Farhad Manjoo’s column in the New York Times a couple weeks ago recapped a lot of the complaints advertisers and consumers have about programmatic advertising. He highlighted the creepy feeling consumers get seeing ads across the web for the shoes they were just browsing. He mentioned the complex machinery that gets ads to the screen, and sometimes puts them next to objectionable content.

But there’s a whole other problem in programmatic advertising, and indeed in advertising in general. If you can target a razor ad to a very narrow segment – say, 30-something fathers living on the Upper West Side of New York City who have a dog and a river view – it means you’ll probably have a million such micro segments to serve. But today you can’t create a million different ads with consistently high production values. The constraint has moved from finding the audience to creating the content to serve them.

But there are signs that a future of effectively unlimited content creation might be possible, and not that far in the future.

Let’s look at today’s content creation process for a simple digital ad for a car through the lens of a creative director at an agency or in-house creative team. It might look something like this:

  • Marketer: We need an ad for our car launch.
  • Creative Director: What’s the message and what are the specs?
  • Marketer: Here’s a brief - it’s for Facebook. I’m thinking the car is driving itself to pick up its owner at the airport.
  • Creative Director: Mobile or desktop?
  • Marketer: Both.
  • Creative Director: Ok. We’ll get back to you on Friday. …Several days pass…
  • Creative Director (on Friday): Here’s our concept.
  • Marketer: I like it. But I need you to change the color of the car, the airport in the picture, and I don’t really like the person in the picture. Maybe older, and a woman instead of a man?
  • Creative Director: So…we need to start over.

And so it continues for a few more rounds — and this is for a simple web ad. The investment of time can’t possibly scale. Now let’s imagine a different scenario:

The marketer logs into the company’s AD-O-MATIC software, checks Facebook mobile and desktop, and searches for the car they want to feature in the foreground. Then they search for airport photos and constrain that to US airports. Finally they check the “personalization & testing” feature. Adomatic automatically generates 5,000 ad versions: 5 color option of the car, in front of all 100 largest US airports, with 10 different actors standing at the curb about to get in.

Instead of one ad that took a lot of time and effort to create, the marketer just generated 5,000 ads in just a couple minutes. They can then feed these ads into a campaign, targeting 100 different markets with their home airport, and letting personalization optimization determine the car color and age, gender, etc of the actor that gets the best engagement.

This enticing future, that can make both the creation and distribution part of programmatic advertising work, is a lot closer than you think. A really strong Digital Asset Management (DAM) system can do it today. Can yours?