Brian d’Alessandro – Advertising 2020

Brian d’Alessandro, VP Data Science, Media6Degrees

I am a technologist and a scientist by training, so I can easily imagine an advertising system where machines run the show, and the only role for humans would be to watch their bank accounts grow from satellite enabled lap tops on remote Carribean islands. By 2020, I might have even built such a system (it’s 2012 and I think I’m close).  While appealing to the intellectual in me and satisfactory to my appreciation of efficiency, a mechanistic advertising world, devoid of human touch, is pretty far from my sense of ideal. Technology and efficiency will be forever a part of advertising, and rightfully so, but people should always be the focal point of every advertising strategy and system. And by “people”, I don’t mean the strategist and/or creative department, I mean the consumer. In 2020, I hope that every advertising initiative, independent of platform or channel, should be designed and delivered with the user experience in mind.

To elaborate on this point, let’s quickly review the state of things today. We don’t have pop-ups anymore (thankfully), but we still have loud commercials, full screen takeovers, disturbingly persistent (and creepy) retargeting, and mobile ads that manage to trick my fat thumbs into clicking on them. There is no doubt that advertisers are embracing the latest technologies in delivery, targeting and measurement, but it mostly feels like this is all for their own ROI benefit, and not exactly for creating a better experience for the consumer. The end user deserves to be first.  They live and consume in a world of compromise. They (often unwittingly) share their interests, habits and lives with us (the advertising community) so that WE can deliver more effective campaigns at a lower expense. What is in it for them (yes, free content, but that debate isn’t exactly winning the public over)? The answer should be ‘a better experience.’

But who is responsible for the user experience? Advertisers, or in general, the demand side, might want an amazing user experience, but other than supplying a creative, what control do they have? The supply side (platforms, television, publishers etc) arguably have the most control over this side of the equation. While this might be the case, both sides have the power to change the way advertising reaches and interacts with the end user, and through various means, technology can be the driving force.

The creative elements of advertising are not my specialty, but I can imagine ad experiences that bring information and entertainment, and not just calls-to-action, to the end users. Social platforms like Facebook and Twitter are already blurring the line between friend vs. customer and content vs. sales message. Interactive TV might be able let users choose their commercials (ironically, I have to admit that data mining will never be as effective as letting users reveal preferences themselves), or choose one long sponsored ad over shorter ads that break up their viewing experience. And for digital, where too many web sites show so many ads that you can’t even find the content, the demand side can have an amazing influence over how publishers create their pages. Better measurement (and we are getting there) might prove to publishers that better layouts with fewer ads may actually be economically in their best interest. The demand side rewards efficacy and better user experiences will likely be more effective.

So how do we realize this brave new world where the user experience is weighted as equally in priority as the economics of the campaign? Well, it all reduces economics eventually, but the key is demonstrating that happy end users lead ultimately to more active consumers. The research community can certainly tailor studies and experiments with this hypothesis in mind. Advertisers can start demanding that suppliers take better care of the end user. And suppliers could be willing to invest in technology and create new moulds for the advertising experience. As a grad student, I studied the mathematics of dynamic ecosystems. A common result was that the more aligned the objectives of the various components of the system were, the healthier the system. In 2020, the best advertising system will be one where the incentives of the demand and supply sides are aligned with those of the consumer.  People like to have a good time – the ad ecosystem should offer that.