Genesis Stories
Thunder CEO Victor Wong on the Programmatic Creative Revolution


Victor Wong
Co-Founder & CEO
Thunder (formerly PaperG)



Thunder (formerly PaperG) is one of the leaders in the Programmatic Creative space, with over 100 premium brands, agencies, and publishers such as Time Warner Cable, Anheuser-Busch, Meredith, Tribune, Hearst, and many others that use your platform. Can you share more on the original vision of the company, and how it has evolved to where it stands today? 

We founded the company to help the newspaper industry rise out of print and flourish in digital. They needed ads to sell to local business and we helped them to produce these ads by using automation. It became clear that big brands needed a similar type of help but for different problems, and so we evolved that automation into what we know today as programmatic creative.

The name PaperG, while true to our legacy, didn’t quite capture the benefit to all our customers. We rebranded as Thunder, a name that underscores our vision of enabling more effective, seamless messaging across all marketing platforms. Our longterm vision is creative management across all channels and formats, not just banners.


Why do you think dynamic creative optimization is important? What percentage of agencies and marketers do you think are actually leveraging this technology?

We fielded research on DCO adoption two years ago. We found that 35% of brands were doing A/B testing, but only 5% were using DCO to do it in a more advanced way. Agencies were doing testing 62% of the time, with 26% of that being DCO.

However, based on our discussions in the past year, just about every brand or agency of note has begun flirting with these types of technologies. Adoption has increased substantially.

The question in the market today is now about what approach to use for dynamic messaging. DCO, as most people think of it today, is about building ads on the fly, but we’ve created a product for dynamic ads that are built in advance, challenging the very notion of what dynamic creative is, and whether optimization is better done by an ad server, DSP or in the ad unit itself.


What are some use cases for publishers using Thunder – is it mostly in-house creative teams creating units for their advertising clients?

We help global brands keep ad production up to speed with the ever increasing number of channels, ad sizes, devices, and formats — across languages and regions. This is both in conjunction with their agencies and with in-house teams.

The agencies we work with directly are using Thunder as a competitive advantage in order to win new business from companies that are interested in programmatic creative. To optimize the results of each campaign, agencies use us to customize messaging to each audience segment, run complex A/B tests, and push out promotions to in-market creatives.


What are your thoughts on the industry moving away from flash, to HTML5? Are there any downsides to using HTML5 such as the larger file sizes?

Flash had its moment, but it was always a third party technology, and its better for everyone that we now have a format that works in the browser without a plugin while also being supported on mobile devices.

File size has been seen as the chief downside but we’ve actually found that we can come close to, and sometimes beat, Flash file sizes in HTML5 by programmatically optimizing the images, text, animations and code in any given ad unit. The load size issue looks more and more like a matter of inexperience with HTML5. As creatives become as skilled in HTML5 as they have been in Flash, these concerns may fade away, although the rise of responsive ads may bring them back.

Another perceived downside is that HTML5 just isn’t as enjoyable to work with as Flash. There’s more coding required and so forth. We’ve always kept our ad building experience code free, so it’s hard to speak to exactly how painful that is since we never experience it in our own ad builder.


Are there any plans for Thunder to implement video ad production in the future? Are there any core differences in the production of desktop, in-stream units, as compared to mobile video (or even vertical video) ad units?

True video production and editing isn’t on our short term horizon. That said, we’ve seen how our ad versioning tools would be useful for versioning the content around a video. An example of this might be swapping in different headlines and description copy in a Facebook video ad, but leaving the video goes unchanged. Since we already support the same tactic with Facebook single image and carousel ads, we anticipate heading in this direction.


To the extent that you can share, what percentage of all ads created using the Thunder platform are rich media, or high-impact units, as compared to regular IAB standard banner sizes? Do you see any trends in the types of creative units marketers are creating?

When we look at moves like the IAB’s LEAN ad standard and removal of many Rising Stars from their lineup, and companies like Google and AppNexus pledging not to offer expandable ad inventory, it is clear that the writing is on the wall for high-impact executions. Rich media as we know it today accelerated widespread ad blocking, and for that it is going to die. Eventually all that will be left of rich media will be specialty ad units involved in publisher page takeovers.

100% of the banners being built in our system meet IAB standards. That includes standard sizes and custom sizes, but nothing that is expandable or intrusive. Rather than invest in rich media formats, we have invested in platforms like Facebook and Instagram, and tools to help make more versions of ads.


What do you think are some of the biggest challenges the ad industry faces today?

One of the biggest challenges in the ad industry is activating the data that is already being used in audience targeting. Over $6 billion is being spent annually on data-driven ad technologies like DMPs and DSPs, but the majority of display ads still show the same generalized or generic creative to each audience. To achieve a better ROI from their data investments, companies need to be able to take the audience data from their DMP, strategize creatively around it, and execute that strategy across different audiences.


Lastly, what is your take on the future of creative unit production for digital & mobile advertising?

The ads of the future will be LEAN, non-invasive ads that are built in advance but can be served dynamically. They won’t be formulaic and predictable, but they will be responsive. Their content will be tailored to audiences. To manage all of this, we’ll see a rise of a new role, the Creative Planner. This person will make sure that every ad is relevant to its audience. To produce all these ads, technologies like Thunder will have to be adopted, because it will be impossible to build ads one at a time and still meet all these goals.



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

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