March 31, 2017

AI and the end of advertising

A few months ago, I embarked on a mammoth task of writing a series of six science fiction short stories about artificial intelligence (using the name Christopher Hart to avoid ruining my professional reputation or confusing readers of my non-fiction book The UX of ME). In Brandjack, the third in the series, I tackle a subject closer to home. It’s all about advertising and imagines how AI could end up replacing just about everyone in the agency world – even the creative team.

During my research for the story, I read a lot of interesting articles which give a glimpse of where things are headed. Jason Jercinovic, global head of marketing innovation and global brand director at Havas, is a regular speaker at industry events who talks about the power of Cognitive Intelligence, which he describes as “an output of using cognitive services and technology to understand more insights at an individual or personal level”. In this article in AdAge, he says “There’s a mistaken belief that C.I.’s greatest value to advertising and marketing will be in bringing just efficiency to data and analytics. Traditional CRM or customer insights offer a limited understanding of the customer as a real individual. Cognitive insights demonstrate remarkable value to brand and consumers, as the marketing output is customized to the individual rather than as a member of a persona group or cohort.”

In Brandjack, a fictional company called Cognitising is not only able to predict what each customer will respond to but also uses AI to generate the creative work itself. It’s not so far fetched. Just last year, McCann Group Worldwide launched a competition to see if AI could beat a human creative director in developing a TVC. People were asked to vote which they liked without knowing which one was generated by artificial intelligence. The human won by a very small margin. Below is the AI-generated spot. Read the full story here.

Should agencies be scared? Is it time for creatives to start looking at alternative careers such as writing short scifi stories? If you listen to what companies like Coco-Cola are saying then you might have cause to be worried. In this Adweek article, Mariano Bosaz – the brand’s global senior digital director, says that his long-term vision would see AI being used by his team for everything from creating music for ads, writing scripts, posting a spot on social media and buying media.

Bots are the first signs of automation of the consumer-facing brand voice. Programmatic advertising is already playing a major role on the back-end of things. Will Coca-Cola bypass agencies completely 5 years from now?

This interesting article on CNBC covers a lot of ground, showing what’s happening in the advertising industry when it comes to artificial intelligence. Alan Schulman, managing director of brand and creative content marketing for Deloitte Digital, brings up a good point about the human equation. Marketing is about speaking to real people so can AI truly understand how to deliver an emotional message? To quote Schulman, “The promise of what AI will be able to do is to start to knock on the door with emotional words or knock on the door of what will lead to emotional decisions. But at the end of the day, conception or ideation is a human thing. Advertising is such an emotion-based industry. Algorithms don’t feel. People feel.”

Will advertising become “cognitising”? Will Cognitive Intelligence replace human art directors or copywriters? Anything is possible. So just in case, I already registered cognitising.com as my plan B 🙂 It’s yours for $1 million.

If you’re interested in my take on how AI might change advertising, my latest short story Brandjack is free to download from 31 March to 2 April (California time) for Amazon Kindle and Apple iBooks. This, and the other short stories (AI-themed science fiction with a twist of humour) are part of a series called OUTMODE. Links to Brandjack can be found on the official Facebook shop. A total of six stories will be published by July. Enjoy (even if it’s a little unsettling)…

 

May 23, 2016

Sharpen your pencils

pencils

Imagine if the Oscars and the Golden Globes had almost the same trophy, a bald nude muscled man standing on a plinth holding a sword. Like Jason Stratham in a homo-erotic King Arthur movie. Wouldn’t it be confusing? Well in the past week both the One Show and D&AD handed out pencil trophies to the advertising and design industry. Which pencil is more coveted than the other? Is one sharper than the other in terms of reputation? Let’s have a duel to the death as I take a look at what these two award  festivals recognised as some of the best work.

 

Round 1 – It’s a virtual world

Virtual reality is the buzzword of the moment. Until recently everyone talked about “transmedia storytelling” until the word trans came to mean something quite different. So what did the these rival pencil select from all the innovative VR submissions this year?

Y&R New Zealand picked up a Wood Pencil from D&AD in the Branding/Brand Experience & Environments category. But it’s not VR as we know it. With a real twist, customers thought they were in a driving simulator, only to find out they were experiencing the real deal.

In the One Show corner we have a different approach with this Gold Pencil winner in the mobile category. VR doesn’t have always mean wearing an anti-social headset. McCann Paris developed a mobile app for L’Oreal which let’s anyone apply makeup virtually. D&AD just gave this one a Graphite pencil 🙁

Round 1 winner – Hard to compare such different uses of virtual reality from two very different categories but I would go for One Show’s choice with the Make Up genius. A more useful and smart way to use VR that drives buzz and sales.

