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The industry is drowning in data but AI is its saving grace says The Trade Desk


By Dani Gibson, Senior Writer

July 26, 2018 | 7 min read

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The scope of AI is great. Earlier this year, Google chief executive officer Sundar Pichai stated that artificial intelligence is going to have a bigger impact than many of world’s biggest innovations. The Drum spoke to The Trade Desk's UK general manager Anna Forbes on how AI is disrupting the industry and how better to utilise data and save creativity.


The industry is drowning in data but AI is its saving grace says The Trade Desk

What are the top things that it will upend in the ad industry?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is already deeply ingrained in our daily lives. Despite popular culture branding AI as the terrifying robot workforce that’s going to steal all our jobs, the reality is that there is a place for both humans and machines in this world. By working in harmony with technology, we’re actually enhancing our own lives. No longer do we have to waste time on boring processes and hard number-crunching - we can now focus on being more strategic and creative.

Take our new planner and Koa tools for example. This new, cutting edge technology analyses over nine million ads per second. We’re collecting incredibly rich insights into how our audiences behave online, and these inform machines’ recommendations on the best campaign strategy. The supreme level of efficiency that we’ll reach with this technology is a perfect example of how AI shaking up the ad industry.

Who are the early adopters of AI in our industry?

The entire digital advertising ecosystem is an early adopter of AI. We’ve all been using AI tools in our buying and selling of digital media for many years, but this hasn’t clicked for many advertisers. That’s in part the fault of tech platforms – some of us could have been more open about what our tech stacks have been doing to apply AI behind the scenes.

As an industry, we absolutely do need to be transparent about AI, and how advertisers can leverage machine learning to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their campaigns.

That’s why we’ve launched the Next Wave. Instead of black box AI tools that separate advertisers from technology, we’re proud to offer transparent, flexible solutions that bring man even closer to machine.

AI powered advertising isn’t new. Saatchi & Saatchi is using IBM Watson to make quirky, tailored content that combines unusual consumer activities using an algorithm and adds this to a video of the RAV4. This is just one example. But will ‘better’ and more AI mean better advertising?

It’s true, AI isn’t new. But until recently, it’s been hidden away as a very well-kept secret, with many advertisers left in the dark about the role it can play.

Media buyers have so many choices to make every day. There are thousands of publishers to buy from, dozens of SSP's to plug in and millions of audience characteristics to leverage. The permutations are infinite.

With AI, we’re narrowing our universe by allowing technology to provide us with informed recommendations. Rather than second guessing, we’re getting our answers first - and this means we’re hitting performance goals a lot faster. If that isn’t better advertising, then I don’t know what is.

Will AI help solve some of the big marketing and advertising challenges- engagement with a fragmented audience or driving profits and growth?

A big challenge we’re seeing today is that many advertisers are making decisions about how and where to run their campaigns before analysing the insights that are available to them. The result? Campaigns end up being targeted at the wrong audiences and in the wrong places – ultimately reducing return on investment and wasting precious ad spend.

Through intense data analysis, AI can enable the greatest granularity of targeting that’s ever been available in advertising – and that’s really exciting. These tools create a synergy between man and machine; they’ll spot advertisers’ mistakes – like misdirected targeting - before they even make them, and swoop in to make sure they’re avoided.

Using the same predictive capabilities, advertisers can plan more strategically and expand the reach of their campaigns – generating better results and safeguarding their spending.

Can machine learning inspire creativity?

As an industry we’re known for our creativity and in our new data-driven era of marketing, insights can act as a voice in the ear of creative teams, guiding them as to which creative will resonate most with their target audience. A/B testing is a prime example of how this can be done in practice.

The challenge, though, is that the industry is drowning in data. Many companies have more data than they know what to do with – and it’s going to waste as a result.

Enter AI. As machines become more intelligent, as well as being able to digest enormous data sets at speed, they’ll be qualified to offer smarter, more detailed recommendations that ultimately inspire creativity.

Will advertising need to think differently as AI continues to disrupt?

As technology advances and AI becomes even more ingrained into the advertising industry, the industry’s approach to advertising will need to evolve.

Rather than wasting time on the minutiae, AI will allow advertisers to focus on the bigger picture. How do all the different components of a campaign fit together? While computers consider patterns, find trends and extrapolate the right audiences, advertisers will be freed up to focus on what the computers can’t do - and that’s the strategy and creative.

But we need to ensure a synergy between man and machine, as the future of advertising depends on this relationship.

One of the biggest differences between man and machine is the way each goes about finding a solution to a problem. As humans, we make a series of highly complex decisions, often based on irrational feelings and emotions. This abstract thinking means we can instantly set off on a new track after finding a block to our initial solution.

Meanwhile, with the right data, machines will often find a solution much more quickly than any human can. But when a person’s initial directions to that machine reach a dead end, it’ll struggle to find an alternative route. Without human input, the algorithms will go wrong again and again.

As advertising becomes more dependent on AI, remember that machines are just as reliant on humans. Together – and only together - artificial and human intelligence can reach the ultimate level of efficiency, relevance and insight by working in harmony. We just need to train our people and machines to embrace the power of each other to make that happen.

The Trade Desk sponsored The Drum Digital Trading Awards 2018. The award winners have now been announced and you can register your interest for 2019 now.

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