There’s au­to­ma­tion for al­most ev­ery as­pect of mar­ket­ing these days. So is there still room for hu­man cre­ativ­ity? Damien Venuto ven­tures into the ad tech fac­tory.

New Zealand Marketing - - Contents -

Au­to­ma­tion is de rigueur in the world of mar­ket­ing. So is there still room for hu­man cre­ativ­ity? Damien Venuto puts on his hard hat and ven­tures into the ad tech fac­tory.


Ma­hatma Gandhi.

Start­ing in 1811, dis­grun­tled English textile work­ers staged a se­ries of protests, dur­ing which they de­stroyed the spin­ning frames and power looms, which had au­to­mated the man­ual labour they re­lied on for a liveli­hood. These pro­tes­tors would come be known as Lud­dites, a word that has more re­cently been used in a deroga­tory fash­ion to de­scribe in­di­vid­u­als who op­pose new tech­nol­ogy.

Much like in the early 19th Cen­tury, to­day’s mar­ket­ing in­dus­try is go­ing through an ex­is­ten­tial cri­sis of its own as new tech­nol­ogy au­to­mates the way we buy and sell advertising, com­mu­ni­cate with cus­tomers and track con­sumer data.

In the thor­oughly bour­geois set­ting of advertising, it’s un­likely that sales man­agers, cre­atives and media strate­gists are go­ing to storm of­fices and de­stroy com­put­ers and servers—this would, af­ter all, be an ex­er­cise in fu­til­ity, given the in­creased promi­nence of cloud-based net­works— but au­to­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy is a topic be­ing avidly dis­cussed across the in­dus­try.

At the Aus­tralian Dig­i­tal Mar­ket­ing Fo­rum, Google Aus­tralia man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Maile Carnegie said busi­nesses that fail to rein­vest in mar­ket­ing—and, not sur­pris­ingly, par­tic­u­larly dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy—are “cost-sav­ing their way to de­cline”.

While bor­der­ing on chas­tise­ment, such sen­ti­ments aren’t unique to Google. Ask the ex­ec­u­tives work­ing at the lo­cal tech play­ers like Mar­keto, Brand Ma­chine, Ad­slot, Datamine, Mar­ket­ing Im­pact, MI9, Ubiq­uity and many oth­ers, and you’re likely to hear dif­fer­ent vari­a­tions of the same ar­gu­ment, with the gen­eral con­sen­sus be­ing that a fail­ure to au­to­mate time-con­sum­ing pro­cesses could re­sult in busi­nesses fall­ing be­hind tech-savvy com­peti­tors.

“Dan­ger of a com­pany not do­ing it?” pon­ders Mar­keto’s New Zealand coun­try man­ager Rob Cooke. “Well, what’s the cost of a de­fected cus­tomer who went to the com­pe­ti­tion be­cause they bought some­thing from you in the past, but then never heard from you again? Or if they did with a ‘monthly email cam­paign’, the com­mu­ni­ca­tion wasn’t rel­e­vant and per­son­alised, so they didn’t feel val­ued?”

This is at the core of what ad tech play­ers sell to mar­keters and agen­cies. Au­to­ma­tion, the sales pitch goes, pro­vides a means by which to ex­pe­dite the process of min­ing in­sights from data and then us­ing these to de­liver tar­geted mes­sages to con­sumers in­stantly.


Email mes­sag­ing, ad trad­ing, data man­age­ment, cus­tomer seg­men­ta­tion and even so­cial media post­ing can be au­to­mated to some de­gree— and for ev­ery niche, there’s an ad tech part­ner of­fer­ing a drag-and-drop in­ter­face ca­pa­ble of af­fect­ing real-time changes re­motely.

So, given that it’s com­mon to find these ac­tiv­i­ties within the mod­ern mar­ket­ing re­mit, should mar­keters look to sys­tem­at­i­cally in­tro­duce au­to­ma­tion across the board?

James Butcher, the na­tional sales di­rec­tor for Mi­crosoft’s MI9 of­fer­ing, says no.

