FEATURE16 October 2015

Five take-outs from IAB Engage conference


Digital advertising has come a long way since the first banner ad appeared in 1994, as marketers and agency chiefs discussed at IAB Engage in London. Everything from data, trust, storytelling and branding was explored. By Jane Bainbridge


1. Data-driven storytelling

Mark Lund, CEO of McCann Worldwide warned in his talk entitled ‘Do Algorithms Dream of Electric Shoppers?’ that if the advertising industry doesn’t find a way of using technology and data and making it acceptable for the society it serves, it will fail. But if it can learn to use machines better then a new goal of data inspiring creativity can be achieved. “We are a brilliant combination of predator and collaborator – part shark, part meerkat – but also phenomenal tool makers and users. It is the use of tools that’s taken us out of the cave and into the conference centre. Technology has equalled prosperity through all our history,” he said.

2. Misuse of data leads to an erosion of trust

Use of data was also central to another talk. Favourability of the advertising industry is low and the rise of ad-blockers is “a symptom of that lack of trust and belief in what we do”, said Hamish Nicklin, managing director, AOL. And he warned, if you extrapolate forward and everyone used an ad-blocker you would have the end of the free internet. “Is it advertising that people are trying to block, or irrelevant interruptions?” Nicklin cited research that found that 82% of people are happy for a brand to use their data as long as it adds value; 48% of people think brands are already doing it and 83% expected brands to ask permission before they use data.

3. Maintaining personality with growth

James McClure, general manager UK & Ireland, Airbnb admitted the company’s biggest challenge now was how to keep its “personal-ness” while growing and becoming mainstream. It now operates in 190 countries and has almost two million rooms listed, a considerable growth since it started with one room in San Francisco in 2008. Its brand has been based on the idea of travelling but living like a local and this appears to be true in more than one way – people staying in an Airbnb room are 10 -15% more likely to use public transport and use local assets, he said.

4. Businesses disrupt, not technology

As Airbnb has demonstrated by disrupting the travel industry, it’s not the technology that’s a disruptor, it’s the business model. This was psychologist, Paul Marsden’s point in his talk ‘The Uberfication of Everything’ as he claimed the future would be in convenience tech – “we should be there to make people’s lives easier”. However he also warned that the expectations set by digital media had shrunk our attention span and made us impatient “Our attention span has dropped by 30% since 2000,” he said.

5. Listen to your children, even if they don’t listen to you

Not every company has the brand equity and inherent love that Walt Disney can enjoy, but Anna Hill, CMO, explained that much of its success comes from rigorous market research. It tracks 22,000 children on its kids’ tracker (using short questions, lots of images, videos) and talks to 150 mothers every month on its mum’s panel, creating an app to help engage with them. Before every movie release it researches awareness and adjusts its marketing accordingly. “We spend an inordinate amount of time on research to know what our customers think”, said Hill. But to make sure the research is actually relevant for the company, she said it’s always about the “so what?” And she said ultimately it’s about listening to what the kids want. “I listen to my kids all the time, even though they don’t listen to me,” she said.