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Advertising Week Recap: Welcome To The Age Of Assistance — And Assistants

"Brands are disappointed and upset; they’re running out of patience and taking action and it showed at the event," says Retale's Nels Stromborg.

Advertising Week NY covered a great deal of ground last week, from Tencent’s expanded presence to the growth of Facebook Messenger as a marketing vehicle to the Weather Company’s heralding the Era of Cognition.

Retale Managing Director Nels Stromborg attended a number of events and meetings and here’s his takeaway.

Brands are taking action on transparency: Whether you’re a vendor, agency or seller, if you weren’t paying attention to the transparency debate, you are now. Brands are disappointed and upset; they’re running out of patience and taking action and it showed at the event. And to be honest, they have every right to be. The media supply chain has always been opaque. But in digital, it’s becoming more and more complicated, which has made the problem more pronounced. Spend has also exploded so advertisers want more accountability and a clearer view of ROI. The solution isn’t easy. Inventory sources need to address it by installing more third-party verification and opening up their data to partners. Agencies need to deliver on more transparent billing and measurement. While some progress is being made, there’s still a lot of work to be done.

 Alibaba versus Amazon: At Dmexco, Amazon was the belle of the ball. Their Amazon Services division had a big show. They used the event to tout their inventory, services and formats to advertisers (and retailers and CPG brands, in particular) – even if their current offerings are still very limited. I expect Amazon’s ad business to grow dramatically over the next year to support brand partners. But they were probably a bit jealous after seeing all of the attention Alibaba got at Advertising Week. GroupM announced a data partnership with them. Even Marc Pritchard spoke about their ability to disrupt the space. Their audience is almost entirely overseas, so their ad business doesn’t necessarily pose a threat to Amazon. But it’s fascinating to watch these massive e-commerce companies grow in influence among advertisers.

Google Americas’ President Allan Thygesen talks with Unilever USA CMO Keith Weed about Marketing in the Age of Assistants

The Age of Assistance: Get ready to see several hundred think pieces on “the age of assistance” over the next few weeks. Google’s Allan Thygesen used the phrase in a presentation with Unilever’s Keith Weed. It expertly captured a big technology shift in the market. It refers to the growing voice and chat bot movement in advertising. Consumers want more custom, personalized brand experiences. They like feeling like they’re the only one in the room – even if they’re online. For years, the best the industry could do was a well-targeted display ad. But bots have unlocked a more conversational and one-to-one campaign opportunity. That’s the potential brands see and love. They can deliver tailored, white glove service at scale through Facebook Messenger or your Amazon Echo. The AI needed to develop these tools has grown substantially better in the last three years, making it easier to meet the opportunity. The age of assistance is upon us and I think it’s here to stay.”

Leave content to the experts: The consensus on content during Advertising Week is that we are deep into a new golden age of “television.” This incredible programming is also increasingly being delivered free of advertising. What this dynamic does is make it almost irresistible for brands to stray from their core competency of product development and enter into the production business. During a panel hosted by FX, Joe Marchese, President of Fox’s Ad Products, relayed an interesting and recent exchange from a CPG. “They said, ‘We’re not in the paper towel business. We’re in the content business. We’re in the storytelling business.’ Which I look at and say, ‘Uh, I’m not sure you really want to do that, because you make paper towels!’ You hear (content) people talk about what it takes to break through, to make a story, make it timeless … [but] you need to sell paper towels tomorrow.” The point? Leave content to the experts – especially as the overall quality rises and the battle for attention becomes more competitive. Brands need to focus on what they do well.