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IAA TALKS…Digital Transformation. Hype vs Reality?

Our second IAA TALKS, on Digital Transformation, came at a pertinent time. Less than 24 hours before the Royal Society of the Arts swung open its doors to our 100+ guests, hundreds of the biggest names in tech signed an open letter urging the world’s leading AI labs to pause the training of new super-powerful systems, saying that recent advances in AI present ‘profound risks to society and humanity’. 

Whilst AI wasn’t a specific focus of the afternoon’s three panels, it crossed each of the transformative topics put under the spotlight that are already impacting our industry: Our Cookiless Future, the Metaverse and Connected TV.

We were delighted to have Professor Victoria Baines, Professor of IT at Gresham College as our expert moderator. A self-confessed ‘recovering Facebook executive’, Victoria’s helped to steer an afternoon interrogating the difference between the hype and reality! Sporting a pair of faux-cyber tech glasses to get everyone in a futuristic mood, Victoria kicked off the afternoon describing how we were on the precipice of a 3rd generation of digitalisation and that far from being passengers, those of us in advertising would blaze a trail for others to follow!

The first trailblazers to take to the stage were Deb Gbadamosi CEO of Brand Advance and Ian Whittaker, MD of Liberty Sky Advisors and regular Campaign contributor, to cover off the intricacies of a Cookie-less future, in…um…15 minutes! 

Ian gave us a whistle-stop tour of the digital advertising industry to date, how low borrowing rates, a lack of government regulation and the rise of 4G in the late 2000s created a gold-rush for tech companies, which are now being cut back by higher interest rates, increasing regulation and brand and consumer scepticism. Deb painted a more positive picture, where a cookie-less future is actually going to give us more interesting, relevant and trustworthy advertising, for example her zero-party contextual advertising platform which helps brands reach underrepresented consumers globally, which cookies could not easily pick up.

After just 15 minutes from our experts, the discussion was turned back to the room for 15 minutes also, where animated exchanges took place across the 10 round tables and then fed back to the room. ‘Contextual advertising is going back to fundamentals…’ one canny audience member pointed out ‘…it’s the oldest advertising in the book!’ and sure enough after a bit of research this author discovered that it has indeed been around since the ancient Egyptians distributed papyrus pamphlets promoting their weaving shops at cloth markets in 3000 BC!

Other observations that emerged from behind the breadstick centrepieces included…’3rd party data was only a temporary diversion in the advertising timeline’ or ‘don’t retailers now hold the largest amount of 1st party consumer data?’

But before the audience could buy shares in Tesco or Sainsbury’s, the 15 minutes of audience participation was up and the Metaverse gurus took to the stage: Pete Judodihardjo from Natwest (and behavioural scientist youtuber) and Ebru Ozguc from Vodafone Business. 

The discussion looked at how people (predominantly the younger generation) are increasingly comfortable with living life online and that brands are already successfully leveraging metaverses, particularly in the Fashion sector like Balenciaga or Nike. But as Pete explained the hardware isn’t quite there yet and it’s only when your headset is a better version of your laptop or monitor, that we’ll regularly inhabit virtual spaces, particularly in the workplace. Perhaps at the moment there is more hype than reality, but as Ebru stated ‘you overestimate what will happen in a year, but underestimate what will happen in 5!’, so when businesses understand why the metaverse would work for their brand audience and there is more scale, it will be a powerful marketing medium.

…afterall Ebru’s twin sons, keen to look the virtual part, had casually spent $500 on clothing their Fortnite avatars the previous week and as Pete pointed out, Nike trainers are cheaper in the Metaverse and they look the same:)

Comments from the floor centred around concerns about the negative impact of a virtual life, damaging for our mental and physical health, as well as the planet through its high energy usage. Moreover will people behave in a world without morals or consequences? But then again the metaverse will also give opportunities to the many disabled VR users or those socially or physically isolated, where the metaverse could provide them physical freedom and a different identity. Afterall VR therapy, healthcare and even dating apps are changing people’s lives for the better already.

The final slot was devoted to Connected TV, a massively growing channel for advertisers and probably THE media buzz phrase of the last 12 months. We were lucky to have Ryan Miles from Microsoft and Vidaa’s Julian Savitch-Lee to explain what Connected TV is and how it’s becoming the obvious ad by-product in an on-demand world. 

With the offline and online worlds merging, the audience was unanimous in agreeing that the opportunities surrounding CTV and on-demand content in general will be the big advertising winner once the technology can be proven and the medium can be measured.

The IAA TALKS wrapped up in less than 2 hours and we headed downstairs from the Great Room to the distinguished Benjamin Franklin room for drinks and nibbles.

On reflection, whether it’s the Metaverse, Connected TV…or Artificial Intelligence, fundamental digital transformation will take place when the technology helps us enjoy our current reality better, providing enhanced connectivity to friends and work colleagues and in the case of one couple who married through the Metaverse…lovers!*

…or of course when Apple makes it look nice and shiny!

A huge thank you as always to our fabulous Thought Leadership Committee, Chaired by Will Nicholson and Laura Morris for organising such a slick and thought-provoking event. And a massive thank you to our sponsors Hawk, Unruly and Smartology along with our fascinating speakers and eloquent audience.

Further reading/ Additional resources:

Will Nicholson’s ‘much referenced’ documentary on online privacy Accept All: Unacceptable?

Check out Hawk’s blog for insights and interviews about omnichannel advertising

More about Smartology’s Smart Match platform  which contextually targets content to the right audiences on the world’s leading publishers at the right time driving higher engagement.

Unruly’s partnership with Smart TV operating system, Vidaa.

*Be wowed by the Teslasuit  a human-to-digital interface!

Further reading: ‘The Metaverse: And How It Will Revolutionize Everything’, Matthew Ball

IAA London