Presented by Undertone

There’s no dispute that so-called “programmatic” advertising tools have been a boon to digital marketers. With a few clicks, today’s brands can send their ad messages to specific audiences at cost-effective prices all over the web and mobile.

Programmatic has experienced massive growth in recent years, representing 67 percent of the U.S. display ad market according to eMarketer. But despite enabling incredible precision, these automated tools have had the unfortunate side-effect of standardizing ad experiences that consumers have largely found unappealing, as evidenced by the low click-through and engagement rates on standard banners, not to mention the increased rate of ad-blocking.

As you might imagine, reaching lots of the right people can only do so much good if your message is uninspiring. If we want to stave off increasing rates of ad-blocking and banner blindness, advertisers, publishers, and technology companies will need to work together to marry programmatic tools with interactive, high-impact native and video ad formats that are captivating consumers.

And in order to do that, we’re going to need a concerted effort to infuse the digital ecosystem with three crucial ingredients: advanced ad creation tools, flexible publisher environments, and user-first data targeting.

Here’s the why and how…

To win tomorrow, brands need an ad-creation platform built for today

As noted above, most of today’s programmatic campaigns are filled with standard banner ads, which are often found in low-quality digital environments and in placements where they are not viewable to the user. This forces marketers to choose between efficient distribution and quality creative. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Instead, advertisers can build or use an ad-creation platform that enables them to design beautiful, feature-rich formats that can easily be altered to meet the technical standards of different publisher environments. While some brands will still need traditional display ads to scale their campaigns, the greatest impact will come from mobile-first, interactive formats that stand out to the human beings who encounter them.

And that doesn’t necessarily mean an increase in creative production costs and resources. Modern platforms that are built for the mobile-first era use technologies like HTML5 and responsive design to ensure ads are delivered seamlessly across different device types and screen sizes.

Publishers need to embrace new, forward-thinking standards

Even a great ad-creation platform cannot by itself solve the fundamental tension between two important advertiser objectives: delivering experiences that engage consumers and standardizing those experiences to work across a wide range of platforms and publishers.

As such, social media networks, app developers, and online publishers need to create canvasses that allow for unique experiences that can still be bought and sold programmatically. Otherwise, these companies will not only limit the effectiveness of their advertising partners, but they also run the risk of chasing off users who dislike the ads they encounter on their platforms.

Fortunately, it appears that publishers are already beginning to grasp the importance of this mission, with many of them adopting programmatic native formats that mesh with the user experience found on their specific site or platform. For instance, advertisers interested in The New York Times’ Flex Frames unit need only submit a handful of creative assets that can also be used on other sites across Google’s DoubleClick ad exchange. Then, when the advertiser’s automated buying software purchases a Flex Frame ad, The New York Times’ technology repackages those assets into a visually stunning native experience. As a result, brands can deliver a special, engaging ad without going to the trouble of developing unique creative.

Data should delight users — not annoy them

If you’ve ever seen a Facebook ad for a t-shirt with your name on it, you’re well aware that targeted ads can cross the line from relevant to downright creepy. Rather than thinking of data only as something that helps them sell more products, marketers should start seeing it as a tool that enables them to provide added value to their target audiences.

Applying this logic requires marketers to develop a strategy that allows them to collect first- and third-party data and empowers them to use that information to create better ad experiences. For example, as part of its sponsorship of a 10k race in Paris, Nike collected data that included runners’ photographs from the race and the time in which they crossed the finish line. Then, the brand emailed a special video to participants that included their image and race time, giving prospective customers the thrill of seeing themselves in a sleek, engaging advertising message.

Generally speaking, brands should expand the use of data targeting beyond merely finding the right people to contact. As evidenced by the example above, there is a major, largely untapped opportunity to personalize creative messaging in a way that is responsive to the wants and needs of each individual consumer.

The more things change, the more things stay the same

If all this sounds daunting, that’s okay. After all, our present programmatic pipes took years to build. It’s only natural that evolving these tools to deliver truly creative advertising will require a similar amount of elbow grease from technologists, brands, and publishers. With patience, hard work, and careful consideration, I have no doubt that we’ll soon have the tools and digital environments we need to deliver scalable, cost-efficient advertising that people can’t get enough of.

Of course, even with these technologies, brands will still need to demonstrate the creativity that has always been necessary for a successful ad campaign. Indeed, at the end of the day, the keys to effective branding in the programmatic era are the same as they have been for centuries: advertisers need to craft authentic, engaging messages that evoke emotion and resonate with how consumers really feel. Without this, we have nothing.

Eric Franchi is co-founder and SVP Business Development at Undertone.

To see Undertone’s work with American Express, VH1, Microsoft and more, visit our website.

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