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Linking Empathy and Engineering at Advertising Week New York

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Linking Empathy and Engineering at Advertising Week New York

This week, New York welcomed not only foreign leaders and dignitaries at the United Nations headquarters—the city also embraced some of the best and brightest in the world of advertising, marketing and technology. Yes, Advertising Week New York—one of six Advertising Week events held around the world—came to offer thought leadership, workshops and more with 1,216 speakers and over 290 different events.

There was much to ponder and celebrate throughout the week. At the Clio Awards, eight awards were distributed among three projects that we contributed to: the Uncensored Playlist, Mind the Gap and the geolocation-based revamp of the “Runaway Train” music video. We also made placement on Adweek’s 100 Fastest Growing Agencies list, and our VP of Marketing Kate Richling was shortlisted for Advertising Week’s Future is Female platform.

But that’s enough patting ourselves on the back. What were the brands up to in all the fray? Our recap explores three big topics from one of the biggest weeks in advertising—namely what’s driving the in-housing trend, how brands are working creatively with data and the new collaborative partnerships that are helping brands respond to both those opportunities.

Getting Closer to Consumers through In-Housing

One thing that’s become undoubtedly clear across the course of the week is that brands are seeking ways to take back control. For many, this has manifest in a trend to take their creative and media capabilities in-house. Often attributed to goals like lowering cost or time to market, there are in fact many reasons why brands feel they can do creative better on their own terms and turf, as explored at the Brand Innovators summit, which coincided with Advertising Week.

A major goal behind the in-housing trend is a need to get closer to the consumer. As traditional brands grow with widening product lines and more channels to communicate through, they risk losing coherence or consistency within the brand-consumer relationship.


The In-Housing panel at Brand Innovators. (Photo courtesy Kat Papera/Brand Innovators)

At a panel on in-housing, Spencer Gordon of Anheuser-Busch discussed how going in-house ensured that a dedicated team in the brand would always be thinking about creative. This enabled them to pursue consumers with greater relevance and brand understanding. But Gordon noted that the initiative achieved big results by first starting small; with four employees focused on providing social assets solely for the Michelob Ultra product, the team has since scaled to 63 members that deliver for all of AB InBev’s brands.

In the same panel, Ryan Riess, Director of Social Strategy and Content at the Hershey Company, similarly discussed how supporting such a large variety of brands (15 of them!) drove them to become more consumer-centric. Hershey felt they could do creative better on their own—particularly in creating platform-specific content that would better connect with their customers. That’s a very specific way that brands can better drive relevance by maintaining an always-on relationship with their consumers, requiring brands to have a clear idea not only of themselves, but their consumers as well.

Purposeful Use of Data for Empathy and Impact

How brands can gain that understanding of the consumer was another major topic of discussion throughout the week. But businesses have come up with interesting ways to accomplish this; a notable example is Target’s internal media company Roundel. In the Advertising Week panel “Climbing Over Walls: Real People Data in an Automated World,” Roundel’s VP Dave Peterson noted: “The data is extremely important, but it’s as much on the human side as it is on the data. We call it the IQ side for data and the EQ for the human side of things.”

This purposeful interplay between both the technical and emotional sides of data provides Roundel with learnings they can use to strengthen the relationship between the retailer, their customers and the CPG partners whose products line the shelves. “Going back to our enterprise view at Target about putting our guests at the center of everything we do, our goal really is to enhance the shopping experience,” Peterson said. “Media works best when it’s in everyone’s benefit.”


MediaMonks Founder and COO Wesley ter Haar gave a keynote address at the Brand Innovators summit. (Photo courtesy Kat Papera/Brand Innovators)


Focused on leading tech trends, the presentation noted the use of machine learning to produce realistic, photo-editing trickery. (Photo courtesy Kat Papera/Brand Innovators)

And that’s a point that resonates well with MediaMonks founder Wesley ter Haar, who gave a keynote address at the Brand Innovators event on Tuesday afternoon. Exploring the challenge between what he calls “personalized pleasure versus personalized panic”—that delicate balance between consumers’ desire for relevance and concern for privacy—he honed in on the need for empathy to become a driving force in everything you do. “We can never stop prioritizing empathy,” he said. “Empathy and engineering must work hand-in-hand in the future.”

Closing the Creative and Data Divide

While Roundel is an interesting example of bridging together the intelligent and emotional quotients in data, they’re not alone: several brands noted the need for marketing and IT to come together to deliver unforgettable customer experiences that build brand love. On the panel “Rethinking TV: Driving Growth, Relationships and Experience Through Data,” Sir Martin Sorrell joined GM’s Global CMO Deborah Wahl, where the two examined how brands must look beyond the typical TVC approach for more scalable, personal and relevant creative.

Wahl gave her brand’s perspective on how impact and effectiveness are table stakes today, and how she works closely with data to achieve it. “We have a chief data officer at GM. We spend a lot of time together, really understanding: ‘What are you learning, what are the insights, how are we going after it?’” she said. “That helps you form better creative briefs so you get a big idea, and then really make sure we can execute that across different channels.”

Monk Thoughts With traditional work, there’s a conservatism that you can’t marry data with being creative.

It sounds like GM has a good rhythm going, but for many brands, closing that IT and creative gap can feel like a struggle. Showing teamwork in action, the S4 family—Sir Martin, ter Haar and Emily Del Greco (President of the Americas, MightyHive)—came together the following day to join Joana Coles (Founder and CCO, Boudica) in a panel discussion about the S4 Capital model and its place within the future of advertising. Coles set the scene for discussion: if you’re not a holding company, she asked, “What the hell are you then?”

The trio’s responses became a multi-faceted examination of collaboration and partnership. Sir Martin drew a line between how S4 operates versus holding companies that impose constraints around the businesses they contain. Instead, he suggested, S4 took inspiration from tech companies who are disruptive by nature. Ter Haar added: “With traditional work, there’s a conservatism that you can’t marry data with being creative.” It’s precisely that challenge that brands are grappling with now, driving that need for control examined above.


Wesley ter Haar at the Brand Innovators Summit. (Photo courtesy Kat Papera/Brand Innovators)

Del Greco noted how aligning data and creative so closely together enables brands to take more risks with confidence. “MediaMonks is about taking the risk, and MightyHive comes quickly with feedback [backed by data],” she said. As iteration and agility have become key to success in today’s always-on environment, this ability to experiment and take learnings will become crucial for future-focused brands.

As Advertising Week draws to a close, we’re energized by the creative wins that brands have have been able to share. Looking at the next year into the future, it will be interesting to see how the landscape further evolves—and how new partnerships will enable brands to achieve a more customer-led focus by closing the gap between data and creative.


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