Has Data Killed (Digital) Art? Insights from AdWeek NY 2016

By Celtra


The importance of both data and creative have been recurring themes at this year’s Ad Week in New York. MediaLink hosted a particularly interesting session at the Whitney Museum focusing at the juncture of the two called Vision in Data: Art and Advertising. The panel session included artists as well as industry leaders from Celtra, Kargo, Appnexus, Flipboard and Vox Media and the discussion seemed to revolve around a core question – Are art and data incongruous when it comes to digital advertising?

The discussion initially focused on the dire strait of current digital advertising. Matevz Klanjsek, Co-Founder and CPO of Celtra, explained how the focus on data at the expense of creative has led to a loss of that sense of surprise, of excitement in advertising. How data is being used too literally in targeting rather than to drive the creative, being creepy at times. Marcus Startzel, CRO of Appnexus, went so far as to say that programmatic buying has killed advertising.

Ryan McConville, President & COO of Kargo, discussed a recent study that tested physical reactions to various ads. One interesting finding was the inconsistency between standard metric assessments of ad performance and individual responses. Interstitial ads scored well on the standard metrics but the physical analysis showed individuals were annoyed. Not quite the effect advertisers are looking for. Not too surprising perhaps, but a good reminder that data must be used carefully. This week’s announcement of the new IAB guidelines for digital ads is further testament that user experience is being overlooked. Otherwise we would not need agencies to attempt to force us to not annoy our customers.

In a less scientific experiment, Ryan asked a group of millennials to describe one ad they saw the day prior. None could, but half could describe the Wendy’s “Where’s the Beef?” ads from the 1980s. Scientific or not, that is scary. Something clearly is wrong with advertising today.

Fortunately, much of the conversation focused on what can be done, and there is much to be optimistic about. While data can be misinterpreted, when used right it is a huge asset unprecedented in advertising history. We must get better at analyzing it and continue to develop better performance metrics. Targeting, when done well, makes ads much more relevant and personal. We just need to avoid straying too far right along the “creepiness scale”, as Matevz explained.

A large opportunity rests with the convergence of data and creative. Advertisers need to leverage data to not just determine ad targeting but to actually drive the creative. Use compelling ad formats, optimized for the specific device, and make creatives that speak to the individual. Remember that individuals today view their mobile devices as extensions of themselves. It is a far more personal experience than with TV ads. Personalization has never been as important, but also as possible.

Data and creativity need not be mutually exclusive in digital advertising, despite often being treated as such. The opportunity – better yet, the challenge – for us in advertising is to merge the two. The data required to shape creatives is increasingly at our fingertips. And the technology to create engaging, beautiful ads is already available, as is programmatic creative technology to build and deliver relevant ads.

The challenge is to change our approach, our thinking. We can continue on the current path, pushing more of our target audience to find ways to avoid ads and encouraging more guidelines and regulations that try to improve the user experience. Or we can take the initiative and bring art into digital advertising. Let’s bring back the serendipity, and do it better than ever using today’s data and technology.

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