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TBWA Data Director: Do Agencies Need To Be At Consumer Tech Events?

It's not just a day out of the office and it's not just about playing with the the latest virtual reality experience. For TBWA Worldwide's Baker Lambert, being there is about connecting devices and data.

With CES and NRF’s Big Show kicking off the year with large scale tech conference/exhibitions — and SxSW coming up — agency and marketing executives are already expressing the usual weariness: “Do I have to?”

Of course, it’s hard to feel sorry for anyone jetting off to Vegas or Austin for a few days, there is a need to offer some practical reason for attending. We caught up with Baker Lambert, TBWA Worldwide’s global data director, following his trip to CES earlier this month, about the value he — and ultimately, the Omnicom Group agency’s clients — gets out of being in the middle of the showroom floors.

GeoMarketing: Is it important for you as an ad agency executive to be at CES? Why or why not?

Baker Lambert: I’m the data guy, so I see everything through a data lens. If you like screens or drones or VR, then you were in heaven at CES.

One thing that surprises me about CES every year is actually how non-diverse the offerings tend to be. It always amazes me that you see what is essentially the same drone from one or two years ago. It’s just that everybody’s doing drones now. It’s the same thing with VR. Oculus blew people away a couple of years ago. Now everybody’s on top of VR.

Having said all that, the stuff that gets me most excited — and that I think is most useful to TBWA — is anything that had to do with the Internet of Things. A lot of people thinking of IoT at CES are just thinking of it as a new medium through which we can advertise.

I think that’s a short-sighted way to look at it. We have more screens demanding more time from viewers than ever before. It used to be you could only advertise to people when they were sitting and watching one of the three TV channels. Now, they are surrounded 24/7. Why would anyone think adding yet another medium would be helpful? There are so many more interesting ways to use the data.

Do you feel that IoT and VR are viewed as kind of gimmicky from an agency perspective? Is it a matter of not being actionable for clients right now?

To a guy who only has a hammer, every problem is a nail. Right now, VR is the hammer and so people will take the challenges as the nail. “Gimmicky” isn’t the right word. There will be some really cool things done and I think that there are creative executions where it will make a ton of sense.

For example, I could definitely see giving somebody the opportunity to virtually test drive a car at home instead of having to wait for somebody to go get the keys at a dealership.

Obviously, you’re never going to have the same experience as you’re going to have in the car, but it’s something that fills a gap that exists for people who just want to see what it would look like if I was sitting in the car looking around from their home or office on a whim.

There are good marketing opportunities to solve gaps for consumers. Having said that, yes, I foresee a deluge of creative or strategic executions around VR and drones that people will try just because they are VR and drones, not because they make sense for the brand.

How do you see the way these technologies change the opportunities and challenges for advertisers and agencies?

There are great ideas that nine out of 10 people on the agency side absolutely love. We know they would make an absolutely killer campaign and really make a difference.

Unfortunately, nine out of 10 of those ideas don’t get made for whatever reason. Either because of the expense, or clients don’t believe that you can actually pull it off. The biggest barrier is that normally clients just don’t recognize the value to it.

No one wants to be the guinea pig. No one wants to be the test subject when the stakes and the investment are so high.

Right. And that is the dumbest thing in the world, because marketing’s all about precedence and superlatives. That’s what gets attention, that’s what gets organic reach, and so that’s every reason you should be doing those things.

It goes back to the hammer and the nail analogy. You are often restricted to what clients will buy. And when you have just had a client whose bounced through CES and all they see is VR and drones and screens, you have to keep in mind the effect that can have on the marketing as well.

There are going to be a whole lot of technologies put to work in marketing and some of it will make sense — and a lot of it won’t.

How do you see the way data factors into the role of VR, IoT, drones, etc., in marketing?

As a data guy, what frustrates me is that any time people are talking about data and marketing, it boils down to one of three things. They’re either talking about targeting, or they’re talking about efficiency and ROI, or they are talking about audience segmentation.

In 90 percent of peoples’ minds, that is data. That’s what you do with data and marketing. What I am much more excited about, and what gets me out of bed in the morning, is the creative side of data.

What is the “creative side” of data?

Using data to unlock creative executions that have never been done before. Using data to turn our creatives into “bionic creatives” and empowering them. Sometimes, the data itself is becoming the creative content through the marketing.

That’s why IoT is a big deal in my mind because everybody else is thinking of it as an opportunity to reach people in a new place. It’s so frustrating that people think of it like that, when you could be doing really, really smart things using the data and information that you get from those devices to serve consumers. You could use data to have the marketing actually make a difference and make the product itself better.

I could give you a thousand examples. One example of something we’ve done in the past, and why IoT is I think a powerful thing, involves work we did with Twitter on their Moments feature.

Moments, at the beginning, had a little blue dot above it any time there was new content. The number one negative that people said about Moments was, “I hate that blue dot.” We took all of that marketing data and information and sent that back to the Twitter engineers so that was the top priority.

That one change, which they could make in one hour of engineering, absolutely flipped Moments on its head in terms of uptake rate and conversions.

Another great example was with Reddit, which we’ve collaborated with before. We showed them how we were using their platform. We kind hacked their platform to turn Reddit into, basically, I don’t want to say the word focus groups because I hate focus groups, but an area for A/B testing.

For example, we are dark posting or using throwaway accounts to test client content that we are considering for some of the broader social channels and traditional advertising. We’re first putting them up on Reddit among client category enthusiasts and seeing how it performs. We’re content testing that way and we’re kind of hacking their platform to get the data around what creative content is the best and then scale it and adjust it to make it a part of a larger campaign.

We are helping Reddit build a tool for advertisers that allows them to see all the behind the scenes data on their platform and how many actual likes, how much time, and how many unique people were engaged. They can create a product out of that.

The work with Reddit represented a data creative execution that could not be done before, because we are now unlocking new creative executions with the data.

A scenic view of Lake Mead, Nevada.

And now for our bonus question: did you have a favorite location in Vegas during the week of CES?

I come from a small town in southern Utah. Actually, it’s 90 minutes north of Vegas. So big cities aren’t my thing.

My favorite location at CES was going out to Lake Mead where nobody was, and nobody knew it existed — but it’s only a 20-minute drive from downtown Las Vegas. I just went out on a boat and goofed off with some friends. That was my favorite place during CES.