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Amid cookie deprecation, we need creative signals more than ever

Man balances on a paint brush over an opening in the ground.

Illustration by Reagan Hicks / Shutterstock / The Current

Remember Punch the Monkey? TreeLoot's infamously obnoxious banner ad made waves way back when we had dial-up and fears of Y2K, gaining a lot of imitators in the process. It has also become something of a signpost of how far we’ve come – from annoying, untargeted banner ads to rich, personalized customer journeys.

As the advertising industry navigates the challenges of cookie deprecation, we can all agree that a return to this kind of generic advertising is something that neither consumers, publishers, nor advertisers desire. It’s in nobody’s interest, but it remains a real possibility.

There are a number of ways to avoid this kind of regression. Great minds in the industry are focused on creating new linkages, signals, and identifiers rooted in first-party data and identity; others are making huge strides with contextual-based approaches. Amid signal deprecation, building proxies for the same audience targeting strategies might be viable in the long run, but in the short term, creative intelligence represents an untapped avenue for innovation, investment, and marketing optimization.

Creative represents the final, if forgotten, frontier for data-driven advertising in the programmatic era. So much attention has gone into bidding and targeting, but creative analytics abound with important signals that can help both to optimize campaigns and to inform high-level brand strategy. At this point, it is the most critical area where marketers can get better at refining their own signals and more effectively interpret and implement them. Bottom line, creative intelligence can help ensure that signal deprecation does not send us back to punching monkeys.

Bridging the Divide Between Media and Creative

According to the Mediaocean 2024 Advertising Outlook report, 89% of marketers surveyed indicated their media and creative processes and technologies were not fully integrated. This sentiment is echoed in recent research by Flashtalking, where 85% of marketers surveyed noted a significant disconnect between creative output and media execution.

This "creative-media gap" stems from the industry's disproportionate focus on media, neglecting the creative aspect. This oversight is critical, especially in today's environment where consumers crave and reward personalized experiences. Addressing this gap presents a substantial growth opportunity for brands.

The gap manifests in a few key ways: siloed teams, processes, and technologies lead to inefficiencies, repetitive and irrelevant messages lead to ad fatigue and decreased responsiveness, and a lack of creative insights hampers brands’ ability to identify and leverage content that resonates with audiences.

Omnichannel creative intelligence and technology is essential for closing these gaps.

Unlocking Creative Intelligence

Creative intelligence involves the use of granular taxonomies and labels to provide detailed descriptions of brand assets. This approach enriches metadata with specifics such as color schemes, themes, sentiment, or product categories. The aim is to enhance marketers’ understanding and utilization of this data through dynamic creative optimization in ad serving. Further, creative intelligence links the key elements with performance across channels, leveraging detailed insights to inform media mix allocation.

Creative represents the final, if forgotten, frontier for data-driven advertising in the programmatic era.

The importance of creative intelligence extends beyond just campaign performance; it is also crucial for brand intelligence. Understanding what messages resonate with consumers, grasping the nuances of audience engagement, and integrating these insights contributes significantly to shaping high-level brand strategy. This deepened understanding enables brands to craft messages that truly resonate, ensuring their communications are as impactful as possible.

The Creative Ad Tech Imperative

To address the creative-media gap and combat signal loss, brands need to leverage creative ad tech tools that seamlessly integrate with demand-side platforms. This workflow empowers teams to enhance creative relevance and enable activation across a wide array of digital marketing channels.

Creative ad tech as a category applies AI and automation to the process of building and optimizing creative assets. This effectively allows marketers to tackle the challenges brought on by signal deprecation, by crafting and honing the creative signals that have been under-prioritized over the last decade.

Reflecting on our journey from the early, rudimentary "Punch the Monkey" ads to today's advanced digital marketing ecosystem, we see a remarkable transformation. From those initial, often intrusive beginnings to a landscape rich in personalized and engaging experiences, the industry has made significant progress that brands, publishers, and consumers all have an interest in maintaining. As we confront the hurdles of signal deprecation, it’s creative intelligence and creative ad tech that can safeguard this progress and ensure it continues into a cookieless future.

This op-ed represents the views and opinions of the author and not of The Current, a division of The Trade Desk, or The Trade Desk. The appearance of the op-ed on The Current does not constitute an endorsement by The Current or The Trade Desk.