IAB Engage is now in its 14th year, and has seen digital media rise from challenger upstart to the dominant media form of our age. Indeed, as Claire Enders showed, the UK leads the world in digital advertising (see chart) – but now digital is at a crossroads. The dominant theme for the day was ‘Moving Forwards’ – in reality however, the digital advertising community is scrabbling for respectability.
There was a paradox in older, experienced advertising heads telling younger millennials what digital looks like. There was an uncomfortable feeling that the audience knew more than those on stage at times. Lots of fear and trepidation was being spouted: “look, none of these brands existed before 2003” “communications are exploding” “there are more millennials than baby boomers now.” The sense I felt from the audience was that they know this stuff already. With a high number of twenty and thirty-somethings watching, the born-digital generation is now responsible for most media buying in agencies, if not necessarily ensconced in the boardroom.
Keith Weed, CMO for Unilever, seemed pleased with progress made in improving digital media’s outlaw tendencies since a “collapse in trust” in 2017. Against Keith’s ‘three Vs’ of Viewability, Verification and Value, real progress had been made. Unilever, alongside others, has been instrumental in pushing for better standards and accountability. Thanks to this pressure, the IAB Gold Standard has been developed, with agencies and media vendors signing up to be registered.
However, Keith had a different axe to grind, and bemoaned the speed of agency change. Unilever have set up their own people data centres around the world because agencies did not offer it as a service, or not at a price he was willing to pay. He did not pull his punches when discussing the progress of agencies adapting to the future of advertising and advertisers needs. “Not fit for purpose” he said.
Steve Bartlett, a serial entrepreneur and CEO of Social Chain, emphasised the need to make social media more than just a compelling conversation. It needed to be personalised and transactional. It was clear the best brands had worked out how to do this in a compelling, interesting way.
Simon Gosling, futurist for Unruly, was kind enough to introduce a whole host of fantastic case studies which opened eyes and got everyone scrabbling for details, as the whole room thought: “Here’s some great examples to brighten up my next dull status meeting!” Some highlights from Simon’s talk: Trainline’s AI chatbot is so smart you can rap your requests and it understands. Google Assistant can book you a haircut and the receptionist will never know they were talking to a machine. The average ASOS app user spends 80 minutes in the app on average each month. Pinterest are receiving 16m photo searches a week now. We all had a good chuckle at the demise of Google Glass, but in China, 70,000 smart glasses issued to the police identified 7 people on the serious crimes list in week one. Alexa is developing glasses further, and Simon speculated that perhaps glasses will indeed be the next step in mobile/wearables.
What all this means for us poor ad agency folk remains to be seen. It feels like Keith Weed is correct: the future of advertising depends on our abilities to change our roles and find a way to promote brands within a whole new playing field.
A final example which maybe demonstrates the power and also the understanding of the power of digital is Google’s Family Link app. It helps parents to parent. One of the key things it suggests is to turn off the phone and computer, and simply play with your children. Wise advice, from an unexpected source.