Why media agency execs are attending tech shows in greater numbers as AI disrupts their businesses

As Nvidia’s GPU Technology Conference (GTC) kicked off this week in San Jose, Calif., a few holding company agencies attended and spoke to get a sense of how much computing and artificial intelligence will grow in the next few years — and what that could mean for the advertising industry.

With AI’s rapid development recently headlining many trade shows and tech conferences like GTC and CES, agencies are increasing their presence on the ground not only to showcase their client projects but also to work more closely with tech providers, like Nvidia, to create proprietary software and AI tools.

As one of the two agencies agencies at GTC this year, this was Media.Monks’ first time at GTC (and Nvidia’s first in-person conference since the pandemic) and co-founder Wesley ter Haar said it will remain “definitely on the calendar moving forward.” In reflecting on Nvidia president Jensen Huang’s keynote on Monday, ter Haar said he believes next-gen computation and AI will advance faster than expected as graphics processing units get better.

“It’s fun to sort of think about what it means for us as a company,” ter Haar told Digiday. “I think [Huang’s] point is that everything that can either be automated or done by robots will be automated or done by robots.”

At GTC, Media.Monks will present two sessions: Tomorrow, the first focuses on AI workflows using Amazon Web Services and Nvidia’s development platform Omniverse Audio2Face. The other on Thursday will feature Lewis Smithingham, svp of innovation at the media agency, who will discuss its AI software for broadcast and fan highlights content. It’s a part of Media.Monks’ ongoing development of Monks.Flow, an AI-driven suite of tools for combining its automation processes and marketing activities.

Media.Monks has also been working on human-to-robot projects that range from animatronic robots to digital avatars in order to explore new AI applications and digital experiences. As Huang mentioned in his keynote address, robotics will get better as bigger GPUs, a circuit used for accelerating computer graphics and image processing, get made — and the industry will continue to see AI improve as the models get trained on connecting with the physical world, images, videos, languages and simulations.

“We need much, much bigger GPUs [to get best computational times and keep costs down],” Huang told the large audiences at the event on Monday. “We’re going to have AI working with AI together, training each other.”

Ter Haar agreed that this next wave of robotics and AI could lead what Huang called a new industrial revolution — Nvidia is trying to position itself as the “foundational company behind the foundational infrastructure. … [For] the industry at large, some of it will feel a bit esoteric. It’s clear that they’re positioning this as the next great Industrial Revolution.”

Larger and more heritage holding company WPP led a session on Monday in which CTO Stephan Pretorius focused on AI’s transformation of marketing using Nvidia’s Omniverse and enterprise AI tools. Pretorius pointed to other content with Lowe’s and L’Oréal that stood out in how brands are using the Nvidia platform to change customer service and branded content. For instance, L’Oreal Groupe is allowing marketers to use AI and augmented reality to driving creativity and efficiency in their consumer experiences and beauty content.

While agencies have always had a presence at marketing and tech trade shows, Pretorius said the excitement with generative AI is an opportunity to partner more closely with tech providers to build proprietary tools that set each holding company apart from the competition.

“We were maybe as a category or as an industry more focused on vendors or software vendors that created technology specifically for marketing and advertising, [like Adobe or Salesforce],” said Pretorius. “With trends of AI, agencies have realized that they need to partner with foundational technology providers, whether that’s infrastructure or software or foundational model providers.”

As the agency world continues to invest in AI, Pretorius said that creativity and research will become paramount as they experiment with the technology. For marketing and advertising, the competition will be around how to connect the end-to-end marketing content supply chain — from strategy and creative to production and measurement, he added.

“That will become the next battleground, as it were — because it relies on us not only being able to integrate functions that have been historically siloed, but it also requires us to build AI systems that actually can work across these functional domains and leverage data from each of them in order to inform the other,” Pretorius said.

Pretorius added that focusing on these applications and AI research will help differentiate WPP, which acquired AI research company Satalia in 2021. Agencies will have to go beyond plugging into open source applications and tools that everyone has access to, he explained.

“You have to be able to build new pipelines, train models — do advanced data science on guardrails and hallucinations and things like that,” he said. “It’s very specialized and you don’t need huge teams — but you need extremely specialized teams.”

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