Interview: Myles Younger, Canned Banners Co-founder, Talks About DIY Creatives for Display Advertising and Opportunities for Long Tail Advertisers

Earlier this week, digital media agency Exact Drive and display ad design platform Canned Banners announced a partnership to offer marketers a one-stop solution for launching and managing dynamic display ad campaigns. The service increases the performance and precision of display ad campaigns by personalizing ad creative in real time for each viewer. We’ve asked Myles Younger, Canned Banners Co-founder and Head of Marketing & Business Development, to give us more insights into the current display advertising market, the challenges and opportunities for SMBs and long tail advertisers.

 Otilia Otlacan: Recent news about the partnership between Canned Banners and Exact Drive have brought attention once again to the challenges in quickly sourcing display advertising creatives. Tell us a bit about Canned Banners and what drove you to create this company.

Myles Younger: We created Canned Banners with three goals/philosophies in mind:

1.) Good ad creative is important, but good creative shouldn’t be kept behind a high price barrier that marketers from launching display campaigns.

2.) There are many aspects of display ad design that are simple or repetitive, and which can be automated or delivered more efficiently through self-serve tools. This presents opportunities to streamline the creative workflow, reduce design costs, and offer the advertiser (or the agency or ad network) more flexibility in quickly making design updates or content changes.

3.) Most display ads are still created “the old fashioned way.” This stands in stark contrast to display media buying, which has seen an explosion of innovation in scalable, automated, and intelligent platforms. We’re developing a platform and tools that can add the same kinds of efficiency and economies of scale to the creative process.

Otilia Otlacan:  Last I checked, there were quite a number of DIY ad building services around. What’s different about Canned Banners, where does the company position itself on the market?

Myles Younger: There are several competing DIY solutions, but as we’ve learned first-hand, it’s not easy to build a simple self-serve interface for display ad design. Canned Banners is the best available (my unbaised opinion, of course) primarily because our team includes former ad and marketing guys as well as engineering talent; most of our competitors are lacking in one area or another, despite the fact that they’re both critical.

We’ll continue to position ourselves as a go-to resource for novice and SMB advertisers, but once we roll out our next wave of innovations, we’ll be marching “upstream” in terms of client size (this has already started), as well as expanding “horizontally” into new areas like performance advertising, search marketing, and marketing automation.

Our partnership with Exact Drive is one of these examples of horizontal expansion, where we’ve expanded from basic ad creative to dynamic creative. And supporting dynamic ads also puts us in a prime position to serve dozens of industry verticals that can benefit from display ads that are created in real time, such as e-commerce, real estate, and travel.

Otilia Otlacan: Let’s look a little into the display advertising market available to SMBs and the general small advertiser. The options for these buyers to access premium display ad placements used to be grim at best. Do you see any hope for them in the near future?

Myles Younger: Yes, absolutely. Why do I know this? Because SMBs have money to spend, and when you put them all together, they represent a massive market. But the barrier to providing SMBs with premium solutions lies in the fact that it’s historically been very expensive to aggregate hundreds of thousands of relatively tiny SMB marketing budgets into something meaningful.

However, with each passing month, more and more steps of the display ad workflow are being automated. Once the seesaw tips and it’s possible to serve SMBs without a staff of thousands and massive marketing expenditure (ex. Groupon), you’ll see a proliferation of more “premium” options become available to SMBs, either directly or through intermediary marketing platforms. Obviously Canned Banners wants to play a part in that transformation.

Otilia Otlacan:  You’ve recently partnered with digital media agency Exact Drive to create a real-time, dynamic display advertising platform. Can you explain us the mechanisms behind this offering and the requirements for advertisers to access it?

Myles Younger: The mechanisms fall into three categories:

1.) The Canned Banners API, which provides a programmatic interface to update ad creative on-the-fly.

2.) Creative rules and advertiser source content (e.g., XML, API, etc). These are the rules that define what content (e.g., product photos & prices) will be shown to which viewer segments. These rules will be unique for most campaigns, as every advertiser has different available content and different audience targeting strategies. This is where Canned Banners and Exact Drive overlap and come together to develop unique, performance-based targeting strategies. For example, we might develop a rule like this for a real estate company: “When prospects view the real estate ads, we’ll show nearby listings from the real estate company’s database, and we’ll only show listings that are in the viewer’s expected price range.”

3.) Media buying and targeting from Exact Drive. This is where they’re experts. When a client comes to us with campaign goals and target audiences, Exact Drive has a wide array of media buying strategies it can employ in very precisely defining those target audiences so that we can optimize the relevance of the ad content and achieve the goals of the campaign. Media buying strategies could include retargeting, geo-targeting, contextual targeting, etc.

As far as advertiser requirements, dynamic advertising becomes difficult to justify when you dip below a media spend of roughly $10K per month (the setup costs start to eat up the ROI). It’s also important that advertisers have a healthy variety of products, messages, offers, or content. More content variations means greater personalization of final dynamic ad content, which boosts performance. Within those two relatively simple criteria, we can work with any advertiser that wants to run a dynamic campaign.

Otilia Otlacan:  What’s next for Canned Banners, what are you working on?

Myles Younger: Canned Banners is all “next” right now! Things are moving very quickly. We’ll be relaunching our website in a few weeks to announce all our new solutions. We’ll keep improving upon our Basic Ad Builder, but we’ll be rolling out an API to allow ad networks, agencies, and brands to develop their own ad creation tools and dynamic ad solutions.

There’s always been a great deal of interest in the Canned Banners approach to automating display ad creation, but without an API, we’ve always had one hand tied behind our back when trying to meet our clients’ needs and integrate into their existing software and workflows. Look out for solutions for agencies, search marketers, and e-retailers, as well as more innovation with our partner Exact Drive (which won’t be limited to dynamic display ads, by the way).

Otilia Otlacan:  Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?

Myles Younger: We’re just excited to see what people do with our next wave of products and tools. There’s a whole world of “mash-ups” to explore where you can leverage outside data and APIs to automate certain aspects of display ad creation.

To illustrate what I mean, here are two demo apps we’ve created recently (apologies in advance if they’re slow or perhaps even broken…they’re just informal demos):

1.) This demo creates display ads using photos and property descriptions from the UK real estate listing service

2. This app automatically generates multiple banner variations using images imported from the Getty Images stock photo API:

These are just two rough examples of how, when you have the right tools, you can add a whole new dimension of flexibility and scalability to display ad design. It’s worth noting that all together, we only spent about 2 days developing and launching those apps (i.e., we created two working ad design apps in less time than most designers could turn around a single piece of basic ad creative).

About Myles Younger, Head of Marketing and Business Development – Canned Banners
At Canned Banners, Myles evangelizes the company’s unique approach to automating and streamlining display ad design. He is also responsible for Canned Banners’ client and partner strategy, and for understanding where the company’s tools and expertise can add the greatest value in the display ad ecosystem. Prior to co-founding Canned Banners, Myles was a B2B marketer, most recently having held an international marketing role at Thomson Reuters.

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