Programmatic Creativity: Q&A with Adam Cahill on Launching Anagram

Adam Cahill Anagram quote on programmatic creative

It’s a new era for programmatic advertising. Just as the industry is realizing that having optimal creatives is just as important as optimal audiences, new services and companies have emerged to make programmatic creativity a reality.

We saw evidence of this last week as Digiday covered efforts across the industry to close the gap with programmatic creative. On the same day, AdExchanger profiled the launch of Anagram, an agency founded by Adam Cahill, who was formerly chief digital officer at Hill Holliday.

Anagram is one of this new breed—a company built with the specific purpose of helping brands win with programmatic. And we’re not just talking programmatic buying. Anagram does programmatic everything: media, creative, even in-flight optimization.

PaperG is lucky enough to be among the technologies Anagram uses, so we asked Adam if he would dig deeper into what it means to be a programmatic marketing agency.

In the past you’ve spoken about agencies needing to be much more nimble and responsive to the market. Is that why you founded Anagram?

That was a big part of it. The simple premise behind founding Anagram is that I think most if not all media is going to be transacted programmatically in the near future, and brands need a partner that is purpose built to deliver results in that environment. I think the ability to work in an agile way is a key component of a purpose built approach. There’s an opportunity to get better results every day, but only if that’s how your team is oriented and only if you have the processes to move in a much more fluid way.

How is Anagram’s approach to “programmatic creativity” different from other agencies?

The short answer is that we make and distribute lots and lots of creative assets at the outset of a campaign, and then we make lots and lots more as the campaign evolves. We take an expansive approach to optimization, meaning we’re always looking at signals of success from the marketplace and using those as guides for what else we can make. In many ways when a campaign goes into market, that’s just the beginning of the story for us.

There’s also a difference that’s more philosophical, and is really guided by principles of agile software development. The main thing I’ve learned from people who are bought into agile development is that you can be the smartest person or team in the world, but until your idea comes into contact with real users, you don’t know anything.

The idea is to get into market as quickly as possible, be open to the feedback users deliver through their actions, and then adjust course. I think there’s a sense of humility to the approach that is very powerful, and that’s what guides us. We go into the market with strong opinions and hypotheses about will work, but that’s just a starting point. Then we interpret and change based on what people tell us through their behavior. A saying we use that describes this is “being right fast vs. being right in advance.”

I think the typical agency creative process is about trying to be right in advance. It’s about doing the research, having an insight, and then distributing the final product to the world. There’s not a lot of humility to it. It’s more like “we have the answer, and now you will see it.” And I think that when it comes to programmatic, or even to digital more broadly, that’s an outdated way of working.

You have a process for delivering continuous improvement to campaigns, but how do you get clients on board with agile marketing?

I’ve been encouraged to find out that most clients are really excited about this approach. Everyone is under a ton of pressure to deliver results, and it just makes intuitive sense to clients that if you are constantly testing, improving, and expanding, you’ll get better outcomes. There’s an old David Ogilvy quote, “Never stop testing and your advertising will never stop improving.” It’s not a new or controversial thought. It’s just that the media environment has evolved such that it’s very possible to do this in a scalable way.

What role does ad tech play in making this all possible?

I think the last 7 or so years of the adtech story has been about creating the infrastructure and technology to reach specific audiences in a targeted and efficient way. And it’s mind-boggling what the companies who’ve built these platforms have made possible. And it feels to me like an emerging focus in the ad tech world is on the creative and messaging aspects of programmatic. Companies like yours are enabling the production and distribution of creative assets that can be fed into the core buying platforms.

When you combine the ability to target precisely, to develop creative variations efficiently and at scale, and to monitor results in real time, it brings us to the point where the marginal cost of testing an idea with real people is so small that there’s no reason not to be agile.

So does the rise of programmatic necessitate a new relationship between media and creative teams?

I think collaboration between media and creative is always a good thing, but I actually think the more powerful lever is to simply empower creative people to take much more direct responsibility for the performance of their campaigns in the market. I think there’s an assumption in our business that creatives either don’t want to think about results or aren’t capable of dealing with data, and I don’t think that’s the case.

What ends up happening is that often times creatives often don’t even see the data about how their work  is performing, or if they do, it’s a final report when it’s too late to actually improve. I think creatives should have access to data, the tools to quickly make changes, and the go ahead to make improvements. When the person who makes the asset is also responsible for performance, there’s a built-in motivation to make the right changes, and that cuts through all kinds of organization barriers very quickly.

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