Industry Insights
Creating the Future: PaperG and the Evolution of Programmatic Creative


Rob Lennon
Sr Product Marketing Manager



For those of us that aren’t familiar with PaperG, tell us a little more about your offering.

PaperG pioneered the concept of a Creative Management Platform (CMP) which allows creative executions to match the increasing variety of targeting segments and ad formats. This goes way beyond the heritage of DCO that most people think of when talking about programmatic creative.

Just as companies use DMPs to manage their data and targeting, they are using CMPs to manage the creatives they pair with that data. Ours stands out because it is the most flexible, in terms of customizing individual creatives while still building them at incredible scale. This may be data-driven advertising indeed, but we believe strongly that it is still a creative process, so the entire setup is designed to be conducive to creativity.


You guys recently raised a $5M Series B round from some prominent investors including Brian O’Kelly from Appnexus, KLP Enterprise, Wavemaker Partners and WI Harper Group. What will most of this capital be used for?

When you’re a startup, you want to test, learn, and iterate until you hit a sweet spot. We’ve found ours, and so this $5M has already helped us double the size of our product development team. We’re also investing in sales and marketing to get the word out. You may have seen us at a lot industry conferences lately, in the press, or downloaded one of our whitepapers.

But what makes PaperG unique, is that we’re one of the few adtech companies investing in an R&D team. We’ve been swinging for the fences and you’re going to see results of that—which have been years in the making—begin to come to life in 2016.


There’s definitely not many other players in the Programmatic Creative space – could you explain to us how brands and agencies use your technology?

Brands are using our Creative Management Platform to activate their DSP/DMP investments with custom creative. For example, InterContinental Hotels Group (or, IHG) has 4800+ hotels in over 100 countries, and they have deployed PaperG to marketing teams across the globe who are tailoring their display creatives to support the needs of their markets. This includes making ad versions with that vary by language, property, imagery, and offer.

Agency competition has really heated up, so our agency partners are using us retain and grow business by establishing their programmatic expertise. A classic example is Anagram, a programmatic specialty shop founded by former Hill Holliday chief digital officer Adam Cahill. His team combines PaperG programmatic creatives with MediaMath programmatic buying to optimize their campaigns on both sides—creative and media—and adjust in real-time based on what they learn.


Having over 10,000 advertisers is definitely a phenomenal feat for an adtech company. How was PaperG able to scale to servicing that many clients in such a short period of time?

Years ago we launched our first programmatic creative product called PlaceLocal. It builds an ad automatically for a local or regional business based on what it can find online. There’s next to no creative budget for small scale media buys, and you can’t run an ad with a creative, so with PlaceLocal we enable digital ad sales for a lot of publisher and media companies.

Our Creative Management Platform for brands and agencies was based on what we learned with PlaceLocal, but the execution complexity and level of customization is significantly elevated. So with these two produces we cover the full spectrum of advertisers: the smallest like your local hardware store, all the way to a global brand like IHG.


Much of the focus of adtech companies over the years has been on optimizing ad targeting, instead of the creative unit. (Which almost goes against every ‘Mad Men’ principle) Why do you think this was the case?

Media and targeting is where the bulk of the money goes, pure and simple. Plus finding the best balance of cost and performance is a problem that computers can be easily applied to programmatically.

Good creative involves elements like storytelling, aesthetics, and trends, so it wasn’t originally apparent how adtech could make those better. Thankfully, the industry seems to be realizing that it doesn’t matter how efficient or targeted your advertisements are if the creative isn’t relevant to the person seeing it.


Banner blindness and creative fatigue are a huge challenge for advertisers, yet they don’t have a large enough rotation of creatives to test. What are some benchmarks of # of creatives a marketer should have, in relation to volume of placements they are buying?

We worked with AppNexus on an internal study and found an alarming 97% of campaigns didn’t have a unique creative for each placement. If you think of the premium advertisers are paying for that kind of targeting, the data waste on the creative side is massive.

The ration of creatives to placements is going to vary a lot depending on how granular the targeting is, campaign goals, and what is being advertised. One of our customers proposed a good rule of thumb when he said, “What would you say if you knew who you were talking to? You wouldn’t say the same thing to everyone. And you wouldn’t say the same thing over and over to the same person. But of course, that’s what most advertising does. Even in digital, if we’re honest.”

You have the right amount of creatives when they are tailored enough to matter to the specific person who is seeing them.


What are some common misconceptions marketers have about PaperG?

We have this awkward company name that has the word “paper” in it. So let’s just clear that up right now. PaperG is 100% in the digital creative space.

What happened is that when we started the company it seemed like a good idea to name ourselves after the “paper generation” that we were going to help transition to digital advertising. At the time, nobody even knew eight years ago that what we were working on was going to be called programmatic creative.


Is there any data you can share, about what types of ad units, colors, or types of executions work best for marketers of each vertical?

I don’t have new data on this right now, but I want to speak directly to this type of thinking which I think oversimplifies the idea of creative optimization.

The most effective ad is one that is meaningful and impactful to the viewer, consciously or unconsciously. Does one color of a button versus another really change that? It may get a little more attention, but when we really look at storytelling in advertising, there are bigger problems to address—higher order elements like how messages and imagery relate to the prospective consumer.

For example, eighteen months ago I became a new parent of twins. So when I see the coffee commercial with the couple up all night with their rocking their infant—who finally sit down in the morning with their steaming cups of joe when the baby is asleep—it’s like they are speaking directly to me. That’s exactly my relationship with coffee. Creative optimization needs to graduate to this kind of creative tailoring at the level of meaning and message relevance.

Now, with that aside, our friends at Rocketfuel did a great job studying this: The Definitive Guide to Creative Optimization. They do a great job breaking their data down by vertical too. The 2 second summary is: red, 6-9 seconds, male faces, logo in the lower left, white background.


How do you think the pausing of flash ads by most of the dominant web browsers, and the increased usage of HTML5, will affect the ad industry?

That the death of flash was closely followed by the IAB’s announcement of the new L.E.A.N. effort and rise of ad blockers on mobile. Both point to an evolution of ads to be simpler, both technically, because HTML5 is a little more difficult to work in than flash, as well as visually, because consumers are losing patience with eye-catching gimmicks.

So when you think about what levers are left to pull to make the creative better, message relevancy and tailoring creative to audiences, which was already being under-utilized, also still works within the new paradigms. The same can’t be said for rich media, for example. Instead of putting a ton of effort into one interactive creative, advertisers will begin putting the same effort into multiple simpler but more targeted messages.


Lastly, what is PaperG’s vision of the future, in the context of programmatic creative optimization?

The not-too-distant future will start to see not just programmatic creative, but predictive creative. Predictive creative will take data from both the media/data side and the creative side, and attempt to see correlations that are challenging for regular people to notice. Machines will assemble creative concepts out of this data, and creative planners will work those concepts into their design process. Humans won’t go away, but rather, the idea of starting from a blank canvas may.

Also, as ad formats keep fragmenting, there is also this huge challenge to have the creative for every ad size and format. Programmatic creative will evolve into a multi-channel marketing toolkit that helps coordinate not only display, social, mobile, and native ads, but other marketing activities like email content and landing pages. Sort of a marriage of programmatic creative and marketing automation.

It may sound crazy, but this stuff is less than five years away. Some of it is already happening right now.



PaperG is enabling creative relevancy for programmatic advertising. Our Creative Management Platform allows publishers, agencies and advertisers to match creative executions to the increasing variety of targeting segments and ad formats. Customize, Collaborate, Learn and Apply. 

PaperG was founded in 2008 and has grown to 70+ employees with teams in San Francisco, Seattle and New York.

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