The most thought-provoking ideas from Advertising Week Europe so far

Our pick of the highlights from a very lively first day

March 21, 2017

advertising week europe 2017

It was a whirlwind of a day down at Picturehouse Central, as Advertising Week Europe 2017 exploded into life. Data and AI competed with self-confidence, diversity and mental wellbeing to draw delegates’ attention. The conversation between Google’s Matt Brittin and Unilever’s Keith Weed ensured the day made the front pages of mainstream news sites. And in between it all, there was time for some seriously toe-curling tales about flying maggots.

The LinkedIn Marketing Solutions team was there diving from session to session, braving the queues and then channel-hopping like crazy in the overflow screening room to find the ideas and insights most worth sharing with B2B marketers. Here are the most thought-provoking ideas we heard on Day One:

Digital advertisers can’t take quality for granted

Brand safety was top of the agenda when Unilever’s CMO Keith Weed sat down with Google’s Matt Brittin for the morning session on Building Brands in an Attention Economy. The brand-building issue that journalists from the BBC, CNN, The Daily Mail and The Times most wanted to hear about was how Google would stop YouTube ads appearing alongside extremist content – which has dominated headlines in the last week. Matt Brittin apologised to advertisers and promised to accelerate Google’s review of its policies defining hate speech and inflammatory content, its controls for advertisers, and its approach to enforcement.

That ensured the session made headlines beyond the marketing trade press. However, Keith Weed was keen to broaden the issue – and stress the need for marketers to take more responsibility for how their digital ads are targeted, and where they appear – whether that’s buying ads direct or programmatically. “People buying programmatically seem obsessed with how it’s fantastic to buy cheaply,” he said. “But really, it’s only fantastic to buy the quality that you want cheaply.”

Weed’s advice was for brands to work more closely with agencies on strategy, nurturing digital skills in-house so they can better interrogate their programmatic strategy, choosing their publisher partners more carefully and taking a more hands-on approach to negotiations around brand safety, viewability and other issues.

Don't assume digital means shorter attention spans

The question of where ads appear wasn’t the only issue addressed by Brittin and Weed. Just as significantly for content marketers, they addressed the issue of how audiences direct their attention when navigating digital content – and just how much attention marketers have to play with. Matt Brittin was very clear that the idea of human attention spans falling as a result of digital media is a myth. As we’ve argued on this blog before, audiences are simply becoming far more discerning when it comes to identifying content worth paying attention to. Brittin pointed out that the most successful branded videos on YouTube are often two and a half minutes long. “People are prepared to give attention to great content,” he argued.

We need to move from chasing cookies to owning moments

The cookie dominates the world of digital ad targeting – but for how much longer? In an intriguing session, Spotify’s Danielle Lee argued for the potential of data on individual’s listening habits to deliver far more personalised targeting that’s relevant on an emotional level. She held out the possibility of marketers using Spotify subscribers’ choice of playlists to identify what they are doing (working out down the gym or preparing for a big night out, say) – and the emotions they are feeling at the time.

It’s true that any type of members-only environments provides a rich stream of data for contextual targeting, whether that’s through the music someone is listening to on Spotify or the content they engage with on LinkedIn. The real challenge for marketers – and for platform owners – is how to make use of that data in a way that respects privacy and the member experience. There’s always a danger of misinterpreting emotional signals (just ask any lovestruck teenager). When someone is playing their romantic playlist ahead of a cosy night in with their other half, do they really want your brand to be a part of that moment? Could that feel-good track represent mates getting together to celebrate – or a memorial service for a friend? These nuances matter. There’s a trust issue at work both for media platforms with access to such data, and the brands making use of them.

Fake news solidifies fast – and that goes for marketing myths too

Truth is up for grabs – and this has implications for marketers both when they’re trying to stay in control of their message, and when they’re trying to plan a strategy.

