Putting Ad Copy in the Hands of Machines

Connor Chan Blog, Digital Marketing, Paid Search Leave a Comment


A couple weeks ago, I launched a Twitter bot, inspired by the idea that much of the content created and shared by digital marketers tends to indiscriminately inject industry buzzwords and sensational clickbait phrases into their titles (something which we are all guilty of in one way or another). The bot takes a handful of randomly-selected words and phrases from different lists and fuses them together to create and dispense art:

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These “titles” speak in circles and pose (sometimes nonsensical) questions that suggest that our current knowledge of marketing practices is possibly out-of-date.

Here, we see the postmodern idea of intentional fallacy come alive through social media. A computer, which lacks sentience, is unable to compose a tweet on its own accord— it is merely programmed to do so. This illustrates the idea of the death of the author: We can extract some semblance of meaning from each of these tweets, but we cannot examine what their author was intending to convey because their author is more automated machine than autonomous human. Without a sentient author, there is no possibility for authorial intent.

While randomly generated tweets may raise some interesting epistemological ideas about digital marketing, they are also prone to being incoherent. Artistic value aside, it’s safe to say that digital marketers will not be depending on computers to be writing new content on their behalf any time soon.

And yet…

The introduction of AdWords ad extensions makes it clear that there may still be room for machines to help in speeding up the creative process.

What Are Ad Customizers Capable of?

Ad customizers are designed to relieve the unnecessary task of manually writing many tailored variations of different text ads. With customization, a single ad can serve ad copy for hundreds of different products or target users in dozens of unique locations.

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The benefit of using ad customizers in text ad campaigns is that you now have the ability to compose tailored messaging and time-sensitive CTAs with scalability. Additionally, the potential ad variations produced through customization will not tamper with reporting data.

How Do They Work?

Customizers are implemented using parameters within { } curly braces (similar to keyword insertion). Content within those braces will be replaced by dynamic text when an ad is triggered by a user’s search. The process of serving dynamic text includes uploading a “customizer data template” to AdWords that contains targeting attributes and other information (such as device preference, scheduling, product price, event timing, etc.)

Once that template is uploaded, the customizers will have text to serve when triggered.

Custom Targeting Options

A customized ad can be triggered a number of different ways. For example, if a user searches for a keyword included in the data template, or if a user is located in a city specified in the template, Google will serve a custom ad relevant to that keyword or location.

With target keywords, it is no longer necessary to write ads for individual retail products. All of a brand’s product names could be included as target keywords with each product triggering an ad with unique messaging. Targeting can also be achieved at the ad group and campaign levels.

Or, if the owner of a chain restaurant has an upcoming special that’s specific to a city like Salt Lake City, specific messaging for that Salt Lake City special can be included in the customizable data template.


The countdown customizer can be used a number of different ways. For example, if there is a sale ending in the next week or two, a countdown with a parameter for the number of remaining days can let searchers know that an offer is time sensitive.

Countdowns can also be used to advertise recurring events or a series of events. If a data template has rows for five different events, each with dates a month apart from each other, a countdown can be implemented to promote the next-closest event as its date approaches. Countdowns will only be triggered within the five days leading up to a specified date, so there is no concern about Google showing a countdown too far in advance.

More Example Applications:

  • To estimate shipping to a searcher’s specific location, an ad could use customizers to target that location and serve a custom “Ships in X Days” in the message (via target location customizer)
  • Serve ads with product-specific messaging to potential customers searching for related terms (via target keywords)
  • Present ads for a recurring concert or show as upcoming dates approach (via countdowns)
  • Let a user know how close the nearest location of a business is, and what the hours of operation are (via target location customizer)
  • If the price of a specific product or service varies from city to city, customization can be used to show different prices to users in different locations (via target location customizer)

Ad customizers are a way of bridging the gap between man and machine when it comes to writing text ads. There is no magic tool that will generate well-written, concise ad copy on demand, but customizers can certainly ease the burden of authorship without completely taking away creative control.

Remember, your brilliant marketing schemes and sharp wit are beyond what artificial intelligence and machine learning are currently capable of emulating. IBM’s Watson can read 800 million pages per second, but hasn’t learned sarcasm yet. Technology can speed up the process of implementing great ideas, but it is still not a substitution for creative thinking and careful planning.

Connor ChanPutting Ad Copy in the Hands of Machines

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