“We should be care­ful that not all pro­cesses are placed un­der the as­sump­tion that au­to­ma­tion equals im­prove­ment,” Butcher says. “There are still el­e­ments of a mar­ket­ing plan that au­to­ma­tion doesn’t, and pos­si­bly will never suit. As an ex­am­ple, true na­tive ex­e­cu­tions, not in-stream cat­a­logue ban­ners, is some­thing that re­quires the cre­ativ­ity that only peo­ple can pro­vide.”

And while it might be true that not ev­ery­thing can be au­to­mated (yet), busi­nesses across the in­dus­try are sign­ing on in big num­bers with ad tech part­ners.

“We count some of the largest Kiwi media agen­cies and pub­lish­ers among our client base,” says Ad­slot group com­mer­cial di­rec­tor Tom Pea­cock. “In no par­tic­u­lar or­der these are Neo, OMD, Spark PHD, and FCB on the agency side and Fair­fax, Trade Me, NZME and Ad Hub on the pub­lisher side.”

Ad­slot’s haul of big names isn’t un­usual in the in­dus­try, says IAB chief ex­ec­u­tive Adrian Pick­stock.

“We don’t have in­for­ma­tion on how many New Zealand com­pa­nies are shop­ping around for mar­ket­ing au­to­ma­tion part­ners but there is cer­tainly grow­ing de­mand for it from mar­keters,”

Pick­stock says. “This is re­flected in the steady rise of pro­gram­matic spend. In 2014, eight per­cent of dis­play advertising was at­trib­uted to pro­gram­matic in New Zealand, and this rose to 13 per­cent for the first quar­ter of 2015.”

And look­ing at the trends in the more ma­ture US mar­ket, Pick­stock be­lieves that this is only set to in­crease as the lo­cal in­dus­try con­tin­ues to adopt dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing.

“Pro­gram­matic advertising rev­enue to­talled $10.1 bil­lion [in the US] in 2014, ac­count­ing for al­most $50 bil­lion to­tal in­ter­net advertising dur­ing that time,” Pick­stock says. “The study re­vealed that ad-tech com­pa­nies’ rev­enue com­prised about 55 per­cent of the pro­gram­matic to­tal last year, while pub­lish­ers col­lected 45 per­cent.”


A ma­jor draw­card of mar­ket­ing au­to­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy lies in the prom­ise of greater mea­sur­a­bil­ity of cam­paigns.

For gen­er­a­tions, mar­keters have had to en­dure snide re­marks re­fer­ring to their trade as the colour­ing-in depart­ment. And the dif­fi­culty in quan­ti­fy­ing its nu­mer­i­cal value meant that mar­keters were in some ways re­stricted at the ex­ec­u­tive ta­ble.

How­ever, the ad­vent of big data and online track­ing has al­lowed mar­keters to now fol­low con­sumers from their first en­counter with an ad through to the point of mak­ing a pur­chase.

“Con­sumers are no longer just num­bers,” says Cooke. “No longer just a vol­u­met­ric of an un­known mass of peo­ple do­ing stuff. By re­act­ing with per­son­alised com­mu­ni­ca­tions to the ac­tual ac­tiv­i­ties and be­hav­iours of cus­tomers as in­di­vid­u­als, you are cre­at­ing value out of the num­bers.”

The com­mon ar­gu­ment spawn­ing from this is that mar­keters now have num­bers to jus­tify their ac­tions and that this gives them greater bar­gain­ing power in terms of where a com­pany should al­lo­cate its funds.

“If you’re able to quan­tify what is work­ing and what’s not, it makes it a lot eas­ier to make a good de­ci­sion when things start to turn against you,” says Datamine man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Mike Par­sons.

How­ever, as a corol­lary, the Mar­ket­ing As­so­ci­a­tion chief ex­ec­u­tive Lance Walker points out that mar­keters have now, per­haps, be­come too ob­sessed with data.

“Too of­ten ‘the num­bers don’t stack up’ ar­gu­ment be­comes an ex­cuse for not do­ing some­thing, as op­posed to giv­ing it a crack,” wrote Walker in a re­cent ar­ti­cle based on his speech pre­sented to Mar­ket­ing As­so­ci­a­tion mem­bers. “It con­cerns me when I see young en­thu­si­as­tic mar­keters por­ing over spread­sheets and de­bat­ing


whether the re­sponse rate for a new, untested cam­paign is go­ing to be 1.1 per­cent or 1.2 per­cent. Who cares? By the time we’ve de­bated that we could have got out there and tested it and found out.”

