It’s not Armageddon

It’s not Armageddon

Following the decision to leave the EU, forward visibility of ad spending remains sketchy – but it’s certainly not the end of the world, argues Bob Wootton. Plus: AI turns media planning and buying on its head.

I hope you had a good summer break, chasing the capricious British weather whilst being inspired by Team GB’s Olympic performance to add to Wimbledon and Grand Prix wins.

It was yet another reminder of the power of great content and presentation. The BBC deserves praise for the way it brought often untimely but exciting action into our homes so consistently – and relentlessly.

After Channel 4’s 2012 triumph, my hopes are high for its imminent coverage of the Paralympics despite the Rio hosts’ reported ‘cutbacks’.

Many have commented that they never watch swimming/dressage/athletics etc. but that the Olympics moved them to. And what a medal haul, topping even the home games of 2012 and reminding us that the world has not ended post-Brexit vote as we were told it would.

Not that Vote Leave was in any way blameless, but recent economic indicators suggest that we were sold – and many of us bought – a right old crock from Remain.

The chatterati and intelligentsia are as susceptible to group-think as anybody, if not more so. (I don’t know about you, but the anger and derision that filled my Facebook page for the two weeks after the surprise vote was totally unwelcome and caused me to switch right off).

A weaker pound is helping exports, fuelling tourism and associated spending and, along with fears for safety in many previously-desirable destinations, driving staycations.
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Unemployment is relatively low. And reported advertising demand remains pretty strong if still overly polarised towards fashionable digital channels which typically make sizeable profits from content generated by others.

Granted, forward visibility of ad spending remains sketchy, but it’s not Armageddon. And we’ve had clear, decisive Government succession, even if another key component of our democracy – an effective opposition – is still absolutely nowhere in sight.

A mug for a trend-spot

Being such a part of what’s happening, our industry loves a trend, and even better to spot one.

It’s hard to believe that telly was once new news and a trend to cling to, commercial radio too. Later, we had Media Neutral Planning, thought it didn’t really amount to much and got swept away by ‘commerce’. Remember Second Life? – a defunct trend much embraced by our industry and to be fair a few quick fortunes were made.

Virtual and augmented reality now vie for our attention. Several years old now, my favourite augmented experience was the Kew Gardens app. Pointing your early smartphone at a tree or plant, it would give you the low-down. Star Walk did the same for the night sky, but also hijacked limited device memory. Neither had mass appeal or could be called big money-spinners.

Along came Oculus Rift with attendant fanfare, but two years on it’s still a clunky headset largely confined to geeks and hardcore gamers. Google’s cardboard is charming but still a novelty (“how do they do that?”). The promising Google Glass seems to have gone very quiet. Apple Watch, anyone? Thought not.

Pokemon Go looked like a breakthrough but could already be a fading craze. (Though the lawsuits from those injured in their pursuit of the virtual beasties in a real world have only just begun).

Yet all that said, I’m as much of a mug for a trend-spot as anyone…

This time last year, I held forth about automation, programmatic and the difference between the two that some seem reluctant to acknowledge. I’m still surprised how long it’s taking to automate the process and transactional side of media but I’m sure it will come with increasing speed and vigour.

I’m indebted to Newsworks’ Liz Jacques, who kindly responded to my last column, first to correct the name – Publisher Advertising Transaction System – and then to comment that it has been in operation between major agencies and newsbrands since late 2015, with more buyers and sellers in prospect.

And I know certain friends and ex-colleagues are very busy with viable automation solutions for broadcast and out-of-home.

Hopefully the dividends of automation will be split between restoring agency margins transparently and investment in the upstream insight which can give them a tangible competitive advantage. In my experience, clients understand process and are open to things that could benefit them.

But thus far, most endeavours in this space are around intensive and reactive econometric modelling which struggles with attribution so this is where I see the most exciting trend – the harness of machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Naturally, the tech giants are heavily invested here, as are the big consulting firms like IBM, Deloitte et al. But that’s not all – another entrant is attracting serious attention. Conceived and launched in the Nordics by a team combining significant agency, media and tech experience, it expanded to Germany and then the US, and is on its way here.

Blackwood Seven is a tech-based company that subjects data to AI to deliver realtime, live comms planning and transparent media buying with unprecedented certainty of outcome. It’s proving very popular with advertiser clients for obvious reasons as they seek to justify and defend their expenditure to their employers.

It’s got some very serious customers already and is attracting interest from more as well as their representative bodies like WFA and ISBA.

Here, I should declare an interest. I’m in at the ground floor of this trend.

Bob Wootton is principal of Deconstruction and inter alia a director of and advisor to Blackwood Seven

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