Hold the Creativity, I Just Need an Ad, Quick

PlaceLocal builds ads automatically while you wait.

Sure, budgets are tight, but can a small business afford not to be creative when advertising?

The problem with creativity in advertising, as many businesses owners see it, is that it doesn’t always translate to the bottom line with leads or sales. The Taco Bell Chihuahua campaign is a prime example. People talked a lot about the dog, but they didn’t buy more tacos.

On the other hand, there’s a well-known maxim in the ad biz that “nothing kills a bad product faster than good advertising”. Meaning, if your product doesn’t deliver as promised, an engaging ad will doom your sucky product more quickly. Remember the Outpost.com campaign with the gerbils shot from a cannon? It was engaging, but it was also creatively self-indulgent. There was no relevance whatsoever to the brand, which disappeared almost as fast as the commercial won awards.

Is Creativity a Luxury?

Just as most ad agencies are set up to service larger clients, most mom-and-pop shops don’t have much of an ad budget and usually have to settle for the local paper or PennySaver-style coupon mailer. So creativity is not even part of the decision.

Introducing Automated Advertising

Now an advertising technology company out of New Haven called PaperG has come up with a creative solution to bridge the budget gap between small businesses and local ad publishers. PaperG’s new software tool, PlaceLocal, creates customized display ads by using images and reviews found online.

For businesses on a shoestring, PlaceLocal provides an affordable (if not very creative) answer to the overhead and expense of ad agencies and the hassle of dealing with real live art directors/designers, copywriters and other assorted creative types.

Ads Created While You Wait

As the New York Times reports, “PlaceLocal builds display ads automatically, scouring the Internet for references to a neighborhood restaurant, a grocery store or another local business. Then it combines the photographs it finds with reviews, customer comments and other text into a customized online ad for the business.”

PlaceLocal ad handcrafted by computers. But is it creative?

Technology Review elaborates on the way PlaceLocal works:

“The system scrapes the Web for basic information about a business such as its address, phone number, and opening hours. Even if the business doesn’t have its own Web page, data can often be pulled from third-party services such as Yelp or Google Maps. The system then uses semantic analysis to find and extract photos and positive reviews, and it builds an ad automatically using Adobe’s Flash software. The business owner or newspaper ad sales representative can customize the ad, so if PlaceLocal didn’t choose the best photo or review, it’s easy to select another.”

PlaceLocal ads can be created in as little as two minutes. The next step is to choose an online media plan:

  • Basic Plan — 20,000 approximate ad views, unlimited ad updates and reporting, $300 per month
  • Plus Plan — 46,000 approximate ad views, unlimited ad updates and reporting, $700 per month
  • Premium Plan —  66,000 approximate ad views, unlimited ad updates and reporting, $1,000 per month

Are writers and designers becoming obsolete?

The short answer: not by a long shot (he wrote hopefully). There’s still a place for creativity and design as demonstrated by a number of high-profile big-budget ad campaigns (think Dos Equis or Old Spice, for example).

A photo and a testimonial next to a logo might be enough to get your local business launched, but it only goes so far. If your ad just looks like everyone else’s, except for a quote and a cookie-cutter logo, you’re not making much of a long-term impression. Then there’s the proliferation of social media tools and blogs—someone needs to create all that content and art it up. So far, no one’s come up with a software solution that can automate your original website or blog content.

Desktop publishing and spell-check tools have made it easier for people to think they can do it all themselves. But not everyone can pull it off successfully. Most businesses would still rather focus on what they do well (referred to in Corporate Bingo as “core competencies”) and delegate the marketing to specialists. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

Have you discovered any other automated advertising tools? (There was an article on BoingBoing some time ago about software that could generate creative ad concepts, but I can’t seem to find the link anymore.) Let me know if you come across any other automatic ad-generator tools out there. In the meantime, those of us in the creative marketing field will just have to keep proving we’re better than the machines.

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5 responses to “Hold the Creativity, I Just Need an Ad, Quick

  1. Design can effect readership and a headline can be crafted to attract attention and improve response. So it follows that poor design can seriously degrade readership and poorly crafted headline will be invisible and ineffective. Poor creative is not as effective as good creative and therefore expensive.

  2. That is pretty dang impressive! (This coming from a copywriter.) Smart to use a testimonial as the main value driver.

    Seems to me like the *placement* is key. If you could automatically insert these strategically in search results, on Facebook pages, in thought leader/review sites etc… then it might get more interesting. They need more niche players to opt in from the publisher side of the biz model.

    They should put those Google barcode reader things in there, too, so people can automatically map the place and get coupons by holding their phones up to the screen.

    • Phil, thanks for chiming in. Good point about placement — that can certainly make or break an ad. I’ve seen examples of some awkward juxtapositions of an ad next to an article or other ad that were totally inappropriate and unintentionally hilarious! Unsupervised automation can lead to some funny faux pas. Hmm, could be another blog post in there…

  3. I’ve been in a few awkward juxtapositions myself.

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