API driven creativity

There is a new school of advertising creativity that paints with data and sculpts with APIs. Storytellers are learning to apply dynamic personalized data to enhance the narrative itself, not just provide adjacent functionality. API stands for application programming interface. Essentially APIs allow data streams to be shared with external entities. Data is bundled in a way so that that a developer can design a new application that incorporates that information and functionality.

The trick with building an application that relies on someone else’s API is that if the other guy changes the way their API works it can break your application. Facebook app builders have long struggled to stay aligned with how Facebook shares data. For API-enabled digital ads, companies are emerging that can add the layer of functionality and monitor for any changes to the underlying APIs. Examples of ad networks that offer this type of “rich media” are SpongeCell, ClickTurn, and SocialMedia.com.

In an ever more fragmented media world, it is getting harder and harder to deploy a relevant piece of creative to niche audiences. Data feeds are one way to produce a personalized experience without having to actually construct a vast portfolio of creative.

The most common use of an API in digital marketing is probably a store locator map. Enter a location and via an API a mapping service is accessed to present a map with a particular set of locations highlighted. There are some good examples of mapping functionality here.

Another common technique is to pull in an always updated list of Tweets about the advertiser. ClickTurns’s website has some good examples of advertisers pulling in Tweets, YouTube videos, and product reviews. And as marketers look to stimulate and amplify word of mouth, it is becoming common practice to include in ads the ability to “share” or “like” something and via an API publish that declaration to the user’s social graph. There are some good examples of this functionality here.

But where things get really interesting creatively is when APIs drive the content experience itself. The execution that showed us all the power of incorporating the viewer’s Facebook info into an ad experience was last year’s promotion of the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week called Frenzied Waters. If you have not tried it yet, go to Discovery’s site and click on My Story and activate Facebook Connect.

This past weekend, MTV and Stamen Design released a beautifully designed experience for the MTV music awards that is completely powered by Tweets about the show.
The folks with a head start in API driven creativity tend to have experience developing Facebook apps. Their creative process begins with the notion that various APIs are like a color palate. They spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to get the user to share some information like their Facebook log in, a Twitter hash tag, or their location that can key relevant data feeds.

API driven creative has the potential for knock-you-out-of-your-seat impact. Rich media display ads to date have created an ad experience that is similar to what consumers have seen historically on TV and in magazines. This is a whole new generation of creative.