With ad spend in digital video accelerating, the volume of branded content is only going to grow. For brands, it makes the need to create various content iterations essential in order to maintain relevance, resonate with customers, and stand out amongst the competition – and do so quickly.

To keep up with demand and deliver all the required versions, companies commonly waste their highly skilled creative professionals’ valuable time as they make minor variations, while also piling the pressure on their marketers to become project managers as they continuously chase designers for updates.

But many brands with in-house creative teams don’t have the firepower when it comes to keeping up with the demand brought on by the plethora of digital channels now available. Maintaining a purely manual approach to content creation, distribution, and performance can quickly tire out resources and budget, resulting in workflow inefficiencies and ineffective campaign delivery and performance.

Using technology to automate content production at scale can reduce repetitive, manual steps, freeing up time and space for creative work, storytelling, and brand building – the stuff that really matters, otherwise described as ‘the human part’. Essentially, the marketer’s key reason for existence; the other repetitive tasks and manual steps are just distractions.

Brands are beginning to realize the potential of creative automation to increase efficiency – but it’s still the early days.

Questions still loom in regards to where creative automation begins or, more importantly, where does it end? With the potential to change how brands advertise and marketers operate in a content-driven world, creative automation is starting to take shape. But how and when should marketers use it?

What does it do?

Producing a new variation of an original piece of content is something we’ve seen before. Take a look at how the music industry samples and remixes original songs. For decades, music producers have taken old tracks and revamped them for the modern listener. In the world of marketing, taking an existing piece of content and refreshing elements like the tagline, background, and composition is no different. Both music producers and marketers strive to target their desired audiences and achieve relevance, all while making good use of what they’ve already got. But where music producers remix an artist’s song and deliver a singular track, marketers are faced with mass creation of numerous iterations of their own assets that fit the requirements of each respective digital channel, likely straining in-house creative teams in the process.

As more brands opt to bring their creative function in-house, streamlining content production processes is at the top of their wish lists, looking to deploy tools that improve efficiency and optimize ad performance. But, often when striving to streamline it, essential parts of the process are sacrificed, dampening creative effectiveness in the long run. By automating certain steps in content production, the pressure on creative teams can be relieved. Passing content production duties over to the marketer gives creative professionals more headspace for creativity and marketers better control over content production and output.

Right now, technology companies are putting the breadcrumbs closer together and teaching automation technology to do more by itself. In the words of automotive business mogul Henry Ford: “I invented nothing new. I simply assembled the discoveries of other men behind whom were centuries of work. Progress happens when all the factors that make for it are ready and then it is inevitable.”

So, what can this technology now do? From localizing language and imagery to amending the ratio and format for different social channels, automating content production empowers marketers to mass create content at the click of a button. By adhering to the locked elements and rules laid out in a brand’s guidelines, it unlocks marketers’ potential to produce content at scale and do so confidently. Taking away mundane manual steps lifts the fog that has clouded the creative process in a time where data and digital channels have boomed, giving creatives their time back to do what they do best: hatch creative ideas.

How should it be used?

Automating content production at scale is an inviting offer, especially with the promise of limiting manual intervention. But, it’s important to take into account the word ‘limiting’, as creative automation doesn’t eliminate human intervention entirely – and shouldn’t.

Following the ideation and design stages of campaign planning, which heavily rely on human input, comes the production phase. This is where creative automation comes into play. In the production phase, creative automation supports content production and delivery processes. For instance, if you have to make the same asset available in local languages, it enables you and your channel partners to easily make edits and auto-generate all the required versions in a variety of sizes for your social channels, all whilst remaining on-brand.

However, not everything in the production phase needs to be automated. The approval process requires human accountability. It needs to be clear to the entire team where quality checks are needed – a definite distinction between the creator and the approver – to ensure the content output remains on message and on-brand. Just like its role in creativity, human gut instinct and brilliance are incomparable – something machines will never quite meet.

When multiple people, from internal design, copywriting, and marketing teams to external agencies, work on a large number of tasks, collaboration is paramount. Thanks to the efficiency it brings and the introduction of brand templates and guidelines, creative automation welcomes a more collaborative environment. While brand templates and guidelines set the parameters for creative automation, they also guide human intervention. One of my colleagues referred to it as a game of bowling: You put the bumpers up in the gutter to make sure the ball is rolled in the right direction and, eventually, strikes the pins. Metaphorically, the bumpers represent the brand guidelines put up by the designer, and the bowler represents the digital marketer who, rest assured, can play the game freely without going off-brand. While campaign delivery isn’t exactly a game, it shouldn’t be a drag.

Not every content variation will require approving but if it does, it’s essential for the approver to have context about the piece of content in front of them – why it looks the way it does, and where and how it’ll be used. The same goes for copywriters and designers, who will benefit from learning about each content variation before jumping into any edits. What’s better is when they can see content in action, as opposed to seeing context around the ad’s performance in a spreadsheet. Let’s face it: we know how uninspiring that can be.

With an abundance of data at marketers’ fingertips, creative versioning can be fully optimized. But with data comes consumer pushback. In response to hyper-personalization, a growing number of people find personalized ads “creepy”. They’re freaked out about how relevant a brand’s advertising can be, to the point where they don’t want it. As creative automation opens the door to use more data, brands need to reinvent the wheel, be more empathetic, and consider how audiences can be reached without turning them off.

A vision for creative automation

The use of the word ‘creative’ in the term ‘creative automation’ is often misunderstood, with inaccuracies such as the idea that it automates the creative process and, therefore, replaces creative teams. This is far from the truth.

Creative automation is more about content creation and production, rather than creativity itself. It transforms how creative teams work today, removing bottlenecks that prevent them from thriving and giving them more time and space to truly flourish. Creativity is inherently and permanently human. We can create with technology, but we can’t teach it creativity – at least not in the short term.

To avoid misclassifying creative automation as part of the creative process, the term should be refined to focus purely on what it can automate. Creativity, as we know it, is not one of these automatable elements and therefore, is not under threat. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

Thanks to technology becoming more robust, the future looks bright. I hope to see creativity as the real winner as content production becomes more automated. It’s all about freeing the designer and empowering the marketer – and giving creativity the time it deserves.

Cover image source: ThisisEngineering RAEng