Brian Sherman: The Case for Dynamic Advertising in an Uncertain World

Brian Sherman is the VP Sales at A Million Ads, where he is responsible for driving revenue growth and building out their U.S. operations. His team is bringing their dynamic audio technology to brands, publishers, and DSPs across the US.

When the pandemic hit and lockdowns brought the US to a grinding halt, many advertisers slammed on the brakes, pausing campaigns in flight or delaying them.

Tightening spend was not the only reason, although that certainly played a part. Brands also questioned whether their existing campaigns would be inappropriate or their creative ineffective against the backdrop of a global crisis.

That’s where dynamic, personalized advertising comes in.

Adapting to the real world in real-time

What is dynamic advertising? Simply, it is ad placements that account for a wide range of current data points, including location, demographics, environmental data such as time of day or weather, and campaign information around special offers or promotions. By using this information for advertising, brands can create closer connections with consumers based on their current needs and contexts.

Dynamic enables brands to adapt their creative in real-time to things that consumers are experiencing – for example, a supermarket presenting barbecue food as a heatwave begins, or a celebratory drink as your favorite football team scores. The combination of different creative elements to build the most engaging version of an ad allows brands to be recognized and aligned with the experiences consumers care about.

This flexibility is especially useful as we gradually emerge from Covid-19 restrictions, and the rules change day-by-day. The call to action on a restaurant chain’s ad campaign could be switched between online delivery and in-store dining as needed, without having to rework the creative from scratch. It also means brands can react to the different stages of restrictions at a national and regional level and adapt their messaging accordingly.

Personalizing immersive and engaging formats

When someone says “dynamic creative”, we often think of display advertising, where static images and offers are combined to produce personalized banners. But it is also possible to use dynamic creative to personalize more immersive and emotive forms of advertising, such as audio and video. Even with the lack of widespread commuting during the pandemic, the average US consumer spends 90 minutes a day listening to digital audio, from music streaming to podcasts, which is expected to increase another 4.8% this year.

Advertisers are increasingly upping their audio spend, recognizing the opportunity to stay flexible during a time of uncertainty. Through dynamic audio, they can instantly adjust elements such as voice-overs, script lines, music beds and more based on contextual clues and data signals, which makes the creative more attention-grabbing and helps to break through the noise.

In practice, brands can draw on tools such as synthetic voice, which recreates human speech and provides that personal touch at a time when it is especially important to strike a sensitive tone. At the same time, it enables multiple versions of ads to be created without having to record millions of individual voiceovers.

Pandemic pivot to dynamic

When the future is uncertain, advertisers must account for all eventualities – agility is key. Over the last few months, we have seen how quick reactions to events can make or break brands, and how dynamic advertising gives them the edge when the unexpected happens. We know how, overtaken by hygiene imperatives, KFC paused its ’Finger Licking Good’ campaign and insurer Geico pulled an ad depicting high-fives, for example.

This is sales agility. Viable brands don’t have to waste either already purchased inventory or the ongoing advertising opportunity to be dynamic. In programmatic environments, dynamic personalization means assembling an ad on the fly – potentially in as many variants as there are viewers.

During the pandemic, for example, Johnson & Johnson’s Listerine used dynamic creative versioning to appeal to frazzled buyers facing endless Zoom meetings and home schooling, by striking an empathetic tone.

Its audio campaign opened by asking for “just 30 seconds of your day to focus on you”, before remixing a custom-read script based on the day of the week, age of the listener, weather report, location, device type and local lockdown status, to construct a message that emphasized or played down elements like walks in the park, germ-killing and breakfasts skipped under pressure.

The future is agile

Given how the outlooks for Covid-19 will differ not just from viewer to viewer but also from region to region, advertising in 2021 can still feel like a game of 4D chess – one that a dynamic approach can help marketers master.

No wonder PepsiCo says it has pivoted its future marketing strategy to agility, having to “game-plan lots of different potential scenarios based on where we are with Covid, where we are with the economy, how consumers are feeling”.

Achieving agile starts with expecting the unexpected, of course. But it also means conceiving of future ad creative as a Lego set – the box may have a defined vision of the outcome, but the bricks can nevertheless be assembled in many different ways. Start demanding dynamic capabilities of your ad platforms today and start collecting the audience data necessary to quickly go custom.

But don’t confine your ambitions simply to riding out Covid-19. Dynamic advertising allows brands to save money on lavish, single-use campaigns.

As we are slowly emerging from the pandemic, brands have a choice. Do they shut up shop, hunker down, withdraw from consumers’ gaze and hibernate until the sun shines again? Or do they think on their feet, exploit the opportunity to get granular, to be simultaneously sensitive and bold, as consumers’ own circumstances dictate?

Unlike dynamic advertising, there is really only one option.

Brian Sherman