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Can technology help ads get in on the action?

Can technology help ads get in on the action?

A version of this article first appeared on CMO.com - here.

If you work in marketing, it can often feel like digital innovation is a firework display at an awards ceremony—tech is so frequently deployed as the plumage in attention-grabbing creative. Advertising sits poles apart from the design world, where the focus is on the fine-tuning of digital experience and creating value for customers.

This seems anachronistic at a time when digital empowerment has compressed the journey from (advertising) awareness to (retail) conversion. Now we all hop from the top to the bottom of the funnel in an instant on smartphones. Yet, in the AIDA journey, advertising remains focused on the theatrics that trigger Attention, Interest, and Desire. So where’s the Action?

As the pool of interfaces we interact with daily narrows to a handful—from workplace tools such as group-messaging app Slack to voice interfaces such as Amazon’s Alexa—ads can offer action triggers that immediately satisfy desire in these channels.

The Cannes Vision Of Ad Innovation

As TV audiences diminish, ad concepts have naturally sought an impact on culture that cuts through the noise of digital media. This year’s nominees at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity demonstrate technology’s impact at the top of the funnel, delivering PR-worthy concepts. Audi’s “Enter Sandbox” VR experience, for example, wows the audience by turning racetracks sculpted in sand into VR software. It’s one of many companies that use audacious tech to propel sharing of a campaign video.

 

 

Few Cannes entries combine brand awareness and conversion in the way Snickers “Hungerithm” campaign does.

 

 

This is an effective brand campaign—driving the brand’s association with mid-afternoon snacking—and a bottom funnel sales driver. The below the line objective is as much the strategic compass as brand associative outcomes.

CX Innovation Is ‘Branding’

While Snickers shows a successful advertising-first approach, Amazon and Domino’s Pizza demonstrate how a design-first route can lead to innovations in delivery and payment, which then win PR and build brand.

Writing for CMO.com, Todd Wasserman reported how emotional product experiences build and spread brands. He cites Bobby Calder at the Kellogg School of Management, who says the failure of interruptive advertising has led the best brands to ask: “Why not change the whole paradigm from persuasion to experience?”

Through customer-centred design, Domino’s Pizza eliminates friction between shoppers and their pizza—for example, implementing smart TV ordering during major sporting events. This constant innovation builds a customer experience that’s an important part of their brand communication.

Much of Domino’s creative output—including the high-profile but less plausible emoji ordering—is handled by above-the-line agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky. Alex Bogusky famously celebrated ideas with cultural resonance, which surprised and earned PR. And he refused the old binary divide between branding and retail, inscribing in his agency’s rules that “retail is branding.”

Are the worlds of digital design innovation and advertising really so far apart? Perhaps not.

Seeking ‘Occasions’ In Interfaces

Commentators note with foreboding that, by 2020, 50% of all searches will be done by voice, according to measuring company comScore; and that asking Amazon for “wash powder” is not the same as asking it for “Persil.” So how should advertisers prepare for this future?

What if, instead of seeing these interfaces as silent assassins of brand equity, we embrace them as unchartered advertising channels? Brands that show up in these places with entertaining, informative, or helpful experiences and subtle nudges will be at the right end of the funnel, impacting commercial outcomes.

Take Slack—every day users fire each other food GIFs to signal time for lunch. Communication from a sandwich chain will fare better here than running in the evening TV schedule.

Another example is Amazon Echo—we let Alexa make music choices for us when we want something for our mood. Then, when we’re open to inspiration, we may trial a music service. But the intervention has to arrive as value rather than simply seek to land a message. If we want to move the paradigm from persuasion to experience, we must respect our contract with the audience.

Yet institutional barriers remain. Advertising and marketing agencies create communications in a process developed during the interruption age. Design and experience agencies focus on micro-management of customer experience, with less concern for influencing the consumers and shoppers who are the traditional subjects of marketing.

Brands buy these two worlds differently, and “shopper” briefs are often little more than an extension of a traditional brand advertising idea.

Yet the bottom of the funnel is about influencing behaviour.

Marketers should study how technology is augmenting those missions and occasions where behaviour can be influenced, then design experiences, and communication, that answer needs in these moments. It’s time to bring the fireworks and the fine-tuning together.