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Media Buying Briefing: Artificial intelligence ‘is gonna ruin the world… and then we adapt’

identity crisis

Marketers and agencies love to throw around “artificial intelligence” and “machine learning” when talking about raising the bar of effectiveness to new heights, but too often that talk feels like more hype than actuality. That may be starting to change, as AI and its variants find their place in the buy-sell-market equation to run multiple tasks in a blink, unearth insights in troves of data, and even get involved in creative and the placement of advertising.

Starting with the creative process, AI has the potential to get used in the creation of “derivatives” of an original creative concept, explained Rob Fan, CTO of omnichannel ad exchange Sharethrough. As he told it, a human creative will for the foreseeable future craft an original concept for content or advertising, but AI can quickly and effectively make innumerable spinoffs of that concept.

“AI will pull away some of the reliance on creative agencies,” said Fan. Once an agency creative department crafts an original concept, “they’re used for all these minor tweaks in copy, images and other things. [Instead], AI can create very meaningful derivatives, alterations that make perfect sense. And may in fact take into account other factors to ensure it’s a compelling headline or image that’s automatically selected.”

Fan pointed to AI-driven technology such as GPT-3 (generative pre-trained transformer 3, which is an autoregressive language model that uses deep learning to produce human-like text) as key to such advancements. With GPT-3, “you can get it to respond the way you want it to. It’s almost creepy how you can have AI talk to you like a human does,” he added.

AI tech has found its most comfortable and useful place in media on the data and analytics side. (Fan actually described what he dubbed “the media industrial complex” as generally resistant to trying out AI solutions in buying and planning.) Crossmedia’s managing partner Lee Beale said the agency’s data unit, Redbox, makes use of machine learning models for attribution measurement and predictive modeling. These techniques are applied to large data sets like log level data from universal ID graphs, as well as clients’ first-party data for modeling lifetime value multipliers or churn risk.

“These models run daily and, like AI promises, get smarter (more predictive) with increasing observations of events,” said Beale in an email.

Redbox also delves into optimizing creative use and execution as well “to tease apart the elements [that] drive results,” added Beale. “This involves the use of multiple AI platforms which discern physical and emotional components of static and video creative, breaking them down into a myriad of component part probability scores, which are then modeled against business outcomes.”

Third-party AI firms also help agencies uncover new insights for their clients. AI firm Helixa offers a SaaS product (used by a number of agencies including VaynerMedia, Rauxa and VMLY&R, as well as marketers and media companies it declined to identify) that sits between traditional research companies and social listening tools, but identifies actual behavior rather than through panels and surveys, to find complex patterns and connections.

A recent effort with VaynerMedia for a beverage client seeking to launch an energy drink uncovered a cohort — active adults 50-plus — largely overlooked by competitors in the segment, who tend to go after teenage gamers, said vp of marketing Laia Pescetto.

For another consumer packaged goods client looking to launch a baked product, Helixa steered the client away from healthy, vegan-leaning campaign toward an influencer-driven, donut-loving, design-friendly effort, said Christine Burke, Helixa’s vp of growth. “We enabled them with the data to show this is a viable option for growth,” she said.

Delving into this terrain does come at some expense, and it’s not for everyone. It “requires significant investment in time, specialist technology and people,” said Beale. “Organizations have to be clear what the incremental benefits (ROI) are to them of being able to work with large data sets for business outcome applications (within the world of media buying and analytics). Ultimately, clients have to be able to understand the benefits they are gaining from more advanced ‘AI’ solutions. That takes the right kind of client that values finding both waste and opportunity in their raw data.”

Still, the future is coming, and fast. Better to experiment now and have a body of knowledge than to be left in the dust, argued Fan. “I look at the history of tech, and any time a new one comes out, the world says, ‘Oh this tech’s gonna ruin the world!’  … and then we adapt.”

Color by numbers

Are younger generations ditching credit cards and opting for newer forms of payment for their purchases? According to a survey of more than 1,000 consumers between June 25-July 1 funded by GoCardless (which has a vested interest in the results it found), 63% of Americans say they are less likely to use credit cards for purchases now than before the pandemic. Among Gen Z and Millennials, the number is significantly higher: 76% among 18-24-year-olds and 74% among 25-40-year-olds. The survey also found that 77% are more likely to use their debit card than a credit card for purchases. Finally, 87% of Gen Z and Millennials say they would prefer to use no-interest installment payment providers (as in Klarna or Affirm) over credit cards.

Takeoff & landing

  • WPP-owned digital and data agency Syzygy promoted director of media Matt Brown to managing director of U.S. and commercial director of U.K.
  • Independent agency Exverus will handle media duties for Jovē Wellness’ launch campaign for its premium alkaline water, Jovē. 
  • Industry buying veteran Kris Magel, most recently president of media clients for Dentsu international, joined video analytics firm Samba TV as vp, head of agency development.

Direct quote

“This is the era of artificial intelligence, and anything that can be automated will be. Machines will certainly be better at memorizing things and spitting back formulas and facts. We’ve been trained on rote memorization and standardized testing. That whole ’20th century’ approach is not going to be sufficient, especially for the skills that kids are going to need to thrive in the 21st century.”

Steven Wolfe Pereira, founder of education tech company Encantos, explaining what’s needed to prepare kids for the workforce of the future.

Speed reading

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