This fo­cus on num­bers also lends it­self to short-ter­mism, in that mar­keters could be en­cour­aged to mod­ify a cam­paign if early re­sults don’t look promis­ing enough.

Butcher con­cedes that these is­sues have emerged in the in­dus­try but be­lieves it has more to do with the num­bers mar­keters are choos­ing to fo­cus on.

“We have be­come too ob­sessed with the wrong num­bers,” he says. “True mea­sur­a­bil­ity and un­der­stand­ing the im­pact your cre­ative has had on your tar­get au­di­ence re­mains in­cred­i­bly ben­e­fi­cial in any cam­paign and is one of the core ben­e­fits that ‘in­ter­ac­tive’ as a chan­nel pro­vides. But I still see too much em­pha­sis put on the click-through rate of a cam­paign, not enough care taken on viewa­bil­ity and brand safety.”


If mar­keters do look at the right num­bers and see a de­sir­able re­sult, then this could en­cour­age them to re­peat a spe­cific cre­ative ap­proach— lead­ing to con­cern that au­to­ma­tion could wa­ter down the level of cre­ativ­ity in the in­dus­try.

Par­sons ar­gues that this isn’t the case, and that the onus is on mar­keters to experiment when us­ing the tech­nol­ogy.

“Just push­ing the same but­ton over and over doesn’t re­ally pre­pare you to do a great on­go­ing job; that’s lazy and com­pla­cent,” he says. “Con­stantly hav­ing a cham­pion or chal­lenger men­tal­ity and en­cour­ag­ing in­no­va­tion adds to anal­y­sis, rather than de­tract­ing from it.”

How­ever, mar­ket­ing is, af­ter all, de­signed to drive fi­nan­cial re­sults, and cre­ativ­ity some­times seems sur­plus to these re­quire­ments. Nowhere is this more ev­i­dent than in the price-led re­tail advertising that shouts at the na­tion. In a re­cent in­ter­view with NZ Mar­ket­ing, Count­down gen­eral man­ager of mar­ket­ing Brid­get Lamont pro­vided a pretty mat­ter-of-fact jus­ti­fi­ca­tion as to why re­tail­ers con­tinue to en­gage in this form of advertising when they have so much cre­ative fire­power at their dis­posal: “Why do we do it? Be­cause it works. Why do we put un­ad­dressed mail­ers into 1.4 mil­lion let­ter­boxes (which is just a pa­per ver­sion of shout­ing)? Be­cause it works. I’m a pretty sim­ple per­son. In terms of our media strat­egy, I’m go­ing to ad­ver­tise where the eye­balls are. In terms of our style of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, I’m go­ing to do the stuff that works.”

More re­cently, Count­down has also ex­tended this ap­proach to the dig­i­tal chan­nel through its

highly suc­cess­ful email pro­gramme.

“We have a large data­base of around half a mil­lion cus­tomers we can com­mu­ni­cate with via email, and 350,000 of these cus­tomers re­ceive a my­count­down email each week,” Lamont says.

The em­pha­sis of this pro­gramme isn’t so much on the cre­ative pre­sen­ta­tion of the in­for­ma­tion, but rather on the level of per­son­al­i­sa­tion in each com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

“The sales up­lift we see from highly per­son­alised com­mu­ni­ca­tions speaks to their ef­fec­tive­ness, and the more per­son­alised we get the bet­ter our open rates. For ex­am­ple, our cus­tomers love know­ing how much they have saved since we in­tro­duced Lock­down and we see open rates of over 40 per­cent when we give them an up­date on their sav­ings to­tal.”

This is not to say that ev­ery au­to­mated com­mu­ni­ca­tion is go­ing to be util­i­tar­ian in its ex­e­cu­tion. In much the same way tele­vi­sion al­lows a sin­gle brand to de­liver shouty and cre­ative mes­sag­ing, so too does ad tech fa­cil­i­tate the means by which to ex­e­cute both. And Union Dig­i­tal gen­eral man­ager Todd Wack­row be­lieves that as the in­dus­try evolves mar­keters and cre­ative agen­cies will be­come bet­ter at ex­ploit­ing the op­por­tu­ni­ties of­fered by ad tech.

