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Top 5 marketing takeaways from AWE 2016

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By The Drum Team, Editorial

April 22, 2016 | 9 min read

The great and the good of the advertising industry gathered at Advertising Week Europe in London this week, sharing insights and raising concerns about the biggest issues affecting brands, publishers and agencies. Here are the five main takeaways.

1. Brands need to break from the 30 second mindset

Advertisers are obsessed with getting people to watch their creative, claimed Snapchat’s vice-president of content Nick Bell. So much so that, the business had to push back when advertisers asked whether Snapchatters could be forced to watch branded content.

“Just because I can create a 30-second TV spot doesn’t mean that that’s the optimum amount of time for a user to view content," said Bell. He continued: “What we’re seeing and what a lot of research shows is that attention spans, particularly on mobile, are much lower and actually getting the message across in two, three, four, five or six seconds is often far more powerful than stretching out a message and trying to build out a load of context.”

Nigel Morris, chief executive of Dentsu Aegis Network, Americas & EMEA, echoed those sentiments, referring specifically to how its changed the way it plans campaigns. Now Dentsu encourages advertisers to plan online video first, TV after, with Morris claiming that when it’s done that way “you increase the media performance”. That change then informs the creative process and “you started to break out of that tyranny of the 30 second ad”.

2. 'Everything that can be traded programmatically will be' (but a few things have to change first)

From Spotify planning to sell all its inventory programmatically within five years to the prospect of serving programmatic ads into ‘traditional broadcast TV’, the announcements at this year’s AWE were emblematic of how widespread the discipline is becoming. Not just that, but also it's arguable that advertisers are starting to push its capabilities beyond just driving media efficiencies.

“There is a yin and yang to automation and technology. It can enable greater efficiency and flexibility, while adding value to audiences and advertisers alike,” said Malcolm Stoodley, Exterion Media’s commercial director, on the future of automated advertising.

“But there is a darker flip side - we risk ads screaming at audiences for attention and turning off the audience they set out to communicate with. Then there is the use of technology in the form of bots, that damages the integrity of the medium. To thrive, the benefits of new automation & technology must be balanced with the potential reaction of the audience & increasingly the possibility of being hacked,” he added.

To that end, ITV announced a partnership with SpotXchange to create a private marketplace for advertisers by ITV video-on-demand through their data service provider of choice.

However, for all the advancements made in programmatic over the last year it is still a bit dumb. That was the view of the Guardian’s commercial director Nick Hewat.

“My beef with programmatic is how does it value the ‘Panama Papers’,” he continued. "How does programmatic value that environment and the quality of the journalism that we bring them versus an ad on another site where the same eyeballs are allegedly paying the same amount of attention… If the machine is still a bit dumb and I would like it to better value things like the design, quality and content of an environment – all the things we care about because we have readers not users.”

3. How can advertising become more diverse?

While it may be a hot button issue at the moment, diversity is still clearly lacking in an industry predicated to embrace the unknown. That was the overwhelming response from executives at AWE, who lamented their efforts to date to tackle the diversity issue. A recurring theme throughout was the notion that doing the right thing isn’t reason enough for many companies to embrace diversity and that there needs to be a commercial reason powering initiatives.

During a session hosted by Pip Jamieson, founder of The Dots, the panel discussed tangible steps to tackle the diversity issue internally.

Debarshi Pandit, director of Omnicom's ethnic unit, OMG Ethnic, has introduced a multicultural calendar internally to increase awareness of festivals and events such as Eid, Passover and Diwali.

Meanwhile at Microsoft, Ravleen Beeston, head of sales for Bing UK, found that women were not applying for jobs in a product management team. After hiring a consultant to analyse their job descriptions, the team found that the language was off-putting to women. They also explored whether so-called 'essential' criteria could be moved to 'nice to have' - half of them were moved over.

The impact was immediate, Beeston said. "It's made us all think very differently. When you are hiring, make sure you have a hiring loop and that those people are completely different to you."

Emma Perkins from Mullen Lowe, speaking at the same panel, discussed the importance of unconscious bias training, and said her Token Man interviews have given her interesting insights to how chief executives think about hiring. "What a lot of people say to me is 'I don't see race, I don't see gender, I just hire the right person' - but what they're not recognising is that everyone has unconscious bias."

However, Mel Eusebe, founder of the Black British Business Awards, said she doesn't agree with unconscious bias training. Instead, its should be about "making sure that in terms of the attraction and the retention it is purely meritocratic."

She added: "Number one, make sure you nail down what is exactly needed for that job. Everything else - their colour, their background etc - is just gravy."

4. There’s a difference between being responsible and doing good

How a brand articulates its purpose in an era of accountability was another hotly debated topic. Consequently, brands need to be more aware of the difference between being responsible and doing good, urged Heide Cohu, founder at Studio of Art & Commerce and the global brand director at Bacardi.

"Young people care. They care about values. That means they care about what brands stand for,” she continued. “I’ve seen big corporations look at younger corporations and do something out of odds and young people see right through it. It’s about being honest about who you are and doing stuff that matters is at the core."

That attitude has sparked a rise in entrepreneurial business from young founders who have a sense of vision and purpose from the very first presentation slide. Nick Giles co-founder of PR firm Seven Hills continued on this point: “We’re seeing a rise of businesses with a social agenda or a clear mission about why they are in businesses.

"We’re seeing is a rise of businesses with a social agenda or clear mission about why they are in business. That has economic impact.”

5. The economics behind ad blocking

Unsurprisingly, ad blocking dominated the agenda at this year’s event, with advertisers and publishers arguing who’s to blame for its rise, while the ad blockers hit back at claims they’re a modern day protection racket. It was even suggested by a privacy consultant that the detection of an ad blocker by using a script is technically illegal.

“It’s like having my wallet stolen and then being asked for money to get it back,” said Dominic Good, global ad sales director at the Financial Times. “I don’t think we need a commercial body telling us what’s acceptable.”

That belief reverberated throughout the week and the onus is now on the industry, which doesn’t usually respond to issues like this until its pricked to meet it head on. Indeed, according to Scott Deutrom, chief digital revenue officer at ESI Media, it would appear the industry has now been pricked. “I think IAB, AOP, Newsworks etc. are all looking at a collaborative consolidated effort, ultimately the sites themselves will have a personal dialogue and engagement with ad blockers,” he explained.

For all the doom and gloom around ad blocking, there are some publishers who view the disruption it's causing in a positive light. Jarrod Dicker head of ad product and technology at the Washington Post, said: “The ad blocking eruption should be something we embrace. It’s very similar to what we saw in Napster with music where everything could have collapsed but instead we embraced and created Spotify and Pandora and that really moved the industry further.

“To that point if we look at ad blocking in such a way where we don’t just take it topical and say ‘well they may just hate how it looks’ but also go beneath and say ‘well if they hate how it looks let's build that better but also let's be transparent and figure out how to build the next phase of advertising. That way it ends up emerging to a place where we couldn’t imagine being without it."

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