Improve Programmatic and Paid Social Targeting with Creative-Led Ads

Mark Wiggins

Senior Creative Manager


No one wants to spend their marketing budget on advertisements that slip by their target audience without converting.

The Programmatic and Paid Social bidding process displays ads in front of the right target audience at the best time. But how can digital advertisers ensure programmatic and paid social ads achieve conversions? The answer is effective creative assets.

The Impact of Creative Advertising


Many elements contribute to the effectiveness of ads, and regarding traditional advertising, Nielson shared how these vital elements contribute to sales: 

  • Targeting – 9% 
  • Recency – 5% 
  • Reach – 22% 
  • Context – 2% 
  • Brand – 15% 
  • Creative – 47% 

As these figures highlight, quality creative assets are the most essential advertising element for successful sales growth. But in a purely digital environment, this percentage skyrockets to 89%! Ultimately, you can expect 42% worse results from your programmatic and paid social ads without good creative assets.



What does creative ad work entail?


Regarding programmatic and paid social ads, “creative” refers to the chosen imagery advertisers display to their audience. Creative can include:


Display and dynamic ads


A dynamic and display ad used by Riviera travel created by Search Laboratory digital marketing agency.



A screenshot of a videography creative led advertisement for De Vere created by Search Laboratory digital marketing agency.

What our Programmatic and Paid Social team has discovered about creative


It’s not a “one size fits all” approach for different ad platforms


Although it is crucial for programmatic and paid social advertisers to understand their target audience, they need to realize that creative assets may not translate from one ad platform to another. What resonates on Meta Reels probably won’t work on LinkedIn.

For example, according to app developers worldwide, when looking at the most effective digital ad formats for mobile app user acquisition in the second quarter of 2022, 51% of the most successful ads in this format were full-screen video ads (pictured right). These were over 30% more successful than display social ads on the same platform.

Delivering the best creative assets on the right platform is integral to success. Factors like ad size, video vs. static imagery, and interactive features play a part in creative best practices. They can differ depending on the platform or placement on the page.

The assets created for paid social can also be used for demand generation activities on PPC, allowing businesses to get more for their money. However, marketers need to know when it is appropriate to share creatives across platforms and when they need to be built from the ground up.






A Statista graphic showing the most effective ad formats for mobile app user acquisition worldwide in 2022.

Video is here to stay


Producing effective ads, especially video, is integral to successful and strategic programmatic and paid social campaigns. For example, Meta says users spend 50% of their time using their Reels feature. Therefore, video ads are no longer a luxury companies can do without.


Refresh and update


Marketers must continually update and refresh their ads to stay relevant, avoiding audience ad fatigue.

Search Laboratory’s approach to Creative


Unfortunately, on its own, good creative does not necessarily translate to more conversions. There are no surefire, “hard and fast” best practices for creativity that every company can follow. What resonates with one brand’s audience may fall flat with another. 

Data-driven creative testing is one of the best ways to determine the most significant impacts on performance and what resonates best with target audiences.


Data-driven testing


Creative testing helps the Programmatic & Paid Social (PSP) team and our Creative experts understand why ads are working well and why they may be falling short. The testing process begins with an initial discussion to outline the various aspects that will be tested, such as image copy, ad format, static vs. dynamic vs. video ads, etc. 

The PSP team can report to the Creative team what has worked and what has not once the tests have concluded. The Creative team can use these insights to influence future creative designs and improve performance.

Greg Gould, a Paid Social and Programmatic Consultant at Search Laboratory, elaborated on the process further:A photo of Greg Gould, Paid Social and Programmatic Consultant, at Search Laboratory digital marketing agency.

“When it comes to ad creation, the vital link that is often missing is how it connects back to the data. A pivotal part of our process is the Programmatic and Paid Social team providing feedback to our Creative team on the results. This collaboration provides a more strategic approach to ad creation and helps us understand what aspects of an ad are working to influence future designs and tests.” 

An example of the different ads that can be run to test the audience’s response can be seen here:


Two different ad designs advertising a Masters in Creative course at the University of Hull.

Two different ads encourage users to register for the Masters in Creative Writing program at the University of Hull. Two different approaches are being tested, despite the common goal, and these include: 

  • Alternative designs 
  • Imagery of people vs. animation 
  • Different call-to-action buttons 
  • More or less descriptive copy 

Again, this is a more than one-size-fits-all solution that will translate across clients. Even brands that operate in a similar industry may have different audiences that respond to different ads. The key is to stay up to date by continuing to carry out tests for every client. Placing the paid media and creative teams under one roof can facilitate valuable collaboration.

Reece Jones, a Digital Creative Designer at Search Laboratory, had this to say about the process: A photo of Reece Jones, Digital Creative Designer at Search Laboratory digital marketing agency, part of the Havas Media Network.

I enjoy working on our mixture of programmatic and paid social campaigns. It gives us the opportunity to work on different themes and styles, which expands our knowledge of what works and what doesn’t. We can test specific ads and quickly adapt to what is performing better, helping us create new successful designs.” 

Getting results from creative-led ads


A recent example of data-driven testing that led to exciting results was the paid social videos we created for our client Bonhams.

Although general best practices for Meta video say to keep videos as short as possible, the teams found through creative testing that longer videos (20-30 seconds) resonated more with Bonhams’ target audience.  

The test results found that 91% of people who viewed the 30-second video watched to the end. Just 32% of people viewing the 10-second video watched until the end. Therefore, despite best practices recommending shorter videos, testing revealed longer videos are more impactful for Bonhams’ audience.


Search Laboratory | Digital Marketing Agency

Looking to test the success of your creative ads?Contact us and our Creative team will make it happen