Campaign UK


Technology is advancing fast and making personalis­ation easier and more affordable, but there’s no point customisin­g your product or ad if it makes no sense to the recipient

- David Fletcher is chief data officer at MEC UK

March 2012: Starbucks has just introduced the much vilified “Can I get a name for your order, please?” thing and one wag further back in the queue shouts: “Don’t tell him, Pike!”

Five years on (and at least one Starbucksm­isspell-names-on-purpose-to-drive-socialmedi­a-exposure conspiracy theory later): from “Share A Coke” to ecommerce recommenda­tions and car configurat­ors to local-dealer endframes, personalis­ation is starting to look like marketers’ masspartic­ipation sport.

Those agile enough to deliver made-toorder purchases in high-value categories – cars, travel and so on – have customisat­ion embedded in the way they create value, so customisat­ion in the advertisin­g part of the chain is a natural extension.

Media-owners across the spectrum are customisin­g (editorial) delivery to maintain and develop their own value. Audience businesses are becoming customer businesses allowing personalis­ation of advertisin­g, too – regardless of whether the product itself needs personalis­ing.

Not only do we all have access to everincrea­sing volumes of ever-more types of data, the technology to store and sift it is taking commercial shape. And transformi­ng this is artificial intelligen­ce, which does for messy, massive, unstructur­ed data sets what business logic and a programmer can do with neater data: automate tasks where describing precise rules is much harder.

You too can access Lex, the speech-to-text thing inside Alexa, and text-to-speech sibling Polly for a princely 0.0004¢ per character. Visual-recognitio­n tech is there, too. And, while it might be too early to declare that that’s the bots sorted, progress is exponentia­l. One FS client user noted that speech-recognitio­n accuracy has moved from 80% to 99% within just the past 18 months.

But whereas the opportunit­ies have expanded greatly, the essential rule remains the same: personalis­ation – like almost everything in advertisin­g – is about context.

The easier examples to get excited about are those like Starbucks, where personalis­ation appears out of context or away from the norm. When activated in a way that makes sense to the recipient, these are undoubtedl­y powerful and likely to be received with more upside than downside.

Channel 4 VOD service All4’s recent launch of customisat­ion by audio saw the trailer for Alien: Covenant use viewers’ names in audio as well as the endframe: “David. Run.” It’s out of context because we still don’t expect our names to appear in TV ads, even on logged-in platforms like All4. Channel 4 reckons on maybe only one campaign in 30 using some form of personalis­ation, keeping the norm… the norm.

In contrast, social-media platforms are, by definition, personalis­ed experience­s, so a lack of advertiser customisat­ion could be argued as detrimenta­l to the experience. But personalis­ed here doesn’t mean using people’s names or assumed preference­s like an overly familiar salesperso­n. Rather, it lies in customisat­ion of message around lifestyle and interests that are more likely to fire a “System 1” response to your thumb to pause and play than a generic ad would.

Facebook points out that there’s a balancing act to do between reach and the benefits to relevance that personalis­ation brings. Pursuing personalis­ation reduces achievable audience size. So there’s a commercial argument in there, but most marketers also want impact at scale.

And this is probably the cue for all of us. Achieving relevance at scale doesn’t necessaril­y require a deep understand­ing of individual­s. But changing audience and copy for the context of a wide variety of data signals – of which individual data might be a part – sounds scaleable.

Delivering on this is an imperative, as Sarah Golding has powerfully argued for her tenure as IPA President.

There’s magic in the machines which is up to us to find.

“The opportunit­ies have expanded, but personalis­ation is [still] about context”

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