Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Adtech Top 5 recap: expert panel unpacks 2023’s biggest talking points at SmartFrame event

What will be the big talking points for the digital media industry in 2023? With huge shifts in targeting and measurement facing digital marketers, will a focus on alternative metrics such as ‘attention’ prove a help or a hindrance? Will contextual advertising continue on its comeback trajectory? What role will Artificial Intelligence be asked to play by advertisers and their agencies?

These were among the questions posed to a panel of digital marketing experts recently at a special event in Soho, The Adtech Top 5: What You Need to Know Now. Hosted by New Digital Age in partnership with SmartFrame, editor Justin Pearse chaired the discussion and was joined by: Rhys Williams, Tech and Activation Lead, 7 Stars; Justin Reid, Director of Media, Destinations, Hotels and Growth, Tripadvisor; Bedir Aydemir, Head of Audience and Data, News UK; and SmartFrame’s Global Advertising Sales Director, Gregor Smith.

The panel opened with a discussion around the growth ‘attention’ as a metric and its role within marketing strategies next year. Our experts agreed that understanding of ‘attention’ was still limited at best.

Williams of the7Stars pointed to a recent study where people were filmed in their homes, with TV ads on in the background: “What’s interesting is that even when they weren’t actually watching the TV, they were humming or whistling along to the music in the ads. Technically, they’re not paying attention, but the ad is still having an subliminal effect. So, if we optimise too much towards attention, what else might we lose in the process?” 

Reid of TripAdvisor made his position clear, sharing that he was ”vehemently against” using attention as a primary KPI. 

“The worst, flashiest ad can get your attention, but it can also discourage you from engaging with a brand. If attention can be a sub-metric that filters through to increasing your ROI, then yes, have it. If that means paying an extra 20 pence on your CPM, it may be worth it, but I would be really disappointed if our industry started leading with attention metrics as the next big thing,” said Reid. 

Aydemir of News UK spoke of the unintended consequences of focusing too much on hot new metrics. He said: “We saw that play out with ‘viewability’ and the subsequent growth of terrible ad formats and websites designed purely to deliver viewability metrics, at the expense of customer experience. With attention, you can’t measure it in real-time or at scale, so it has serious limitations, but it does go hand-in-hand with the idea that we need to move away from pure performance metrics like click through rates (CTR) and move more towards things like brand lift and awareness.”

Contextual healing?

Turning to the topic of cookieless marketing and the resulting resurgence in contextual advertising, Smith of SmartFrame said: “The simple reason Google have pushed back the deadline for cookie deprecation so often is that they make a lot of money from third-party cookies and need to find a way of insulating themselves from that revenue loss. Interestingly, though, a lot of the big agencies already have ‘cookieless’ teams in place developing relationships with new partners and exploring new cookieless solutions that will let them target the same audience they would have previously via retargeting.

“Agencies and brands are driving the shift to cookieless right now. They are approaching us, wanting to understand what we can do around contextual campaigns and how we are reaching target audiences via image metadata, specifically human-verified image meta data. AI, as yet, can’t deliver the sort of granularity needed when generating meta tags for images. For example, AI might recognise an image of a football game, but it would struggle to tell you which teams were playing or identify any of the individual players.  The overall market for contextual advertising is forecast to double by 2027 to be worth $335 billion. We want to carve out our own place in that space with our truly unique solution.” 

Williams of the7stars explained that the shift to next-generation contextual campaigns will require the use of Artificial Intelligence to bolster the efforts of media teams. He said: “A lot of the AI we’re seeing in marketing now has grown out of paid search, where the task of managing 1000s of keywords eventually became too complex and unmanageable. More recently, with the resurgence of contextual, agencies have been looking at where AI can be applied to campaigns and free up media teams to focus more on audiences, engagement and creative. We’re also seeing a similar trend around the data cleanrooms, where AI machine learning is being applied to huge data sets to mine for valuable insights that can be scaled.”

However, Aydemir of News UK warned against the ‘black box’ nature of some AI solutions: “The fundamental flaw with many AI models is that they can’t explain how they reached a conclusion, or which data was most predictive in reaching that conclusion. Many are also mangling different sources of data in a way that means individual data sets can’t be extracted from the mix later on, which could create big problems from a data privacy perspective.”