Now in its 12th year, the four-day Advertising Week is bigger than ever, drawing 100,000-plus attendees.
It’s certainly not what it used to be. In its early years, Advertising Week was a celebration of the industry’s best work, and kicked off with iconic advertising mascots, like Tony the Tiger, parading down Madison Avenue.
Today, Advertising Week is a showcase of how far technology and creativity have come across the increasingly segmented and rapidly changing industry. Attendees had the option of going to 14 niche seminar tracks with more than 270 panels and seminars covering a range of topics: emerging technologies in analytics and big data, creative storytelling, programmatic omnichannel strategy, and diversity and inclusion in the industry.
Software companies at the event touted advancements in automated, real-time tools that allow brands to target and re-target with precision. The collection of better user data and the ability to serve highly relevant content was also hyped as a game-changer for the industry.
One of the most compelling discussions was around cognitive computing — a higher level of artificial intelligence with deep learning capabilities. At the forefront of this technology is IBM, which unveiled how supercomputer Watson can help businesses crunch all kinds of data to predict customer behavior.
IBM Watson already has a number of applications, from diagnosing diseases to its ability to read 800 million pages per second. For marketers, its strength lies in its ability to analyze various types of data, including social media posts, videos, and images in extremely nuanced ways to gain better insight into the consumer mindset. The technology can examine a person’s manner of speech online, assess their personality and then predict their behavior and what they’d want to see.
“Based on what they’ve tweeted, for example, you can look at their state of mind. Are they open minded and adventurous but frustrated? An insight like this would change how I’d interact as a marketer,” IBM Watson’s Chief Marketing Officer Steve Gold said at a panel.
Technology, married with the right creative, is the winning combination for marketers.
“Advertising is about making you think and feel. It should stop you dead in your tracks. When you marry it with the right brand, people will say, ‘Did you see that?!’” said Linda Yaccarino, chairman of Advertising Sales + Client Partnerships at NBCUniversal.
Similar sentiments were echoed across dozens of panels.
Digital Content Next announced a few statistics from its 2015 Adblocking report, citing that only 16 percent of consumers think online ads are creative.
“The mission of all advertising should be to service the consumer. We’ve gotten ads in front of right person, at right time, at right place — we’re great at targeting and retargeting — but the piece that’s missing is the mission,” said Shenan Reed, Head of Business Development + Client Services, at MEC North America.
Some brands are wizening to that. During the Wednesday keynote speech, Marc S. Pritchard, head of global brand building at Procter & Gamble, admitted that his company’s brands have released a number of bad advertisements, such as Pantene ad that promoted a recipe for Cinco de Mayo celebrations. But he also proudly showed off laundry detergent maker Ariel’s “Share the Load” ad, which ran in India and denounced traditional gender roles.
Mobile advertising, especially video, is growing exponentially — Sheryl Sandberg said Facebook now has 4 million advertisers, and 40 percent of businesses on the network are creating ads of varying lengths, with and without sound. Brands can now create 360-degree ads, and pretty soon they might experiment with Facebook Live.
But without the right message — without the “soul” that ads like Coca Cola’s 1971 “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” have — advertisers will continue to get trounced by adblocking software, according to Lisa Topol, Grey’s creative director.
“Selling products and collecting and analyzing data is important, but we need the soul,” she said.
Key Takeaways for Marketers:
- Technology is helping marketers better target their audiences. Ad targeting technology is improving so brands can serve consumers more relevant content. And cognitive computing, from companies like IBM, is finding new ways to analyze data to better understand customer behavior.
- No surprise, but mobile and video ads are booming. Marketers have also started experimenting with newer formats like 360-video and Facebook Live.
- Unless consumers connect with content, technological advances will be of no benefit. When creating campaigns, brands always need to think about how they’ll speak to consumers on a human level.
A version of this story originally appeared on IBM’s Think Marketing hub.
Megan Anderle is a writer and editor at Newscred who specializes in technology. Her work has been featured in The Guardian, The Atlantic and AdAge.