IF YOU talk to any media agency executive about the current state of the industry, two themes are certain to come up: automated ad buying and branded content. On the one hand, marketing is being transformed by the rise of ad exchanges, with automated bidding replacing humans to ensure ads are pushed only to the most relevant audience. The share of display advertising purchased in this way is forecast to increase from 5 to 23 per cent in Western Europe between now and 2017.
At the same time, however, many brands and advertising agencies are acting more like publishers, creating sponsored content and native advertising campaigns that sit alongside conventional media (TV programmes or video games). This year, 56 per cent of UK marketers plan to increase their spending on branded content.
The tension between these two themes will be a driving force in the future of marketing, says Kathleen Saxton, the co-producer of Advertising Week Europe (which begins today). But while some are expecting a more fragmented advertising landscape, with cost-effective automated ad targeting splitting away from content-focused creative labs, Saxton sees the chance for synthesis.
“The biggest movement in recent years has been on the media owner’s side,” she says. “Broadcasters like Channel 5, for example, have become a lot more flexible in terms of weaving advertorial content into their programming – Big Brother is a case in point.” With media owners opening up to brand involvement, the desired skillsets for marketers is changing, and traditional production companies are increasingly bidding for advertorial work. But how does this renewed focus on creative content fit with the drive for efficiency and automation in media agencies?
The real value, Saxton explains, is to be found when agencies embrace both automation and creativity, and fit the two together. “It’s not all about specialism. When I talk to executives, what they really want is people who score eight out of ten across a range of skills, not purely technical or creative types.” As the biggest agencies continue to buy both adtech firms and creative content houses (Saxton calls this the Sir Martin Sorrell approach), marketers will need to figure out how to join up the different strategies. “Once the content has been crafted, you need to look at what all the different iterations will be, and how to get them to fit together across the different media. This is where real-time bidding will come in. We’re sort of in beta phase at the moment, but it’s something the industry will get better at over time.” In the long run, Saxton says, the marrying of automation and creativity will lead to better-quality (and highly targeted) marketing. “Who knows, we might even enjoy adverts again.”
Liam Ward-Proud is business features writer at City A.M.
Advertising Week Europe runs from 31 March to 4 April at various locations across London. Details on speakers and event schedules can be found at advertisingweek.eu