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Advertising Agency Creatives Fiddle While Rome Burns

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The Absolute Minimum You Need to Know Right Now About AI and IoT

I was swapping stories with the head of marketing for the cloud or mobile, or something like that, in a green room at Microsoft Studios. Having just finished an hour-long interview with him for a promotional video, I knew he wasn’t a violent man. However, I considered my words very carefully as we walked away.

He asked in a slight drawl, “Since you have kin in Alabama, I got one question for you: Alabama or Auburn?” Now, earlier that very week, a family in Alabama went to war over allegiance to the wrong university, and one of them got shot. I paused, and then proudly said, “Roll Tide.”

He clapped his hands and showed me his palms, saying, “That’s it! I’m done with you.” Walking away, he added, “I’m glad we did this after the interview.” He was kidding, of course… I’m pretty sure.

Information isn’t inherently valuable. Having the right information at the right moment is what makes it valuable. That’s why right now, having a basic understanding of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) is so important for creatives. Because as the two disciplines meld into the most powerful advertising force since television winked to life, you need to know how it’s going to affect the world of creative. Oh, and it will.

This is Just the Beginning

You think programmatic advertising upended everything? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Allow me to bottom-line the bare minimum you’ll need to know. It’s going to change how you work, what you do and how you do it. You know… everything.

I know what you’re thinking: That’s math. I don’t do data. I’m a creative. Well, this is coming from someone who’s worked in creative my entire career. Sorry, but if you plan on being relevant for long, it’s time to hike up your big-boy/big-girl pants. And here’s why.

We’re quickly heading into a paradigm where tiny sensors in our phones, homes, cars, workplace and the rest of world are going to be wired together in small networks. And don’t even start me on all the cameras and microphones going up that not only see and hear, but understand the images and audio. Goldman Sachs predicts almost 30 billion things connected by 2020, leading to a $2 trillion industry. That’s way more information than any person can handle. But not AI. And that’s where it gets interesting.

We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat

It’s referred to as Flow Advertising. Here’s why you should care.

We’ll soon be able to target behavior rather than demographics. In the blink of an eye, an algorithm will serve an ad to a phone or nearby screen based on a thousand different factors. As content becomes indexed around people’s behavior rather than keywords, I think you can see the challenge and the opportunity. Sharpen your pencils, creative team. We’re gonna need a lot more creative.

Flow Advertising Scenarios

Based on Ethan’s previous history, he makes up his mind quickly when it comes to purchasing electronics. If it’s cool, if it’s the hot new toy, he’s all in. He’s an impulse buyer. He doesn’t want to be wined and dined. When Ethan takes an action that indicates interest, the AI system immediately sends him an incentive or offer.

Chloe takes the same action, but she only buys after a long courtship, so the AI system initiates a broad awareness campaign. The first step might be relevant information sponsored by the brand, like a status update on other electronics she owns.

It might take months before Chloe gets an incentive or offer. The brand will nudge her along at regular intervals, based on her past engagement. But now she’s in the marketing funnel. Each piece of content she’s served moves her through the customer journey.

How It’s Going to Change Creative

And that’s why we’re still gonna need ads that do the following:

  • Generate broad awareness

  • Provide social proof

  • Demonstrate benefits

  • Make people consider brand X over brand Y

  • Close the sale with compelling offers

You know, advertising for every point in the customer journey, like today. Only here’s how it’s going to be different.

These aren’t going to be case studies or bullet points of brand chest-thumping. They’ll need to be relevant experiences, contextual information or delightful entertainment. An entire generation has learned to block, skip or ignore remedial advertising that isn’t worth their attention. As we learn to heel and simply give consumers what they want, influence at the moment of decision, or just-in-time marketing will have a significant impact on buying decisions. Are you up for the challenge? Good, because here’s the problem.

Heed Unemployed Video Producers

The need for a lot more marketing videos didn’t make video production companies wealthy. In fact, it ran a lot of them out of business. They were asked to do more with smaller budgets. Video production moved in-house, or got outsourced, crowdsourced or shipped overseas. Because an algorithm needs a lot more creative doesn’t mean clients are going to pay the freight for more creative. Ensure you don’t get double-flushed down the same pipe as video production companies.

Creatives are going to be infinitely more valuable if they can create more than a broad awareness campaign. They’ll need to become full-stack creatives. Become a master of influencing at every point in the customer journey. If there’s only one point you walk away with, it should be that.

It’s Only a Matter of Time

Samsung is aggressively moving to connect and sync their constellation of products. General Electric is developing the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). IBM is connecting the workplace. And IBM Watson is connecting everything else.

  • Storage is becoming less expensive

  • Data processing is getting faster

  • Wi-Fi coverage is ubiquitous

  • Sensors are getting smaller and cheaper

  • Big-data analytics are improving

You’re fooling yourself if you think advertising isn’t going to change. Bleeding-edge technology is already reading people’s minds to determine intentions. AI platforms like Albert are already executing and optimizing digital marketing campaigns that used to be handled by those data-science nerds you hate talking to.

The robots aren’t going to take your job. They’re going to need so much more great advertising that it’s going to change the way everyone thinks about creative.


Mike Johnston is a production executive and advertising creative in Seattle. He is available for freelance consulting, writing and directing. Contact Mike

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