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The Future of Advertising

Alan Sugar’s plans for digital outdoor advertising that can recognise the viewer and tailor content accordingly; the advent of the world’s first ever intelligent adverts which can interact with the viewer, and news that Sky Germany has explored the idea of transmitting audio adverts directly into listeners heads, via train windows, signal the approach of a new era of advertising.


Many consumers now see targeted advertising online (and the storing and use of personal data that makes it possible) as normal practice, so while respecting the public’s privacy is vital, from a technology perspective this is already here. After all, the potential offered by these and other intelligent, interactive advertising technologies is simply too great for marketers to ignore. And consumers can warm surprisingly fast to technology that interacts with them in unfamiliar ways.  It seems hard to believe that the type of leading consumer facing brands that we have now become fully accustomed to are still relatively new, which highlights just how rapidly innovations in this sector are adopted into everyday life. 


One area that will be key for brands seeking to engage customers in a truly effective way will be the development and implementation of intelligent systems. Intelligent systems will enable sophisticated conversations with technology, ambiently listening for cues to hear our commands, take action, and deliver results. These conversational interfaces remove the complexities posed by today’s menus, icons, buttons, and numbers. The recent success and as a result, widespread consumer acceptance, of these intelligent systems has demonstrated how the right user experience and a mixture of personality and humour can enhance their appeal and ‘humanness’.


In the case of interactive technology, as seen with Coca Cola Kinect (an interactive vending machine complete with motion detectors that requires users take part in activities in exchange for products), marketers will need to go further than ever before to create all the components that make up the personality featured in their adverts. They will now need to ensure that the personality’s tone of voice, and its reactions and choice of vocabulary reflect the existing values of their brand and are consistent across all points of interaction – from the contact centre, to social media channels as well as their interactive ads.


The challenge for brands is to package new marketing technology in a way which will feel like a natural extension of familiar experiences. Doing so will require technology innovators to think seriously about the relationship between technology and its users, and to design intelligent systems that are adapted to the needs of people, rather than systems which require people to adapt their behaviour to use them. Only if this is achieved successfully will brands be able to take advantage of emerging technologies, and provide an experience that works for both clients and companies.


I was recently involved in a project creating artificially intelligent, interactive speaking mobile adverts for Opel, one of the world's biggest automotive brands. The platform used a cloud-based natural language understanding system to provide an interactive video demonstration of the speech-recognition function in Opel’s latest model. The major challenge in that project was tailoring an emerging technology to the needs and expectations of a given target audience, so that it would be considered useful, not just innovative. The idea of an advert that can engage in conversation may seem disconcerting to some, but the interactive material that we produced was well-received by the intended audience, demonstrating what can be achieved when new technologies are applied in an intelligent manner. I’ve also recently worked with JetBlue, one of the world’s top budget airlines. This was a completely different application of the technology, one that focussed on providing a quirky, fun and engaging experience for the user, but it has proved equally successful.  


As marketers, the critical response of the public is essential to the process of developing material that grabs attention, holds it and gets the message across. However, marketing (and advertising in particular) has a proud history of pushing the boundaries of social norms, and the use of new technology should be no exception to this. Having worked directly with the technology, I firmly believe that intelligent systems have a big role to play in the future of consumer marketing. How soon that transpires will depend on the sensitivity and ingenuity of the developers working to turn the raw technology into an experience consumers enjoy and share.