Business Technology

AI sends a wake-up call to the advertising industry, embrace it or fail

8 min read

21 May 2019

Pre-digital age, when information about products were scarce, consumers learned about new goods and services from advertising. Today, everyone would agree that we have too much information. Is embracing AI the answer?

It’s no surprise that advertising has been having a tough time of late. Their messaging is getting lost or ignored among the noise and their lunch is being eaten from under their noses.

Advertising, the domain of the ad agency, is now also handled by PR agencies, design agencies, consultancies, tech companies, social media behemoths, influencer marketers and even directly by the brands themselves. 8 of the top 10 “ad agencies” are no longer traditional agencies.

As Michael Kassan, CEO of MediaLink, said in the book Frenemies, by Ken Auletta “It used to be Mad Men, then it became Media Men. Now it’s Math Men”.

What he means is there is now a mash-up. “The Mad Men, which was the creative agency and the Media Men, which was the media agency and the Math Men, which is the data and technology person, is now one person. And that’s what clients want.”

In other words, data is the way forward. And I agree

The creative industry has been scared of AI, believing it to be an inhibitor to creativite dominance and a flattener of their margins.

One of the advertising industry’s biggest fears is that tech is taking over and making creative decisions, to the detriment of creativity; Lexus creating an ad entirely scripted by AI caused consternation.

I have worked at the intersection of creativity and technology for decades and I mainly see AI as a positive. 18 years ago I built a photography business, image100.

By embracing a business model in a way that others had dared not to, I created a business that was the first of its kind.

I went on to sell that company to Corbis, a company then owned by Bill Gates. I also invested in TweetDeck. That sold to Twitter and Small Giant Games, which sold to Zynga. Both of whom broke boundaries building their businesses.

Why this is relevant is that I have a particular sweet spot for investing in companies where there is a confluence of creativity and AI technology. I’ve done it for 20 years. In particular, for businesses involved in creative content, music, fashion or marketing.

What I’ve learned is that if we don’t embrace change and new models, as companies, we die

Those that crave change least are always the incumbent winners. And in the advertising world, the traditional advertising and media agencies have been the out and out dominant players, with largely monopolist control of their marketplaces and as a consequence creative ideas.

Martin Sorrel said recently, “Data, Digital Content and Distribution are the three areas of growth”.

For the advertising industry to survive, it must embrace technology and AI, especially when it comes to finding and working with the best creative talent.

It is the creative talent which now has the power to get through the advertising noise to consumers, whatever the distribution platform.

Creativity is a business imperative

Great ideas are rarely produced by committees and almost never flourish under fluorescent lights of an office.

AI is allowing a number of upstarts to change the face of multiple industries, not least the one that has been hanging onto the glorious past the most – advertising.

In the battle for attention, in a world where 500 million tweets are sent per day; 300 hours of new video content is uploaded every minute to YouTube, and 85 million videos and photos are posted every day on Instagram; the rules are incredibly simple:

The best story wins, the rest is noise

Recently I became involved in a new venture called Curation Zone which uses sophisticated AI to do just this, help brands make the most compelling videos that win.

In a nutshell, its software uses machine learning, deep learning, neural network based systems and other AI technologies to analyse billions of bits of filmmaker data.

It crawls the web for information that relates to hundreds of thousands of filmmakers and their videos – from commercial experts, award winners and the undiscovered niche ‘influencers’ who have found a home on YouTube.

Say a travel brand wants to produce a branded entertainment video for digital distribution – ‘motorbike diaries’ for example, targeted at Millennials. That would require a certain type of filmmaker to lead that project and get it made to the highest level.

Our system builds, in real-time, a dynamic client brief

It analyses a field of over 1 million filmmakers and gradually narrows the field down based on different criteria, which gets inputted in each progressive stage of the search process, such as genre and style.

Eventually, it will suggest around 10 highly targeted and appropriate filmmakers /video influencers for the brand to choose from.

So we help brands make better content by matching them with the most appropriate creatives. Their scope won’t be limited by the agencies’ size of network.

Our system makes first degree connections with over a million filmmakers. Even the best agencies only have first degree associations with a maximum of 50 individuals.

Brands have been undersold to in what has been a cozy, largely boys network of advertising executives selling themselves and their close contacts at exorbitant prices, convincing the world that the creative juices only flow from their small network and that they have all the solutions.

– It’s no wonder they have been struggling.

The real challenge for brands is that they need to create experiences that are powerful, and to understand their customers’ quest for authenticity and brand values.

They will only be able to do this by shaking up their agencies, forcing them to embrace change and in particular technological change. By continuing to pay agencies large sums to do what they have been doing for years is allowing them to continue to Command and Control, it’s not a model that is going to work any more.