Victor Wong wants to make “designing for ads an easier experience.” And as co-founder and CEO of PaperG, a San Francisco, Calif.-based advertising technology company, that's exactly what he is trying to do.
Wong founded PaperG in New York City about six years ago — before the term “programmatic” had even been coined to describe the space the company now occupies. The now 60-person team began with very little capital and fairly simple mission: to reduce “creative friction.”
Wait. What "creative friction"?
“We tried to help print advertisers and publishers transition to digital. We saw ourselves as part of the generation that was going to make paper into a digital medium. There was — and remains — huge creative friction when trying to transform content that is paper based into digital content or creative,” he said.
Over time, the company's focus has shifted. As more content has become digital, PaperG has tried to turn itself into the “Ikea” of the ad world. “We are trying to make high-end design accessible and affordable to everyone, to find out what works for some people and then apply it to everyone,” he said.
Save Time, Cut Costs
Wong said the PaperG platform can automate 80 percent of the ad creation work. The rest is customizable by the customer. “Asking marketers, agencies and advertisers to come up with an ad from scratch, over and over again, is such a big deal, and drives up creative costs. Besides, you can learn a lot from the ads others have built. But to try to do everything in a silo -- that’s entry level.”
How does it do that? PaperG uses machine learning and algorithms to effect data driven design, rather than doing everything from scratch. Then it uses data to figure out how to build a better ad next time.
When compared to competitors like Google and Adobe, PaperG appears to be further along in the programmatic creative space.
Stacking Up Against Adobe
PaperG’s offerings are much more scalable and accessible than Adobe's, for example. While most ads today are built on Adobe’s platform and everyone starts off in Photoshop, Adobe has a big problem: iPhones and iPads don't support flash-based advertisements. However, Adobe still remains the de-facto ad creative solution. Adobe has catered to the high-end creative professional but never to the people who see creative as "friction" to getting what they want ... done.
In Adobe's defense, there always will be a need for high-end designers and custom designs that are not scalable. These designers are never going to automate any portion of their work because it requires more creativity and customization than a machine is able to do. But PaperG believes the mass market wants accessible design — and need the tools to do it. We like to say, "not everyone is a professional designer, but everyone has taste."
And Now, Google
Wong describes Google as the company's biggest competitor. Google understands that it is strategically important for it to own "creative" because without the creative, it has nothing to run. If you build your ads on Google's platforms, the company hopes you will run your ads there, and that you have no need to use any other platform or tool.
Furthermore, Google knows there is a gap in its overall creative suite. It has been working on different creative technology solutions on both edges of a spectrum, but hasn't really figured out how to effectively merge ad creative with data. This is where PaperG sees a "sweet spot" it can play to and beat Google.
On the manual end of the spectrum, Google has a product called "web designer" as well as another product called "Double Click Designer." Both do the same thing. Both are high-end, highly manual creation solutions that are HTML 5 driven, because Google is trying to drive out the use of Flash.
But Google's tools require a very specialized set of designers who know how to use HTML5 and know how to build rich media experiences. In addition, it takes several hours and days to build an ad on these platforms. There is no data driven element to it: it is just highly technical without any assistance to make it easier to create content. No wonder creative is so expensive when you have to hire an agency to go out and create it.
On the other end of the spectrum, Google has a product called "Ready Creative(s)" that have a lot of elements of the PaperG platform. You can type in a URL and it will pull content and build an ad from the URL. Google also uses artificial intelligence to speed up the creative process, but is not doing anything to feed back the data to drive better design or performance of the ad unit. PaperG, in contrast to Google, created a platform where anyone can create an ad and understand its performance by democratizing good design.
A World in Flux
Our approach has always been on the creative and everyone has always spoken about the delivering the right message and the right time to the right people. With programmatic media, we can target the right audience at the right time. We don't automate the whole process of creating ads, but give people all the tools they need to do it."
Programmatic is changing the advertising and marketing world — a world Wong said is shifting from a strategy and planning world (where you set it and then forget it) to a testing and learning world. "The programmatic world is now about allocating and adjusting a fixed budget campaign in real time with much shorter cycles, adjusting various elements of it, to get the best yield, instantly, with quick turnaround," he said.