 

Round 2 – Advertising isn’t dead

Yes, there is so much talk about how traditional advertising is dying because everyone is too busy watching cat videos on their mobile phones. But even if the TVC doesn’t have the same power it once had when the whole family would sit around the goggle box for hours each evening, there is still nothing quite as brilliant as a highly-creative, well-crafted piece of film. Both One Show and D&AD celebrate this art and each has given pencils to what they think is the very best of the bunch.

adam&eveDDB continue to produce outstanding work for Harvey Nichols and this film using CCTV footage of real shoplifters continues that tradition. D&AD gave out a coveted Yellow pencil for this. One Show gave it gold but it seems just that bit harder to get the Yellow pencil.

As for One Show, my pick of the gold winners has to be this spot for Old Spice. They continue putting a splash of humour on everything and “Rocket Car” from Wieden+Kennedy is a worthy successor of the previous (legendary) Old Spice films.

Round 2 winner – I have to hand it to D&AD for choosing a worthy winner.

 

Round 3 – Let’s make a change

It’s still the hottest trend in award shows, brands trying to do good by showing the world how they should live, think, feel, act etc. Maybe I’m being a little cynical but we do live in a hyper politically correct world these days. Brands have to walk the talk or be slammed for not doing the right thing. So what stood out in these two rival award shows?

One Show gave a Best in Show Award to a brand that said no to consumerism. You might have seen videos of shoppers on America’s Black Friday fighting in the aisles for discounted biscuits. Outdoor retailer REI decided to live by its beliefs and close their stores on that day and encourage people to go outside instead. D&AD only gave a Wood pencil for this project – that’s harsh.

But there was one project that ruled both pencils…

It’s Y&R New Zealand that strike again with a winner that was recognised by both sides of the pencil war. It’s only fair to make peace and declare round two a draw as both the One Show and D&AD gave out lots of pencils for the McWhopper Peace Day project. Even if McDonald’s didn’t accept to pool their resources (and ingredients), the public took it upon themselves to unilaterally unite the Big Mac and the Whopper.

Round 3 (and overall) winner – In the spirit of peace we’ll bring the pencil war to a close, bringing these rival award shows together and declaring the final winner One&AD.

September 19, 2011

Welcome to Spikes Asia

I haven’t been to Singapore in over 10 years. What a difference a decade makes. It’s become like physical manifestation of the internet. Overblown, full of ways to spend money and geared for entertainment. Spikes Asia 2011, like every other advertising festival today, has digital on the brain. Every speaker and panelist says that the industry has dramatically changed. So how come the work submitted in the digital category was not hung on the wall with the other categories? Some things never change.

The first seminar off the block was brought to us by Coca Cola and crowdsourcing platform eYeka. The title – Is tomorrow’s agency the consumer? With panelists from both Coke and eYeka along with agency folk from Draft FCB and BBH plus someone from Diageo there was a lot of debate. The featured project involved co-creation with the public for a Coke competition called “Energizing Refreshment”. Some amazing figures were mentioned such as the 1.6 million submissions within China when Coke launched a previos crowdsourced campaign. The challenge was to sift through all of that to find the “diamonds in the shit” as one panelist put it. Would agencies become curators rather than being the sole producers of the creative ideas? The panelist from eYeka suggested that crowdsourcing accelerates innovation for brands. Co-creation questions the role of agency. The public now competes with agency creative departments. There are “millions of talented people out there” so why restrict yourself to an agency? Clients like Coke are looking for creative collectives rather than agencies where you might mix up “teenagers with professionals” as one speaker suggested. It was pointed out that the most popular Superbowl ad in 2011 was a $500 film created by a member of the public. It had “authenticity and simplicity”. Co-creation is “not about changing advertising – it’s about creating an environment where public gets involved with the brand”. One panelist said that the role of agencies needs to change for co-creation – but can they? Many agencies “missed the boat with the internet revolution and are still trying to catch up”. During question time I pointed out that the best work submitted in crowdsourced projects was most likely submitted by moonlighting agency creatives rather than the public. The speaker from eYeka admitted that a number of participants are from agencies but over 60% are non-professionals from the general public. Then they showed the winning entry for the “Energized Refreshment” competition… who just happens to be a motion graphics designer based in Brighton UK. Say no more.

Another interesting seminar was hosted by Yahoo and covered emerging markets such as Vietnam, Philippines and Indonesia where 6 out of 10 people that access the internet do so via mobile phones. There was a lot of discussion about the internet not being the same there than in other countries – especially the west. We should not try to impose a western way of thinking on these new markets. We need to bring “5000 years of experience and knowledge” to whatever we do with digital.

