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By Alex Abrams
Proliferating advertising and media platforms are thirsty for content, but creative and production are struggling to keep up. CreateTOTALLY’s Alex Abrams explains how a new approach, blending craft and automation, is needed.
The Dirty Secret
“So that’s 33%-85% of your creative production budget being wasted…This is content that is made and not used, and this is really the dirty secret in our industry”
The world in which media and advertising content is consumed has changed, but the production processes that create that content have fundamentally not; an unavoidable truth that those involved in advertising and content – brand owners, and creative, media and production agencies among them – must come to terms with and begin to tackle.
This is the essential background to what Alex Abrams is trying to do with his technology solution, CreateTOTALLY. He is not a technology geek, developing solutions that are looking for a problem; Abrams comes from a production background.
He was one of the founders of creative production company Hogarth and also formerly worked at Tag Worldwide. He and his colleagues at CreateTOTALLY are steeped in craft skills.
They know what the challenges in creative production are and how they have come about, and they believe that the media industry must embrace a smarter mix of technology and human endeavour to fill what Abrams calls the ‘Content Gap’.
“The traditional process used human beings to do everything, and that is fundamentally not efficient for repeatable tasks,” Abrams tells Producers & Procurers iQ . “Thirty years ago, you just had to make a TV ad, a radio ad and a print ad, job done. The difficult bit was making the Master; you were shooting on film, doing chemical retouching, things that needed some real craft skills. It was logical that creative production sat within the creative industry.
“It’s a very different world now. Today, once the big idea is confirmed, creating the master is not that difficult. Potentially, I could even create a TV ad on my iPhone 12. Now though, it needs to go across 6000 touchpoints, 100 different banner sizes for 100 different countries, and different video lengths for different platforms and countries.
It has become very complex, and the problem in the creative industry is that we have not changed the process from when we were just creating the three ad formats, even though today we might need to make three thousand things, or even 30,000, in support of a global campaign.” The resulting “content gap” is a consequence of the inevitable conflict between issues of speed, cost and complexity.
As complexity explodes and more content, suitably personalised, is demanded to reach consumers across all the touchpoints in omni-channel media plans, so the strain on production processes and budgets increases. “That creates this friction where clients are trying to push the price down to points where it’s impossible to service,” Abrams continues.
“They are not doing it out of malice: they just need more content, but the process has run out of conventional ways to make it cheaper, and we’ve run out of lower cost production centres to move to.”
Doubling down on waste
The inefficiency of the process according to CreateTOTALLY, is why brands are spending large amounts of money on creating assets that are never used. It has spoken to a number of bluechip brands, and discovered that, in the best case, the wastage rate was 33%, and in the worst case, 85%.
This situation comes about because lead agencies create toolkits for global use and create versions in anticipation of what might be needed. However, local markets might only use a small percentage of what’s in the toolkit. When the campaign is ready to launch in the local market, large volumes of content are often created without seeing the media plan – there is some guesswork around what might be used.
Once the media plan arrives, only some of what has been created gets used, and the rest goes in the bin. CreateTOTALLY calls this Just-InCase production. “So that’s 33%-85% of your creative production budget being wasted,” Abrams continues.
“This is content that is made and not used, and this is really the dirty secret in our industry. It’s what keeps the wheels on, so no-one wants to expose it too much. This waste is creating massive bottlenecks within the client organisations, which means they cannot get the good work out because they are focused on work that’s not needed.
The only way to eliminate that waste is to move from ‘Just-InCase’ manufacturing to ‘Just-In-Time’ or ‘Just Right’ production, in which you only create an asset when it’s actually needed.” Abrams is quite upfront about what this entails. It requires a drastically different way of approaching media campaign fulfilment.
He calls it “double disruption”. Currently, production agencies often get the media plan too late to tackle the huge and complex range of assets that are required in time and on budget. Abrams’ idea firstly calls for a disruption of the workflow; instead of being received last, leaving so little time to react and create tailored content, the media plan should be moved to the front of the process and kick it off.
The second disruption is in the manufacturing methodology – applying automation to the areas where it makes sense to replace manual adaptation, thereby improving speed so that greater volumes of optimised assets can be created in time.
Create and automate
Some in the creative industry find any suggestion of automation in the creative production process to be extremely contentious, and Abrams is well aware of this. “In the creative industry, people say the idea of automation will compromise craft and creativity, but I challenge that you can automate a lot within the creative process, without impinging on creative integrity.”
Aspects of advertising content that can be automated include adaptations of size and format, language and voiceover. Most of the information can be drawn from a properly structured media plan that helps to populate pre-created templates.
“We’re not talking about changing the storytelling, we’re only changing the components that are variable, and that are logical to vary. We need to tread carefully, because no matter how much money you might save, damaging the storytelling will eventually prove costly to a client. We talk about automated crafting – building skills that respect the craft but allow you to do it in a more efficient way.”
A return to full service agencies?
The process of implementing the level of behavioural change that Abrams envisages will not be straightforward. Putting “double disruption” in place will require a joint commitment from the client and its agency suppliers, to work together in pursuit of zero waste.
No single participant can achieve this alone. Abrams contends that media agencies need to become more involved in the creative production process. They must embrace the connected advertising ecosystem and supply the media plan in a structured format, so that the production processes to follow can be more efficiently automated, enabling the plan to be delivered in a timely way.
Effectiveness data is then captured in real time, allowing the media and the production agency to optimise the assets during the duration of the campaign, driving a higher ROI and less waste.
What CreateTOTALLY is seeking to shape is a more elegant way of moulding craft production skills and creative storytelling with technology and automation; the right blend between computer and manual.
The technology solution it proposes attempts to strike this balance, and also enables the layering of additional tools that deliver intelligence and real-time contextual reporting, allowing ads that perform well to quickly be amplified.
“This is where humans come in,” Abrams says. “You need hugely experienced planners to see the reasons why an ad is not working and you can then allow them to make those changes within the platform. That’s quite exciting from a collaboration point of view, putting the human being in control, to understand what the next action should be and translating that to meaningful actions. It’s slightly different to DCO; it’s that sort of automation, but also putting human interaction into the DCO process to make those judgement calls.”
Abrams is at pains to emphasise that the technology solution is not the enemy of creativity. Its aim is to make it easier to get the creative idea out there more efficiently and cost-effectively. Future developments on the platform will also include harnessing “deep fake” brand voice technology and AI human realistic talent, to give marketers even greater creative options.
“We have people that have spent decades doing this job, and who understand how the problem has come about,” he concludes.
“They understand where technology is the right answer and where humans are the right answer. Sometimes it is better to tweak using a human and I don’t see a point where that won’t be the case.”