Advertising has always been about connecting with consumers on their terms. And, by now, it’s entirely clear those terms and conditions are changing at an unparalleled rate. Emerging technology is introducing entirely new ways to reach people, as well as entirely new ways to act and interact with them.
From voice to extended reality, the Internet of Things (IoT) to image recognition, an entirely different world is taking shape.
“We have more connected devices on the planet than we have people. Mobile devices and new and emerging forms of interaction … are forcing advertisers to completely rethink the way they approach audiences,” said Sarah Mannone, executive vice president of Trekk.com, a full-service technology creative agency. “Now more than ever, it’s critical to deliver an offer that makes sense based on where they are at and what they are doing.”
To be sure, converting advertising concepts into dollars is becoming an incredibly difficult task. Not only is there a need to understand the features available with new digital technologies—and increasingly, how they intersect and interact with one another—it’s also critical to create value that extends beyond how a person thinks or responds to a brand.
“You want to assert yourself into their consciousness in the least obtrusive and most advantageous way possible,” Mannone told CMO by Adobe. “You can’t know what’s going on in a very specific instance, but you can achieve fairly good contextual understanding.”
Sorting through emerging tech can be a big job. Devices and systems are evolving and new combinations of technologies are emerging. A starting point for navigating all of this is to move beyond the basic understanding of what various technologies can do and what they represent, and think of them in a broader strategic context—essentially a value chain, said Raffaella Camera, innovation and marketing strategy lead for Accenture’s Extended Reality Practice.
“Most organizations have to go through some type of digital transformation to use these technologies effectively within advertising and other areas,” she told CMO by Adobe.
Organizations can run into roadblocks if they try to use the same techniques that work on the web and in traditional environments, Trekk.com’s Mannone said. For instance, an ad and coupon delivered to an in-car infotainment and payment system—as a person is driving past a restaurant at dinner time—is far different than randomly serving up an ad on a web browser.
“The IoT creates a much larger and more diverse surface for advertising. You must understand behavior, including the way people move, how they use devices and channels, and what excites them, before you can create compelling ads that work,” she told CMO by Adobe.
Keith Eadie, vice president of Adobe Advertising Cloud, cited two primary factors driving changes in how technology impacts advertising.
“The first is the actual advertising technology itself that allows marketers to better evaluate and capitalize on opportunities across a wide array of channels and screens,” he explained. “The second is the technology that connects advertising with the rest of a company’s systems and teams.”
In order to effectively deliver the right experience, both of these evolving technologies are essential.
“You need a platform that can keep up with the rapidly changing advertising landscape across new channels and formats, but you also need to ensure that those efforts are working in concert with how the rest of your company is producing creative assets, segmenting audiences, and analyzing data based on a common source of truth,” Eadie told CMO by Adobe.
Several key technologies are at the center of this new frontier of advertising. Artificial intelligence—which should be baked into a modern adtech solution—is a game-changer for advertisers today, helping scale ad planning, performance, and personalized creative. AI also helps advertisers better forecast, create, and deliver high-performing connected experiences.
“We found that the world of high-speed online auctions operates quickly and changes dramatically throughout the day, at a pace much quicker than people operate,” said Alexander Perec, senior product manager at Adobe. “If you can handle changes intelligently through a machine, you can react quickly to changes in the marketplace, where someone pulling a daily report couldn’t do the same.”
In fact, research shows that 89% of marketers saw higher conversions using algorithms for tested ad packages compared to manual optimizations. And, according to Econsultancy, 46% of advertisers say AI will help them become more effective.
Another big opportunity, Accenture’s Camera said, is the extended reality space. Indeed, augmented reality (AR)—with its ability to embed and deliver overlays of information within a scene, a la Instagram, or introduce games or more interactive experiences into scenes, whether it’s previewing makeup or rendering a 3D view of an item—offers tangible opportunities today.
Trekk has promoted the use of AR markers, such as QR codes, that generate video pop-ups after a recipient scans them. This eliminates the need to download an app to view an ad or other marketing message. The technique marries multiple channels and reinforces a message across platforms, particularly moving a user from print to digital. It can also bring a print ad to life by animating it or adding motion.
“[QR codes] have been largely dismissed because there is a perceived lack of value. But they can be valuable tools,” Mannone said. “It’s important for marketers to understand the strategy behind an augmented reality program and how it can push out messages and content. It can become an ongoing mode of communication between a company and customers.”