In a session that promised A Brand Survival Kit in a World of Fake News, panelists from the BBC, Buzzfeed and Weber Shandwick were very much focused on the first issue – the danger of fake news about your brand breaking out and becoming accepted as fact before you have time to address it. They outlined some smart strategies that could work in this world: focusing on transparency and trust, empowering employees as advocates for your brand and content, and identifying the subjects that your audience cares about enough to discern between what’s real and what isn’t.

Listening to the session though, it struck me that marketers can be just as guilty of embracing fake news within their own industry – accepting something as fact because it ‘sounds right’ and forgetting to think critically about it. This is true of the pernicious goldfish attention span myth that’s persuaded many marketers mistakenly to dumb down their content strategies – and it’s true of several claims made about buyer’s journey stats as well. Like all other audiences, we need to pay more attention to where our information comes from.

Everybody needs a tribe

Networks are great – but what you really need is a tribe. That was one of the memorable messages from an audience with Danny Bent, who’s been labeled as the happiest man in the UK – and who lived up to that billing with a brilliant impression of an energizer bunny in a very good mood. It’s a message I fully agree with. It’s great to have a network of connections and relationships that you can leverage at relevant moments. I’m very grateful for mine. However, I know the size of a network has nothing on the value of a close-knit community that you can trust intuitively because they’re emotionally invested in the same things that you are. I’ve found that having a tighter circle of connections that I can share ideas openly with and invite authentic feedback from is invaluable. It brings a sense of belonging and breeds the confidence to be yourself. Great advice.

Not everything Danny Bent shared resonated with my own experience quite so much. Stories about a plague of maggots dropping out of the sky and crawling through your beard during a night sleeping under a tree in India? Or being threatened at gunpoint by Russian border guards but defusing things through a smile and Vodka? This guy has had quite a life – and there’s never a dull moment when he’s speaking.

The real diversity issues are often hidden

One of the most interesting insights in 72andSunny’s session on fostering genuine diversity in creative businesses was the fact that so many forms of exclusion are hidden from view. The fashion journalist Alice Pfeiffer and GQ publisher Vanessa Kingori spoke about how fashion designers and fashion magazines have a lot of visible diversity: models from different ethnic backgrounds on covers, the number of women in editorial departments and a broad representation of different sexual orientations. However, when you shift your gaze to where key decisions are made, these businesses are still predominantly controlled by white, heterosexual men. Pfeiffer highlighted other hidden diversity issues for fashion as well, arguing that even having the wrong accent (and not being from Paris) can count against you. Meanwhile, football agent Luis Vicente spoke about how very visible diversity in sport often fails to extend to the business side of things. These hidden diversity issues are as pertinent for marketing and advertising as they are for these other industries.

Where’s the game changer for AI?

Big data and Artificial Intelligence are dominant strands in the Advertising Week Europe agenda – and the session on AI hosted by the media agency Zenith promised insight into how they will change the future of marketing. It’s certainly impressive that Zenith has built up a data science department of 45 people – and that developing its own AI-powered algorithms for optimising digital advertising has driven 13% improvement in ROI. However, I couldn’t help feeling that this is just scraping the surface when it comes to the question of what difference AI will make to marketing more generally. Using data more effectively for media buying is a great starting point – but I think the real game-changing use cases for AI are yet to emerge.

Did Keith Weed miss his calling as the Question Time host?

The session with Keith Weed and Matt Brittin took a hectic turn when the floor opened up to audience questions – and the mainstream media piled in to put Brittin on the spot. “Somebody take the mike off her”, demanded Keith Weed as a Daily Mail reporter pressed Matt Brittin on whether there are Google employees actively looking for extremist content on YouTube. It wouldn’t have been out of place in a particularly rowdy edition of Question Time – and it left me wondering if Keith had slightly missed his calling as the next David Dimbleby. However, it also brought home a more important point. The world has never cared more about the decisions that the marketing and media industry makes – and the implications for the wider world have never been bigger. We are no longer discussing how we use data, classify content and target audiences in a bubble. The world feels it has a real stake in the choices we make – and we need to make sure that those choices stand up to the scrutiny.