Do you remember those flowchart quizzes you’d find in teen magazines? Deep, revealing questions like ‘would you rather… ice-cream or chocolate?’ flow right the way down until you discover your true purpose in life or perhaps more importantly, which member of Westlife you’re most compatible with. I grew out of reading Sugar Magazine but in the ad industry we haven’t quite grown out of this binary approach. Above the line or below the line; client or agency; media or creative; planner or buyer – we secretly still love a teen flowchart quiz.
There’s one such dichotomy in advertising which I find particularly interesting; ‘are you a creative or a techie’? Are you Mad Men or more IT Crowd? I left a big creative agency to startup my ethical AdTech company, Good-Loop – so am I techie or creative? Should I have to choose?
At Cannes Lions last week I felt that this division was even more apparent. Are you on stage winning awards or are you a tech platform floating - both metaphorically and literally - around the outskirts of the festival?
I wanted to understand more about what ‘techie’ means within the context of our creative industry – to break down the either or and understand how the two can work together. So, I sweatily traipsed around Cannes, speaking to everyone from established AdTech leaders right through to the innovators bringing totally new technologies to the fore. I asked everyone the same question: ‘what role does technology play in creativity?’…
Technology is the cheerleader
First and foremost, technology has the power to amplify great creativity. “It’s interesting how many more creative agencies we have spoken to at Cannes this year” says Pete O'Mara-Kane, general manager of the mobile AI platform LoopMe, “because they can see that tech opens up even more creative possibility”. With the right tech partners in place, Pete explains, you can have one piece of creative, in multiple colours, with multiple calls to action, targeted to several different audience segments. That’s thousands of variations all from one idea, all optimised to make the work as impactful as possible. This means “an important part of the process becomes measuring what works best and always aiming to close the loop between brand and consumer”.
This is perfectly encapsulated by the work of You & Mr Jones – a holding group who call themselves the world’s first ‘Brandtech’ group. I met with their associate partner, Daniel Floyed and he was confident that “all marketing can be done better, faster and cheaper using technology”. Take content, Daniel pointed out that today brands have to create more high-performing content than they ever have before, whilst being more authentic and more inclusive than ever before and all whilst working to tighter budgets. Technology can help brands to thrive in this new paradigm. People-powered marketing, for example, is all about using technology to tap into the millions of people around the world, who can create, produce and share meaningful content at scale.
Technology is the great leveller
Technology frees up the human mind and gives us space to think about bigger ideas and this is just as true in advertising as it was back when humans invented the written word. If programmatic tech and automation can shoulder some of the heavy lifting behind the scenes, it means that we can focus on the much more valuable and painfully subjective business of good ideas.
I also spoke with Justin Taylor, UK MD of Teads about this and he put it pretty succinctly, saying that “tech creates space for creativity to flourish but it has also levelled the playing field”. Today programmatic buying and AI optimisation is so widely adopted that AdTech has created a new normal from which all marketeers now must operate. Perfecting your media buy is no longer a big competitive advantage as tech companies like Teads have made this so easy and accessible. You can no longer win by saying the same thing louder than everyone else. If you want to stand out, you better have something interesting to say.
Technology is the protector
This year Cannes marked the launch of the Digital Future Council – a collective set up with the explicit objective to help marketeers use emerging tech in advertising. So I went along to their Cannes debut to take part in their blockchain round table. Discussions continually came back to the crucial role technology needs to play in protecting and championing the creator. From artists to instagrammers, tech can help them to reach new audiences, control usage rights and perhaps most importantly, get rewarded fairly for their work.
One of the most pressing issues in this space is that opaque advertising supply chains are suffocating content creators. And as Justin Taylor put it to me, “what's the point of online advertising if it’s not supporting and funding the free internet?” A great example of how technology can protect the publishers and creators is Media Protocol, a member of the Digital Future Council, using blockchain to bring transparency to the interaction between advertisers, users and the media they consume. As their CEO, James Tabor told me, “AI and blockchain are set to revolutionise the value exchange between brands and audiences” and this is only the beginning.
Technology empowers the creator
Ultimately, for me, what all of these various roles encompass is that technology empowers the creator in a rapidly shifting environment. Ideas are free but tech has the power to democratise the process through which these ideas become valuable creative output.
It’s no longer the case that the brand with the biggest budget wins. Brands and agencies of all sizes now have access to tech-enabled communities of creators, drawing ideas from all corners of the globe for a fraction of the cost. Meanwhile tech can amplify those ideas to make them work harder and tech can protect those ideas by building a fairer context within which content creators operate.
As Tabor put it “technology has a huge baring on the inputs and outputs of an idea, but not on inspiration itself” and this for me is the crucial learning. The role of technology within our creative industry is to change the context surrounding creativity, to raise the bar on what is possible and to give great ideas the best possible chance of success.
So the question is not ‘are are you a techie or a creative’ the question is, ‘are you a tech-empowered creative?’
Amy Williams is the founder and CEO of Good-Loop – a platform that converts advertising money into charitable donations.