JWT partners with Thunder on programmatic creative

Why the agency is shaking hands with a fledgling technology to automate (and optimize) parts of the creative process.

J. Walter Thompson Canada has staked its place in the fledgling programmatic creative space by striking a partnership with Thunder to use its creative management platform.

Programmatic creative is exactly what the name would imply. Just as programmatic buying platforms use consumer data to target an ad on digital and social media, programmatic creative platforms use that data to change the ad itself. The overall idea and message remains the same, but copy, images or calls to action that would best resonate with a particular audience segment can be combined automatically and in real time.

Though it has worked with boutique integrated and media agencies before, Victor Wong, CEO of Thunder, says this is the first time his company has worked directly with a creative shop the size of JWT that serves as the lead agency for large-scale brands. While JWT does have early access to some tools Thunder is developing, it will largely be using the same suite of features as any other partner or client. The fact that it is a creative agency using the tools is what sets this relationship apart, he says.

“More and more, agencies are thinking about all the consumers touch points, because it’s often the lead creative agency that is in charge of designing those touch points,” Wong says. “Automation and programmatic all started with media, so that is where it has stayed. Creatives haven’t really taken an active role in changing that. But user experience and consumer experience is what they own, and programmatic is what is going to drive that going forward.

“They are already getting more data and more knowledgeable about their audiences,” he says, “so with this they can also coordinate what that experience looks like across media channels.”

In a press release, Andrew Rusk, JWT’s business director of demand creation, said the agency pursued the partnership due to the important role programmatic has within the marketing mix, and that working with Thunder will help it remain a leader in the technology space. Thunder’s programmatic creative capabilities will be part of JWT’s demand creation practice, which helps retail clients “drive consideration and purchase at unparalleled efficiency, speed and scale.” Overall, the partnership is about refining insights behind the creative process and making it more efficient, rather than eliminating humans from it.

“We have the power to go from client brief to in-market creative in a matter of hours, which is a powerful differentiator and business driver,” Rusk said in a follow-up email to strategy. “Taking a data-first approach to campaign planning also gets us to sharper insights for creative briefs, which ultimately results in better work and stronger results. The technology is there for us to ask ‘what would we say if we knew exactly who we were talking to,’ which creates more relevant, personal experiences.”

Like any programmatic platform, Thunder also offers a range of data analytics and optimization tools (although unlike media-focused platforms that report which channels are performing best, Thunder measures which creative elements are performing best).

But beyond post-testing and results, Thunder aims to automate more parts of the pre-production design phase of advertising by using its own data to inform creatives about things like which creative elements should be the focus of a given execution. It also uses its data to automatically optimize things like the size of creative for a given platform, so creatives don’t have to.

“That way, an agency like JWT stays as focused as much as possible on what is being said and the overall branding,” Wong says. “They should not be spending their days pushing pixels to make it work across different channels. We think there’s going to be much more application of data on the creative side, not just on optimization and running tests.”