Advertising Week New York: Five Things to Think About Beyond 2018

In an industry that is innovating faster and more frantically every day, Advertising Week New York is a vital source of insight for forward thinking marketers. Falling, as it does, in October, it can easily be perceived as a ‘state of the nation’ snapshot of the trends that have been front of mind for brands, agencies and technology companies over the past year.

If you sift through the bravado, branded M&Ms and bewildered celebrities trying to answer questions on ‘brand purpose’, there’s a lot to be learned and a lot more to be heeded.

Here are five things that marketers should be cognizant of as they plan for 2019 and beyond:


1. Data Privacy.

Facebook, tails firmly between their legs, were a late addition to the Monday schedule, as VP of Global Marketing Solutions Carolyn Everson took to the stage in peak damage control mode to discuss the 50million user profiles that had been compromised in a data leak the previous Friday. In conversation with the Wall Street Journal’s Lara O’Reilly, she spoke openly about the ‘crisis of trust’ the tech giant continues to struggle with and was followed throughout the week by executives from the likes of Experian, Microsoft, New York Times and Bank Of America in claiming that when it comes to data, trust is built through transparency.

It’s common knowledge that consumers are warier than ever before of the potential misuse and abuse of their data. In Europe the tremors of GDPR are still being felt and we can expect similar regulation to hit the US in the near future, with other regulation for other types of data such as voice and biometric likely to follow suit further down the line.

The implication for marketers? If you haven’t already, you need to seriously evaluate your data policy, openly demonstrate that you are educating your entire organization in best practice and question how you can help your customer take back control of their data. Speakers were in agreement that when the legislation overwhelmingly favors the consumer, brands who help them understand the value of their data and clearly demonstrate the service level and rewards they are trading it for, will be rewarded with trust and loyalty.


2. Artificial Intelligence = Human Touch.

At Advertising Week 5 years ago, everyone was excited about how AI could improve ad targeting and digital distribution. In 2018, AI has moved beyond the realm of marketing and is touching every point of the customer journey, offering more intuitive, human and personalized experiences in the process. The CX applications of AI were therefore discussed at length.

Today, truly intelligent enterprises aren’t just using AI to consolidate marketing data. By connecting supply chain, product innovation, customer service and marketing, businesses can alleviate c-suite pressure on tactical solutions and focus on strategies for the future. With their internal siloes aligned, they can also deliver more intuitive, personalized experiences for their customers. Ironically, it’s actually their investment in AI that makes these forward-thinking businesses’ feel more human.

In an age where consumers are more entitled, more empowered and have more choice than ever before, customer-centricity is the key to growth. By connecting data across all of their organization’s internal siloes, executives can see and understand their customer across all touchpoints, and are better positioned to orient their business around them. As American Express’s Atul Dalmia said, ‘the key to growth is knowing your customer really well and preempting their expectations so that you can tailor your products and offerings ahead of time.’

But if everything is being automated, doesn’t that mean we’ll all soon be out of a job? Not yet, argued Mediamath’s Dan Rosenberg. AI isn’t going to replace human labor, at least not in our lifetime, instead it creates a whole new category for agencies and marketers. It used to be that information was power. Now, interpretation is power.


3. Augmented or Virtual, Reality Must Put the User First.

Augmented and virtual reality remained hot topics of conversation as speakers advocated practical, KPI-led campaigns over the gimmicky applications that have dominated awards shows in recent years. AR was dubbed the ‘experiential marketing of the future’ thanks to its ability to deliver personal experiences that feel physical at scale. It was also considered to be the safer, more appropriate choice for results-driven marketers, largely due to the fact that modern smartphone cameras make it incredibly easy to use. VR hardware, on the other hand, is not as developed and harder to come by, so marketers who attempt to use it often compromise the user experience in the process.

Snap’s Caroline Arguelles explained that when marketers prioritize the technology over the user, they’re almost certain to fail. Google glass was cited as a prime example of a product that didn’t take off because it failed to consider whether the user would feel comfortable or confident when wearing it. At Snap, she explained, their biggest challenge when it comes to new AR products, is finding accessible ways of teaching both consumers and marketers how to use the tech. The focus for them is on fun tools—think of the dancing hotdog filter—that give consumers a reason to start experimenting. Coty offered a similar viewpoint, boasting a 31% lift in sales following their investment in AR tech that offered virtual product sampling.

