Cool Ads of the Future

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Cool Ads of the Future

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When Matthew Weiner’s period drama Mad Men first hit the air (it’s hard to believe it was almost 10 years ago—July 19, 2007), one of the most shocking things about it, at least for marketers, was how simple advertising used to be. Back in the day, they would come up with a clever campaign and then place it in one or more of the few places it could go: TV, radio, newspapers, magazines—and maybe billboards if they had the budget. It was all so straightforward, so predictable, so by-the-book.

Now the advertising playbook seems to get revised on a daily basis, with a nonstop barrage of new platforms, formats, and ad tech raising the stakes and making the learning curve more daunting than ever.

How can a smart marketer keep up? By anticipating what to anticipate. Change is always hard to cope with, but it can be a little less difficult if you see it coming—and understand why and where it’s coming from.

Think of this as your executive-summary cheat sheet for the future of marketing in four key areas where science is already catching up to sci-fi.

AI-enabled hyper-targeted bot advertising

In November, GM and IBM announced the first “cognitive mobility platform,” which will leverage the artificial intelligence brains of IBM’s Watson with GM’s OnStar navigation service.

The game-changer here is real-time, personalized marketing with situational awareness—OnStar knows where you are and where you’re going—powered by AI that can make, for example, a nearby retail recommendation on the fly.

> Where it could go next: MasterCard is among the brands that have signed up for the Watson-OnStar collaboration. Imagine an opt-in system that uses AI to parse your credit card purchase history to intuit your preferences and deliver a personalized ad message: “Hi Jane, I know you love Japanese food, but it looks like it’s been a while since you indulged. There’s a well-reviewed sushi restaurant in the next town. Would you like me to tell you what Zagat says and check on reservation availability?”

Such situationally-aware AI tech, of course, wouldn’t be dependent on you being in a car. The GPS that powers the map on your smartphone could also be used to help power cognitive mobility platforms that fit in your pocket, allowing you to get the same ads as you ride the bus or walk down the street.

Genetically-tailored marketing

A meal-delivery startup called Habit wants to sell you food that’s exactly right for you, based on its analysis of over 60 biomarkers that it’ll glean from a home pinprick blood test.

With 3D food printing already a thing, and a growing market for wearables that monitor your vital signs and metabolism, it’s not hard to imagine a near future in which you’d receive AI-powered ad pitches for bespoke dining experiences, bespoke beverages, bespoke drugs…pitched to you alone.

What Habit calls its Nutrition Intelligence Engine will look at your “DNA, blood, body metrics and lifestyle inputs… to determine what nutrients are ideal for you.” If that sounds incredibly futuristic, well, the future is almost here—Habit launched in early 2017—and last October, the quintessentially mainstream Campbell’s Soup Co. invested $32 million in the company.

> Where it could go next: If Habit succeeds in making what it calls a “personal nutrition blueprint for each individual” a marketplace reality, think of all of the other ways your biomarkers could be used to create and market products made just for you. With 3D food printing already a thing, and a growing market for wearables that monitor your vital signs and metabolism, it’s not hard to imagine a near future in which you’d receive AI-powered ad pitches for bespoke dining experiences, bespoke beverages, bespoke drugs, and a new generation of consumer packaged goods that are produced for, and pitched to you alone.

Hyper-customized visual advertising

“Individualized Ads on TV Could Be One Result of AT&T-Time Warner Merger,” the New York Times suggested in late October. But when we talk about individualized or “addressable” TV ads these days, we tend to be limited to thinking about serving certain ads to certain households. For example, delivering political ads only to homes in relevant zip codes, or marketing upscale products only to high-income neighborhoods.

But the science already exists to make truly individualized ads on the fly. A New York company called Eyeview Digital has technology called VideoIQ that can take a single piece of creative—for instance, a car ad—and spin out “millions of video variations, color-morphing the color of the vehicle and dynamically inserting feature and buy or lease offers,” based on the nearest dealership.

Imagine an AI-powered ad delivered to just one device—your TV or your smartphone—that shows a product in your favorite color, tailored to your gender and body type, while your current favorite song (deduced from a Spotify partnership) plays.

And image recognition technology can be deployed to identify and customize not only products, but human characteristics. GumGum’s computer-vision capabilities, for instance, can make changes on the fly to eye and hair color in images.

Where it could go next: Imagine an AI-powered ad delivered to just one device—your TV or your smartphone—that shows a product in your favorite color, tailored to your gender and body type, while your current favorite song (deduced from a Spotify partnership) plays. Now imagine it as an immersive VR experience.

Accessible Neuromarketing

The visual cliché of neuromarketing is a consumer in a laboratory wearing an electrode-embedded skullcap with a tangle of wires leading away from it. Yes, such technology does exist, as do brain-scanning systems that can gauge how the neurons in the brain’s pleasure center react to a product or an ad for a product. The possibilities for marketers are fascinating, but just not all that scalable.

What’s much more scalable is the rapidly expanding field of emotional analysis as applied to consumers’ machine-readable reactions.

New York startup Canvs parses millions of social media messages each day and analyzes them for what it calls Emotional Reactions (ERs) to content—for instance, if consuming a piece of content makes you happy, sad, afraid, excited, annoyed, etc.

Badvertising that banishes itself? That’s a future we can all look forward to.

And Affectiva, a Cambridge, Mass.-based company that spun out of the MIT Media Lab, combines Deep Learning with facial-recognition technology to make sense of what consumers aren’t saying. The company has “read” the emotions on more than 4 million faces in 75 countries so far to judge whether or not a given consumer really liked a particular variation of an ad.

Where it could go next: You know those little feedback prompts you sometimes see in online advertising, such as, “Don’t show me this ad again.” Imagine addressable advertising that has a seamless, built-in feedback loop that can figure it out without you having to take action.

Badvertising that banishes itself? That’s a future we can all look forward to.

Seriously, though, the point of all this technology isn’t to complicate matters—though that will certainly be the case for marketers racing to keep up—but to simplify and improve advertising for consumers. Given that overwhelmed consumers are increasingly responding to the current state of advertising by ad skipping and ad blocking, it’s crucial that brands and agencies focus on serving up messages that are relevant and wanted. Emerging ad tech is helping to do just that—and that’s the real reason marketers need to care about tomorrow’s ads, today.