There followed an inspiring presentation from JWT about breeding creativity with cultural diversity. Shame all their links to sound and video failed as it was a thoughtful and well put together seminar. They began by showing how Picasso did not find his path until he saw an exhibition of African art while the architect Frank Lloyd Wright was highly influenced by Japanese design. Special guest Gilles Peterson is a DJ that has spent his career exploring the cultural exchanges that can make music so diverse. In his words, to be “truly creative you need to get out of your comfort zone”.
Havana Cultura: Remixed // Gilles Peterson Bonus DJ Mix by gillespeterson

Matias Palm-Jensen, formerly of FarFar but now chief innovation officer at McCann, presented his pinball approach to advertising. The old way was more like bowling where you sent your ball down the alley hoping it will knock down as many pins as possible – then you turn your back and walk away. Now things are a lot more dynamic with assets, stories, formats, vehicles, destinations, conversations that then create more assets… and the ball keeps moving. Today every creative idea “needs a digital/social platform”. Fascinating guy with a big job ahead of him at McCann.

This post is getting a bit long so I’ll follow up with a second one featuring Microsoft Advertising, TBWA and Joel Cohen – one of the writers for the Simpsons who showed everyone how to make an entertaining presentation.

September 25, 2010

Should advertising be abolished?

So here we are, the final chapter of David Ogilvy’s book “Confessions of an Advertising Man”. The book that inspired this blog finishes with this dramatic question – Should advertising be abolished? Ogilvy quotes Churchill who said “Advertising nourishes the consuming power of men. It sets up before a man the goal of a better home, better clothing, better food for himself and his family”. A rather patronising view but spot on in a post-war era when the economy needed to grow. Yet at the time of writing the book (the early 60s) the debate was raging about the value of advertising.

Fast forward forty years and in the digital world we now live in the debate continues… but today the backlash against advertising comes from consumers who now have personal control to ban advertising themselves. From ad skipping Tivo to pop-up blockers through to spam filters – people have multiple ways to avoid being advertised to. Now we are facing a situation where our audience is no longer captive but rather it is brands that are held hostage by consumers who demand more than being told that they should buy a product to have a better life. Marketers are now forced to find new ways to reach the people who potentially could buy the product. When any negative experiences with a product can be posted online brands are being held accountable more than ever before.

Interestingly David Ogilvy showed in his book how advertising has always been a force for sustaining standards of quality and service. When his agency started advertising KLM Royal Dutch Airlines as “punctual” and “reliable”, their top management told their staff that they had to live up to the promise of their advertising. Today we see campaigns like the Domino Pizza Turnaround that allow consumers a window into their operations and shout their new values from the computer screen. Power to the people.

Ogilvy believed that TV was the most potent advertising medium ever devised but he would pay for the privilege of watching it without “commercial interruptions”. Times have changed but they stay the same. Online people enjoy free media with online news and entertainment content but hate animated ads that cover the page they are looking at. No doubt David Ogilvy would have loved Tivo allowing him to skip all the ads. Online advertisers have learned quickly that consumers will ignore their messages so have developed more engaging ways to attract attention. Branded content rewards people for their time. iAds promise to deliver a richer experience. Advergames entertain you hoping that next time you want to buy a bag of chips that you’ll choose their brand. When you want to launch a new movie a trailer just isn’t enough any more. You need to draw people into the world of the movie through transmedia “experiences”  like the multi-screen campaign that was executed for the Avatar movie across Xbox and MSN.

Ogilvy finishes by saying that advertising should not be abolished (of course) but it must be reformed. No doubt he’d be alarmed and fascinated by the digital world of today where reform is being enforced by consumer behavior. Truth and lies about brands and products are revealed by the verbal few and received by the masses on social networks, blogs and Twitter. Ultimately commerce needs communication. Brands need fans that act rather than just “like” (as pointed out in this article by Simon Mainwaring). Digital spells the end of advertising as we know it. Ads that talk at you are definitely banned. Campaigns that connect with customers in a meaningful way, that bring people together with a common brand affiliation and ultimately result in sales… that’s the kind of advertising that rings in a new way of thinking.

So I come to the end of Ogilvy’s book and as I close it I’m also on the verge of a new chapter myself. At the end of October I leave Ogilvy to take up an exciting new challenge in China where I hope to continue the digital adventure in a market where online and mobile brand communication is still relatively new. I’ll be posting my future confessions of a digital adman from a totally different perspective. It’s going to be a blast.

April 4, 2009

First confession

David Ogilvy was a true pioneer in the advertising business. He came from a research background which gave him a unique perspective on how people think – using the power of direct marketing to grow brands and get real results. If he were still around today I’m sure he’d be first in line to use digital media to reach people in totally new (and personal) ways. For many years I admired the Ogilvy network having first crossed paths in 1996 when I was working at possibly the first internet agency in Hong Kong – The Web Connection. I said to myself that one day I would like to work for them. I even bought a red digital clock at Habitat that I thought would look good on my future desk. Now I work for Ogilvy and after all these years working in the digital space thought it was a good time to write about my experiences… past and present. In hommage to Mr Ogilvy and his original Confessions of an Advertising Man I am starting my own version. Digital of course.