Google's global brand lead says ad industry needs to get better at pre-testing digital creative

One of the biggest shifts in the creative industry has been from a switch from demographics-based targeting to a more interest-based targeting – but not enough effort is being taken to test and tailor creative, according to Kim Larson, the managing director of global creativity services at Google.

“There has been a big shift because we find that when you personalise and bring ads to the people about something that they care about, they are more likely to watch the ad,” said Larson.

“We need more time upfront to really understand the target audiences, and then the right lens to reach them through. Is it through interest or a passion point? It could be through a life change like you’re getting married, or you’re moving, or going to college or something.”

There’s more to the process than the ‘Spray and Pray’. “That is where you start to see a lot of ad waste, but being really thoughtful about that upfront is where the change has been.”

She points to Google’s recent work with Cadbury Fuse in India, where the tech giant created 92,000 versions of an ad. This allows both parties to monitor the most effective.

“It is not like a TV spot, where it’s locked and then you just ship it. It’s much more ongoing. So, having the creative agency, the media agency and Google together working, a lot of these things, you set up a war room and you’re in it together as the campaigns go out. So it’s just a different way of working to make something like that so successful,” Larson explains.

“It can be virtual if you’re in the same city, but it can be virtual, it could be over a Hangout or just like we’re here today. But being able to talk in the moment of like, “Hey, I’m seeing this in the data, let’s adjust the media buy,” or, “Let’s add these creative variations.” That’s really important to make it as effective as it can be.”

Innovative brands

Larson points to brands like L’Oreal and Netflix that have managed to succeed in pulling together different creative assets using technology and data to resonate with the consumer and their interest.

For example, she says L’Oreal is extremely advanced in all of its markets and thinks about data as part of really everything they do, while Netflix is very data-driven because they have brought their programmatic in-house. 

“You often have a leader in a vertical or an industry, and then everybody sort of gets pulled along. But, I guess one thing I’ll say, is it’s not as hard as people think,” Larson explains.

“Yes, there’s data transformation that needs to happen. But, what we’re trying to do is make these tools pretty turnkey and take out; I think, what is perceived to be really complicated. Really simplify it, so that agencies and advertisers can be more effective.”

Create with Google

At Cannes this year, Google launched the Create with Google platform, which aims to inspire, inform and enable a new generation of creatives with the release of a resource offering tips and tools for every stage of the creative process.

Larson says Create with Google is the first time the tech giant had a platform to speak directly to creative agencies, claiming that the new tools are most appreciated by the creative agencies. She reason this is could because these tools were built for them and not for advertisers.

“One of the tools I think is most important is, it’s a video, it’s an ad preview tool. So you can see your ad in situ, you can run it in a YouTube player and you can actually see it,” she explains.

“So I can preview it here, which is very different than the way a creative director might come into a boardroom and show something on a big screen. You want to show things the way a consumer would actually consume it.”

She continues: “So this ad preview tool has been really widely praised and adopted by the creative agencies. And that’s our hope, is that we’re listening to them. What else do they want, what more can we build? And so the goal is, to make this a destination that we can keep adding more and more tools on.”

Upcoming trends in data-driven creativity

Larson says from the conversation that Google had with many chief executive officers and chief marketing officers is that short-form ads, rather than long storytelling ads will be the trend moving forward.

According to Larson, this is because while long storytelling ads are important for brand awareness, they do not do the job of the storytelling well.

“We can’t lose that, because that’s how brands are built. That’s where the distinctiveness is built. That’s where the emotional connection comes through. So I think you’re going to see the pendulum switch a little bit,” she explains.

“Oftentimes it does coincide with holidays. Like Diwali recently, you’ve got Thanksgiving and Christmas coming up in the U.S., Ramadan. Those bring about really emotional, great stories and I feel like it’s a good time, because I know we’ll start seeing some of those. Those will come through and reminding people of how effective they are, I think is really critical.”

Looking ahead

One issue Google has not quite figured out yet is better tools for pre-testing creative. Larson says she hopes to see the industry working collectively with Google on that.

She points out that pre-testing creative was standard practice on TV and says with Google’s machine learning algorithms and new tools, it would be great to have a more efficient way to do that, to give an agency an early read, based upon a concept or what it thinks has right ingredients to work.

“I think that would go a long way with our creative makers, a better and a new testing process, and I can see that. It’s something I’ve heard asked for several times, it’s something that I think we’ll continue to try and figure out,” she explains.