If you only had to produce one TV ad per year, it would make no sense to standardize your process. When you’ve only got one shot, you’ve got to make it count. Standardization is antithetical to customization, and you can only maximize performance with highly custom creative. However if you had to produce hundreds or thousands of ads you couldn’t possibly do it manually. In aggregate the performance across all of your ads will benefit through automation, even if each ad individual doesn’t perform as well as it could hypothetically if you had the time and resources to customize everything. Performance marketing teams often need to solve this problem at scale, particularly when they have hundreds of unique products to sell. Multiply that by 2-3 different creative strategies you want to test and you need a scalable strategy for creating ads in bulk.
The simplest method for doing this is the creative template. It works by taking a product feed – a spreadsheet containing every product and different attributes about each product – and processing it through a series of templates to generate tens of thousands of ad variations. The templates read like mad libs: “Buy _______”, “Cheap flights to _______”, or “Was $ _______, now $_______”. The main risk is nonsensical or embarrassing variations, so great care must be taken in choosing a combination of words that fit every eventuality. Given the favorable economics of long tail campaigns it’s often better to have something imperfect than to have nothing. Though of course it’s hard to explain that to the CEO when they spot a mistake. Nothing beats the power of being able to generate 100,000 ads in the time a copywriter could finish 20, and at a certain inflection point, scale beats customization. That said, you can always customize the top 20% of ads and automate the rest: the 80:20 rule says you’ll still get 80% of the benefit, but without the cost of lots of manual work.
The key to an automated creative template strategy is ‘fall-backs’: rules for what happens when a word doesn’t fit the character limit, or a word doesn’t work. This is particularly important when dealing with multiple languages. Many words are much longer in German than they are in English, for example. Almost of equal importance is pairing your large scale campaign with anomaly detection, so you spot unintentional combinations. One common example is when one of your Google Ad keywords crosses over with a popular film name, and your ad suddenly gets lots of unwanted clicks. Investing in automation to spot these issues early and automatically is the only way to manage the complexity of a large scale templated campaign. That’s an important point to keep in mind: automation begets automation. The more investment in automation you commit, the larger the account can get, and that means further automation to manage it. Accounts with 100,000 ads just can’t be managed manually, even with a significant team of people. At a certain scale advertising becomes a software business.