“Ad tech should [al­ready] be open­ing up cre­ativ­ity, but cur­rently there is a bit of a knowl­edge gap be­tween the tech­ni­cal side and the cre­ative and strate­gic de­part­ments within agen­cies,” Wack­row says. “To date, I think this lack of knowl­edge is hold­ing back cre­ative ex­e­cu­tions us­ing ad tech, but as agen­cies and mar­keters be­come more aware of what is pos­si­ble I see this chang­ing rapidly.”

And Wack­row goes on to say that the real ad­van­tage of ad tech doesn’t lie with mar­keters but rather with the cus­tomers re­ceiv­ing au­to­mated mes­sages.

“Ad tech will go to the next level when the in­dus­try stops think­ing about what it can do for them, and starts to truly think about what it could do for the con­sumer,” he says. “There is a lot of neg­a­tive talk about the data the likes of Google and Face­book are col­lect­ing, but ul­ti­mately I just see this as evolv­ing to in­di­vid­u­als hav­ing a per­son­alised web. Imag­ine a world where ev­ery ad you see online is tai­lored to your per­sonal tastes? Wouldn’t this be bet­ter than be­ing hit with ir­rel­e­vant ads?”

These per­son­alised ads still need to be cre­ated. And while Google Cre­ative Lab’s Tom Uglow has pre­vi­ously de­scribed cre­ation as “a very com­pli­cated pat­tern-recog­ni­tion al­go­rithm”, it will still take some time to crack, mean­ing that cre­atives will still be re­quired to de­velop the con­tent that’s dis­trib­uted through au­to­mated

chan­nels, de­spite the fact that Google can dream and ma­chines are al­ready writ­ing po­ems (see side­bar page 69).

In a re­cent blog post, DDB chief cre­ative of­fi­cer Damon Sta­ple­ton points out that tech­nol­ogy in it­self is not a so­lu­tion.

“There is a ten­dency to hold onto the l at­est tech­nol­ogy or sys­tem like it is some sort of panacea for all our ills,” he says. “This is some­thing that hap­pens in an un­cer­tain world. It is nat­u­ral to crave cer­tainty. Cer­tainty and cre­ativ­ity how­ever are not a great mix … When the world is shift­ing and chang­ing I think many be­lieve stor­ing up on knowl­edge and hav­ing a lot of in­for­ma­tion will be the so­lu­tion. It will give you an ex­act an­swer. The truth is that even great an­swers ul­ti­mately give you more new prob­lems to solve. And to­mor­row the an­swers will have changed again. That is why we need think­ing and cre­ativ­ity. These are the abil­i­ties that not only keep up with time but let us travel ahead of it. And time is not a sin­gle an­swer. It is an end­less story.”

Fur­ther to this, Swiss fu­tur­ist Gerd Leon­hard re­cently vis­ited the Spark of­fices in Auck­land and shared the pre­dic­tion that mass au­to­ma­tion within the next five to ten years would ab­ro­gate around 40 to 50 per­cent of all jobs cur­rently in ex­is­tence.

This, he says, would re­sult in ex­ist­ing jobs be­ing spread across the pop­u­la­tion more evenly, re­duc­ing the eight-hour work­day and giv­ing peo­ple more time to fo­cus on right-brained cre­ative ac­tiv­i­ties, like paint­ing, draw­ing, writ­ing po­etry and cre­at­ing ads for pro­gram­matic net­works (economist John May­nard Keynes be­lieved this would hap­pen too, but he se­verely un­der­es­ti­mated the com­pet­i­tive­ness of hu­man­ity). And while a touch far fetched, this pre­dic­tion might pro­vide at least a glim­mer of hope to cre­atives who cur­rently find their work­days stretch­ing a lit­tle fur­ther as they de­velop nu­mer­ous it­er­a­tions of the same ad, lest some­thing generic is served onto the tablet of a 26.7-year-old, stay-at-home fa­ther of triplets with a pen­chant for read­ing con­spir­acy the­ory web­sites on the dark web.


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