For example, Trekk created an advertising experience for International Paper, which was highlighted at Adobe MAX 2018, that tapped print and digital media. Users started with a sheet of cardboard they could fold into a vintage television set. Once they completed the task, they could scan a marker on the cardboard with their smartphones. It generated popup videos that they could view directly on the screen. The advertisements showcased the company’s products in creative ways, including a newscaster talking about form and function in design and graphic design techniques and methods.
Virtual reality (VR), though not as far along as AR in terms of advertiser adoption, also offers considerable promise, with the potential to transform advertising across numerous industries, according to Camera.
“It can give people a realistic idea of what a place or a product looks like,” she said. “It can create the sensation of being there and feeling something.”
This could be a travel experience for a resort or cruise ship or exploring a car. It could also lead to product placements or restaurant ads in computer and video games within other virtual spaces. Already, several hotels have produced travel ads that promote properties through VR, including the Atlantis Dubai Hotel. Camera said it’s very likely experiences will display products and ads unobtrusively, based on the same techniques that serve ads on websites and mobile apps today. If a person is interested, selecting or touching an item could open up an interactive advertisement.
Voice ads are another area revolutionizing marketing and advertising. A 2019 Adobe Digital Insights (ADI) survey of 1,025 U.S. households found that 43% of respondents said voice ads were less intrusive than TV, print, online, and social—up from 38% in January 2019—and 42% found them to be more engaging, up from 39%.
Industry observers say voice ads connect with consumers because they are often more personal and targeted, and they offer a high level of convenience. The Adobe survey also found that 39% who heard a voice ad later went on to purchase the item, and 35% didn’t skip through voice ads.
Other emerging technologies making their mark: geofencing and geolocation. These location-based technologies give marketers and advertisers, particularly at resorts, on cruise ships, and other specialized sites, a better understanding of customer behavior so they can serve up appropriate promotions and ads. For instance, a 2017 Urban Outfitters campaign used hyperlocal geofencing to drive a 75% conversion gain.
Blockchain also holds promise for advertising, said C.J. Bangah, principal in the technology, entertainment, and media practice at PwC, which found the technology could generate up to $19 billion more annually by improving trust with consumers. In many cases, the firm pointed out, nearly two dozen participants or brokers participate in any digital ad ecosystem—and that opens the door for potential abuse, including inaccuracy and fraud. This often results in consumer disappointment over receiving non-relevant messages.
“Accurate data is at the center of digital advertising,” Bangah said. “Without it an organization can’t deliver on the promise of the technology.”
Another area that deserves attention is programmatic advertising. Market research firm eMarketer reports that about 80% of all digital advertising now intersects with programmatic systems—automated buying and selling of online advertising—and the figure continues to rise. But it’s no longer enough to simply use technology to calculate millions of bids and ad opportunities. Brands must also use technology to identify audiences in premium inventory sources and connect with them through engaging storytelling formats.
“For a brand to effectively reach their target audiences across such a wide array of digital touch points, it’s more essential than ever to have a software-based approach to advertising,” Adobe’s Eadie said. “To make the most out of programmatic technology, brands should seek out unique advertising opportunities that allow their most important data, audiences, and creative assets to power real-time decisioning and buying.”
The Economist, for example, has used a programmatic approach to drive a highly successful campaign, which included reaching 50% of 650,000 targeted prospects. The results were telling in terms of how best to reach new potential customers, growing awareness, and ROI.
Make no mistake: A new era of digital advertising is emerging—and advertisers must focus on the total experience and delivering value, Camera said. Although it’s difficult to predict exactly where technology and advertising will go, it’s fairly clear that mobility is at the center of everything, and experimenting and learning along the way will typically pay dividends.
“You have to find ways to extend your storyline through the use of these emerging technologies,” Camera said. “It’s important to blend technology expertise with creative strategy. When you bring experts together effectively you usually produce better results.”
Mannone believes that combining technologies can produce exponentially superior ads and results. This may involve tapping face recognition, analytics, augmented or virtual reality, and geolocation technology. It also means knowing how frequently people buy a product and when they are in a position to make a purchase.
In the end, it’s critical to focus on a basic fact: No matter how technologically advanced things get, an emotional connection is still the key to unlocking sales.
“It’s essential that all organizations create a framework where they are aware of emerging technologies, planning for them, and learning how to use them to improve their connections with customers,” Bangah said. “The ability to deliver a differentiated customer experience is what allows a brand to remain relevant and grow.”