So what should marketers be thinking about as we head into 2019? When it comes to new technologies, it’s all about setting and sticking to objectives. Work out what you want to achieve and then think about user-centric applications of AR that can help you get there. In partnership with Snap, Mcdonald’s significantly increased in-store footfall after they launched an AR campaign that prompted consumers to unlock AR experiences to share with friends at the point of purchase. Why? They started with the objective: getting people into the store.


4. Data vs Creativity: Isn’t it Time We All Got Along?

The ongoing feud between data experts and creatives continued to rage as DDB’s Richard Guest joined a host of senior creatives before him (John Hegarty at CannesRory Sutherland in Campaign UK this summer) in deriding the fact that big data has finally migrated from buzzword to budget. Although not quite as extreme in his conviction as Sutherland, whose expletive ridden article used a slightly bizarre hotel doorman analogy to argue that ‘nerding around with data and media efficiency’ was leaving brands with the marketing equivalent of a ‘wino asleep in the doorway’, Guest remained firm in his conviction that the industry’s preoccupation with data was largely detrimental to our output.

What should we take from this? Clearly, the agency power dynamic is shifting in line with clients’ changing budgets, and understandably, creatives are feeling threatened. The problem is, by speaking out against data-driven strategies, or worse, retreating even further into their ivory towers and drawing the bridges below them, creatives are actually making their situation worse, not better.

There will always be a need for great creative brains in our industry, but if we want our work to deliver the measurable impact that clients are rightly demanding, we need to bring data and creative expertise into every meeting rather than keep the departments apart. Until creative departments learn to view data as an asset to creativity rather than a threat, this will never happen, and thus they’ll continue to fall short of delivering tangible results.

Guest was 100% right in his suggestion that there is such a thing as too much data, and that agencies need to have the ability to offer their creatives niche, audience specific insights if they want their campaigns to make an impact, but the problem he refused to acknowledge is actually one of internal structure. In traditional agencies and holding companies, creatives simply have too much power and too much pride. It’s not that the agency networks that dominate our industry don’t have the right mix of talent to create the modern data-driven solutions that our clients need; they bought those businesses years ago. It’s that the organizations themselves are too resistant to change.

Linkedin’s Jennifer Brett offered some constructive advice on the first steps that businesses can take towards bringing about this change. It’s incredibly difficult to integrate skillsets when your teams don’t speak the same language. Give your creatives and strategists access to self-serve, accessible data tools and train them on how to use them. Once they’re on the same page as your data team, they’ll be able to brief them on the insights they really need. Make sure the change comes from the top and part ways with those resistant to change, they’ll only slow you down.


5. The Agency Landscape is Changing, Fast.

It may be a chronically overused expression, but ‘Is (insert marketing term here) dead?’ was all over the conference agenda for a reason. Throughout every session there was an overwhelming sense that every marketer, regardless of their age or level of experience, was working in a very different world to the one they started out in.

It follows, then, that the agency landscape is changing faster than ever before. From consultancies to technology platforms, lots of businesses have converged into the agency space in recent years and their fierce competition for talent and client budget did not go unnoticed at the conference. In session after session, panel moderators asked speakers whether they thought their organization’s model was truly relevant, whether they knew what their clients really wanted, and more importantly, what they really needed.

No one perfect solution was put forward, as client needs are broad and varied and technologies evolve daily, but as panelists debated the agency of the future, a few common traits emerged.

The first was that delivering measurable growth for clients was absolutely key to an agency’s success. CMOs today tend to have incredibly short tenures. They need partners with speed and flexibility who can adapt quickly to changing needs and environments—those who don’t deliver growth are easily dispensable.

It was also widely agreed that, in a fragmented marketing landscape, agencies needed to be able to help their client partners unify their own businesses, rather than pull them in whatever direction will deliver the most budget to their team or department. Our clients are massively struggling to navigate the proliferation of channels as it is, we shouldn’t make things even harder for them. The problem, explained Epsilon’s Sandy Kolkey, is that in many legacy organizations, incentives are still in the wrong place. Business directors aren’t incentivized to do the right thing for clients, they’re incentivized to bring as much money and work as possible into their team, which means that across the agency as a whole disciplines are reticent to work together and the culture is hostile to collaboration. A client first approach is key to delivering growth, but until these agencies change their P&L structure, they’ll never be able to act in the client’s best interest.

The final unanimous trait was an ability to understand, interpret and unify data, which unsurprisingly was also the biggest theme of the conference as a whole. Agency or consultancy, media partner or tech platform, every business in the conference had data in their proposition, but it means different things to different people. As we head into 2019, the businesses that will win work are the ones who can truly make sense of the data deluge—a deluge that’s different for every client they partner with—and extract the insights that will deliver results.