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Digital Transformation Artificial Intelligence Digital Marketing

Worried about AI? Then add these books to your summer reading list

By James Coulson, Managing Partner



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June 24, 2024 | 7 min read

To understand the future of the advertising industry, take some time to look at its past, says James Coulson of Kepler. What better way to start than with these classic reads.

An apple on top of a pile of books next to some alphabet wood blocks

When in doubt... read / Element5 Digital via Unsplash

Let’s face it, digital media agency people have never really had much time for advertising’s big thinkers. They’ve spent the last twenty years at the bottom of the funnel optimizing performance marketing spend, noodling with data, and happily sucking up more and more media budget. The digital ad industry has spent most of that period advocating the science of advertising.

But artificial intelligence has caused a rethink about where the advertising industry is headed and, more particularly, what kind of people digital media agencies will need as AI takes over functional decision-making across investment optimization and measurement.

AI has prompted much debate about the future of media agencies and what those employed in media investment will actually do as automation of decision-making gradually takes over. Despite the fearmongers who say that automation will mean only the need for AI specialists will remain, the most in-demand talent will actually be those who understand the basic principles of marketing.

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The history of ‘the new’

When I started out in digital advertising around seventeen years ago, digital advertising was an exciting new media, but the operating framework was just treated as another output channel for media agencies. Over the next fifteen-odd years, something very strange happened: the general industry chit-chat and focus became predominantly about the mechanic, not the output.

When programmatic automation landed, this went turbo. People could stand out by espousing “the new”. Advertising conversations were dominated by click through rates (CTRs), cost per acquisition (CPA) on an ad network buy, bidder queries per second (QPS), and bid response times – pure bottom-of-the-funnel stuff. With 20/20 hindsight, this stuff has very little to do with the business of influencing people.

When the bubble burst and we all started to hear about ad fraud, viewability, cookie bombing, supply chain margins, bot traffic, and so on, everyone scrambled to clear up the mechanic and the business of advertising. But that magic combination of human understanding, creative thinking, and identifying the right place and time to interact – the fundamental act of serving an ad to influence a response – seemed to fall even further down the pile of things to talk about.

The phoenix of advertising principes

However, over the past few years, the tide is turning, The phoenix of advertising principles is slowly rising from the flames. Despite the present flux of digital innovation, in-housing, and new operating models, there is an understanding that yes, we need to have a robust, dynamic, and complex tech stack in place. Yes, we need to leverage first-party data. Yes, we need to be constantly moving with the times.

Skills such as analytics, IT, and data management need to sit alongside advertising management, but these exist in a framework of marketing principles that have endured for decades and actually deliver against what the marketing team is trying to do.

Advertising and marketing have often been described as an art and a science. The science can be automated, but true creativity – the act of making something new – is not yet something AI can manage. The art and science are not separate spheres; it’s more of a Venn diagram with 100% crossover, making it very hard to decouple the two. You will still need the creative thinkers. The trouble is, we’ve been concentrating on the science for so long, we’ve lost sight of this.

Summer reading list

To help balance this out, here are some essential additions to the digital marketer’s reading list:

How Brands Grow, by Byron Sharp. This book‘s findings are often stated as incontestable tenets of marketing fact, though they actually remain contentious and debated. This book forces you to question some basics and think differently about what you are doing.

The Long and Short of It, by Les Binet and Peter Field. Champions of sober, evidence-based sensible advice, Binet and Field’s findings should be the starting point for how advertisers juggle brand v performance marketing.

Purple Cow, by Seth Godin: This book is a great inspiration for those looking to stand out a little more in their marketing efforts.

Hegarty on Advertising, by John Hegarty. Part autobiography, part general musings, part excellent advice, this is sage advice from a titan of advertising.

The Anatomy of Humbug, by Paul Feldwick. This book looks at the history of advertising, albeit primarily from a creative perspective, to help understand the rules that we should follow today.

AI will transform media agencies, making the art of marketing by humans more vital. While digital marketing will still need its technologists and specialists, they’ll require a broader perspective and deeper levels of marketing expertise. This blend of art and science will shape the future of advertising, ensuring that the human touch remains at its core.

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Digital Transformation Artificial Intelligence Digital Marketing

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Kepler is a global agency built for the digital world. We help advertisers harness the immense power of data, technology, and human understanding to transform their...

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