end up towards the bottom of a media plan with the artwork delivered last minute or late. Yet dynamic creative lead times can require a couple of weeks to enable the necessary coding. Hence planned dynamic creative campaigns often reverting to static advertising.

“It’s the first thing to be thrown out of the window,” says JCDecaux’s Steve O'Connor. “I believe the reason for the slow uptake is people’s perception of it being ‘too hard’ or challenging in the already busy media planning and creative agency workload.”

“Dynamic creative does take a bit of work with all the coding required. I think that the market is very short-term, it can be hard for creative agencies to design campaigns that perhaps are a little more complex. They also need to ensure that the information is flowing up the chain around the capabilities, allowing enough time to build out the campaign rules, and provide creative ahead of schedule to allow time for the ‘package’ to be built.”

It’s time consuming in an already stretched industry, agrees Sutherland. “The reality is that time is everyone's enemy. We often hear clients and agencies say, ‘we got to push this campaign out, and next time, we'll do it’. I do believe there's a lot of eagerness, but I think it comes down to time.”

OMA chair and Executive Channel Network CEO, Charles Parry-Okeden agrees.

“Done well, nobody would argue that a dynamic creative execution isn’t more effective. But by its nature, dynamic and or interactive creative takes planners and creatives more time to think about all the elements required – and time is often a scarce commodity across our industry,” says Parry-Okeden.

“That said, technology is starting to do more of the heavy lifting and is helping to ease the time requirements to execute dynamic creatives. There’s an opportunity for pDOOH to take a greater share of the broader digital bucket – and as publishers put more inventory into omnichannel demand-side platforms, dynamic creative in its basic form is naturally part of that.”

We can get a campaign up in minutes once the creative has been approved by the media owner. It's all very achievable. You can have a lot more cut through as a brand if you're talking in the moment. You don't want to get creepy, but you can definitely get more relevant and more entertaining.

Matthew Bushby, MD, Hivestack ANZ/SEA

Approaching programmatic tipping point?

The rise of programmatic may be the catalyst to tip dynamic creative into mainstream use.

“I think where you'll start to see dynamic creative really come into force is when people start to use dynamic programmatic campaigns”, says JCDecaux’s Steve O’Connor.

The ability to create more addressable advertising through dynamic creative and programmatic should both challenge and excite marketers, says Matthew Bushby, MD at Hivestack ANZ/SEA. He thinks creative need to get more creative – and rather than get bogged down by process, test the waters with relatively simple dynamic executions.

“Dynamic creative allows a brand to be a lot more engaging and personal. Being able to broadcast live football scores, or fire up a congratulations message in real time when a team wins. We can get a campaign up in minutes once the creative has been approved by the media owner. It's all very achievable. You can have a lot more cut through as a brand if you're talking in the moment. Obviously, you don't want to get creepy, but you can definitely get more relevant and more entertaining.”

Bushby says the results detailed within the QMS-Neuro Insight research underlines the need to embrace dynamic creative and update ads to ensure the messaging does not go stale and consumers “stay cognitively aware”. Circa 40 per cent impact uplift is worth the additional effort, he suggests.

“I think marketers get this already, it's just they probably don’t realise there's tech and data that can make these things a reality, so that it's not draining on the agencies and the clients. Whether you want to trigger creative on sunny days, or a pollen count, sporting results or on social sentiment, it's just an API feed, and a piece of creative that triggers based on those conditions,” says Bushby.

“Or if its audience based, you just need the basic stuff, e.g. is it male of female and different creative … [using different types of technology and data] we can determine who's there, when and actually trigger the most appropriate piece of creative based on the density point of the audience that is most likely there at that particular point in time.”

Digital out of home and dynamic content, adds Bushby, means marketers can blend broad and targeted approaches, but will never be a one-to-one medium.

“Outdoor is still broadcast and we don't want to get too highly personalised – there will always be a mix of people around. An ad on a freeway can’t be individualised to a person driving a Volvo, it needs to identify that there's trainees, executives and families driving down the freeway,” he says. “So dynamic creative needs to be contextual rather than individually targeted.”

Dynamic creative is one of the most under-utilised communications strategies that we have available to us. It carries huge potential 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.

Tom Robinson, Managing Partner, Mediacom Creative Services

Time to change the picture

VMO’s Paul Butler thinks contextual targeting is the biggest opportunity for marketers, with digital OOH screens affording huge contextual range – from seconds across motorway billboards, to minutes at bus stops, to an hour plus at gyms.

At longer dwell time locations, he says, “The opportunity to engage that audience with your brand is massive. You can do it through great content, you can run multiple creatives, tell a story and extend with activations and really add effectiveness in terms of cut through… but in the main, those elements are no yet being fully harnessed.”

Butler agrees with the likes of Hogarth’s Justin Rickett’s and JC Decaux’s Steve O’Connor that the creative process has to change in order for dynamic creative and programmatic out of home to take off.

“It’s still the case that a lot of time is spent developing the TVC and by the time it gets to out-of-home, there’s not much time to get it right. I think there are purists from a creative perspective that think automated creatives can be very transactional and lose the emotive elements that a great TVC can deliver. But there are massive opportunities to be had, and brands are missing out.”

Tom Robinson, managing partner of Mediacom Creative Services, agrees, reinforcing The Hallway’s Jules Hall’s view that the data tail is often wagging the creative dog.

Dynamic creative is one of the most under-utilised communications strategies that we have available to us currently,” he says. “It carries huge potential 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.”

So it appears that brands and agencies know where the challenges lie and, according to the IAB’s latest surveys, are preparing to invest more into dynamic creative and programmatic digital out of home.

Australia’s out of home operators have made the enabling investment and are working on more robust metrics to better illustrate how ads are performing and with whom.

The next 12-24 months will demonstrate whether the rest of the industry is actually prepared to walk the talk by implementing a more holistic approach to creative processes and planning.

After all, the ad industry is nothing if not dynamic.

This article is part of a two-part series supported by JCDecaux and Hivestack. Read part one here.

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Danielle Long

Contributing Editor

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