Maths Men are the new Mad Men in a data-driven world
By Kate Bulkley
For Broadcast June 27, 2018
Cannes Lions shows where the power lies in the advertising industry, says Kate Bulkley
The biggest message coming from the ad industry’s annual awards fest, Cannes Lions, this year was the move from Mad Men to Maths Men – and, of course, Women.
In a contemporary version of the cult show, Don Draper and his Madison Avenue mavericks would all be data experts.
Yes, ‘creatives’ are still important – and believe me, there were many prizes awarded for that – but advertising is now a data-driven industry, with a bevy of new sheriffs in town with names like Facebook, Google, Twitter and Instagram.
The most in-demand speaker in Cannes was Carolyn Everson. She heads up Facebook’s global marketing solutions, which leverages all the data it collects from its nearly 2 billion users to make ‘solutions’ – not only to make money, but to reach the exact consumers that the brands want to talk to.
The most-hyped speaker was the recently fallen king of advertising Sir Martin Sorrell. He has come to represent the more Don Draper-style ad industry, given the apparent reasons for his ousting from the helm of the world’s biggest advertising holding group, WPP.
Not that the tech giants got a free ride, but even amid the backlash sweeping the industry over privacy concerns, they dominated conversations – not just because they had the most lavish booths and parties, but because they deliver more precisely the audiences that brands want to reach.
This is especially crucial at a time when consumers are turning to subscription services like Netflix to access premium content. With the consumer appeal of ad-free
SVoD services and the rising number of adverts going to other digital platforms, some executives are wondering where this leaves advertising-funded TV.
The US networks are taking serious action: NBC Universal cut its ad load for Saturday Night Live last month and intends to reduce overall primetime ad time by 10% this autumn on all its broadcast and cable networks, while Fox is cutting its ad time by 60%, from 12 minutes an hour to two minutes by 2020.
“The wastage of a TV spot is becoming unbearable to advertisers and consumers alike”
The shorter spots will naturally cost more but they will have significantly more impact – or so the theory goes.
Fox Networks Group executive creative director Jan Livingston told me her company is moving away from ad time to “brand storytelling time”.
In short, this means aligning the TV ads with the programmes they are running next to. If you are watching Ryan Murphy’s 9-1-1 on Fox, for example, the advert next to it will be a ‘brand story’ relevant to that programme, not simply the latest generic spot for whatever brand wants to buy that slot.
What’s really interesting about this is the TV networks are taking a big leaf out of the playbook of digital platforms, which are all about making adverts both less disruptive and more targeted. YouTube even allows viewers to skip ads they don’t want to watch.
For TV networks, this is a rethink of the time-honoured value exchange between advertisers and consumers, updated with one eye on the measurement protocols of the digital platforms.
The wastage of a TV spot is becoming unbearable to advertisers and consumers alike. Dario Gargiulo, chief marketing officer of jeans brand Diesel, said cutting ad times is the beginning of the end of TV advertising as we know it.
So what is the new value exchange? This is what advertisers and marketers are trying to understand in this head-spinning era of the tech-lash.
Perhaps data is the exchange currency – I give you my data and you give me content? Maybe consumers should be offered a sliding scale, so they can say more than ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to providing data, à la GDPR consent? They could offer up a little bit of their data or a lot of it, depending on which platform they are using.
Whatever the advertising industry says it wants in the future, the power and pervasiveness of the big tech platforms will play a central role. Making fewer, better adverts or ‘branded stories’ isn’t going to be enough. The digital players continue to innovate and are increasingly moving into longer-form content themselves, undermining legacy platforms like TV.
Only last week, Facebook-owned Instagram unveiled a long-form video feature along the lines of what Snap is already doing.
Nearly 10 years ago, Sorrell used the term ‘frenemy’ to describe the relationship between the advertising industry and the biggest ad-supported platforms, Google and Facebook. Recently, he softened this to ‘flexible friends’ and even ‘partners’.
Whatever you call them, they are disproportionately driving the redefinition of advertisers’ value exchange with viewers.
If there’s a Cannes Lions prize for the biggest influencer, it’s not the celebrity with the most followers who should win, but the biggest ad-supported platforms themselves.