What is Creative Automation?

By Guillaume Fernandez | Last update: July 21, 2020 | Creative AutomationMarketing, Dynamic Advertising

Today’s fragmented digital landscape calls for the production of a lot of assets, used in different aspect ratios, on different platforms, in different languages, different versions… and much more. Consequently, creative teams are under a lot of pressure to create, adapt and translate more and more creatives in less and less time.

Most creative leaders tackle this issue by simply growing their headcount or outsourcing the production to external agencies. However, not only this strategy is hardly scalable, but it also ends up being extremely costly and often difficult to manage.

This article aims at shedding some light on a lesser known solution: automating the creative process, also known as creative automation.

Creative automation

Creative automation allows you to reach the creative production goals you are aiming for by taking repetitive work out of the equation. It leverages the power of “templated creatives” in order to automate the process of outputting a large amount of “versions” of the same base ad. To give a bit of context to the growing importance of creative automation platforms (often known as Creative Management Platforms – CMPs), let’s illustrate that with an example.

How do you think your designers will react when you tell them that the brand new video ad they just finished creating needs to be duplicated in 50 different versions? They probably won’t show it, but they’re likely dying inside. And that’s the best case scenario. What do you think they feel knowing that aside from the translation work, they also need to consider different aspect ratios, sometimes different products, different CTAs, and so on? Sometimes one creative end up being dupplicated in 500 versions. Sometimes much more. 

Designers feel like having a hard time when asked to duplicate the finished creative into 50 different versions

Though they might not show it, this is exactly how your designers/artists will feel

And that’s leaving aside the rendering process, thus forcing your designers to step away from their computer while it’s locked into rendering out the videos… A lot of time wasted using one of your most important asset, your “creative minds” executing some tedious versioning work. 

Well, this tedious and time consuming process is now a thing of the past, thanks to creative automation. 

So, how does creative automation work exactly?

Working with templated creatives

Simplified version of a creative canvas and its elements

Like creatives, but offering full flexibility 

There’s still a considerable lack in awareness surrounding the process. It involves transforming your creatives into templates, and the process is usually the following:

1 – Designers build their creatives using various editing tools. In the case of using a creative for a video ad, Adobe After Effects is used in most cases.

2 – They then use a plugin directly integrated with Adobe AE, and convert the creative into a template. This process entails selecting  which “layers” will become future variable elements, also known as “dynamic elements”. A dynamic element is something in a creative that can be changed from a CMP’s dashboard or from a data trigger (e.g. a change in a feed). This can, for example, be the aspect ratio of the video, a text element, an image element, or a video element.

3 – Some CMPs also offer template builders, which are tools used to create templates from scratch. They usually offer much less editing and creative tools than their counterpart Adobe AE, but they make up for it by being simple to use.  

4 – Once they have their template, they can link their templates’ elements to data sheets. That way they can output either all the possible versions at once, or only selected ones:

  • Link the price to a pricing list
  • Linking the product shot to a product sheet
  • Link CTAs and text to a translation sheet
  • And much more! The data is the limit.

That is what we call creative automation. By linking data sheets to variable elements within their templates, creative teams can output all the versions they need in one go, without reopening After Effects or rendering out the assets from their desktop computers.

Here’s an overview of the benefits that CMPs offer:

Faster, more flexible and cheaper than manual labor

Decorative image of a motor cyclist, representing the speed of a creative automation platform

This is what using a Creative automation tool feels like, except indoors.

For those already acquainted or buying into creative automation, a faster production time is the main benefit of creative automation. The results may vary depending on the team size and the amount of deliverables (or versions) produced by creative teams… however, the benefits are exponential. If a designer can work with dynamic templates instead of having to jump back into After Effects, makes the changes, and renders new versions again and again, then they will rapidly see that they will find more time using their creativity instead of pouring time into repetitive labor. 

Brand consistency: humans do it better. 

Brand consistency is kind of a big deal for the biggest advertisers out there, and yet there’s little talk on how programmatic advertising often damages brands. Sure, the returns on programmatic advertising are proven times and times again: efficient ad buying and placement are cost effective, and product remarketing always works very well for e-commerce websites. But online advertising is not limited to FMCG, clothing and the likes. 

What happens from a creative standpoint when a brand wants to communicate its value, and not just its product? Can they remain loyal to their brand’s guidelines and entrust AI-powered creativity? We believe that those are the shortcomings of programmatic advertising.

Decorative image of a crowded subway, representing creativity among human beings.

They don’t always look the part, but humans are the most creative animals

Indeed, programmatic helps in many cases, but in many others, any form of automation should be instead leveraged to make manual labor faster to accomplish, not to completely replace it. It should help companies leverage their storytelling, not dissolving it at the cost of performance.

Eliminating human errors, enhancing collaboration  

Centralizing the creative production through a creative automation tool truly helps companies bringing all their creatives under one roof. This is particularly helpful for brands who are used to work with remote agencies, which often slows down the whole production process. Creatives can be rapidly commented on, reviewed and reiterated, thus eliminating the need for sending emails back and forth. External stakeholders can also receive links and contribute. Creatives can be shared directly from the CMP to the ad channels, DSPs, DAMs, whether those belong to the company using the CMP, or its clients’ (in the case of an agency using said CMP). 

To top that off, keeping the list of creatives and their respective iterations on one single page helps the editors keep track of all versions they produce. This is especially useful when there’s a need for a lot of assets, in the case of producing multiple assets with the purpose of multivariate testing.

Finally, working with a CMP allows brands to keep control on their creatives. Especially if creatives are dispatched to their local branches in order to be adapted to each local market. On a brand level, it can be decided which elements can be swapped, resized, reformatted, personalized, and which should remain untouched. This is the perfect workflow for brands that -for example- only need translation variety within their assets, as they will ensure that the other elements of the creatives cannot be altered.

Bracing for the future:

What will happen in 2022 when “Google’s ban on the use of third party cookies will render up to 85% of current digital marketing useless”

We bet on – and admittedly cherish – the idea that instead of “profiling” their audiences, large advertisers will re-learn to understand their customers and shift their focus towards strategies such as contextual advertising. Split testing will go back to its roots, where multivariate testing will require a lot of manual labor of “opening Adobe AE, changing the CTA box color, rendering out, then making another version with a different color” and so on and so forth. This versioning process can take hours, and is often split in different stages (following a build measure learn feedback loop).

Decorative image of Google HQ, representing the future ban on third-party cookies

They pretty much set the rules, we just follow.

Soon enough, many advertisers will start giving more importance to the use of CMP / creative automation platforms as they’ll realize that manual versioning is not scalable, whether or not the process is outsourced. This will be especially relevant to the brands who care about both the storytelling conveyed by their ads and their performance.

So, don’t wait for creative automation tools to see a surge in price two years from now, and get a head start today!

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