This month we take a look at the big stories from the worlds of marketing and advertising, two industries often filled with vacuous, self-serving shameless promotion, but occasionally buoyed by the flash of genius courtesy of an inspired original concept.
IBM launches AI-powered Watson ads
In a bid to harness the power of machine learning in all its terrifying apocalypse-inducing glory, IBM this month announced the launch of “cognitive ads”. That’s right, in an industry first, IBM’s The Weather Company has claimed the future of advertising is here, and it lies in AI ads. The move marks the first consumer use of IBM Watson technology in advertising, but it could well become the norm for marketers as they form strategies around feedback gained from machine learning. The Weather Company initially plans to trial the technology in partnership with Campbell Soup, Unilever and GSK Consumer Healthcare. Customers viewing a Watson Ad will be able to ask via voice or text about the product or offering. The customers will receive accurate responses thanks to Watson’s machine learning and natural language capabilities. For anyone worried Watson’s cognitive learning ads could go the way of Microsoft’s Tay, Weather Company global head of sales Jeremy Steinberg assured people that Watson creates a library of material, from which the AI-bot assembles the “curated answer.” For the sake of IBM and Watson, we hope the library of material is regularly vetted.
Unilever drops gender stereotypes from its ads
In a move that has been praised by gender rights groups and the industry as a whole, Unilever has vowed to drop all sexist stereotypes from its advertising. The news comes after a two-year study found just 2% of the company’s ads show intelligent women. Unilever, which owns brands including Knorr, Dove and everyone’s (least) favourite yeast-based snack, Marmite, announced the changes following a global ad-study into gender roles in the company’s ads. The company spends €8B a year advertising more than 400 brands. The announcement was confirmed at the Cannes Lions festival in France last week. The study made for difficult reading, including finding that women were represented in an authoritative role in just 3% of ads, while 40% of the women surveyed said that they do not identify at all with the women they see in advertising. It’s a progressive step for the industry as a whole, and Unilever’s standing as the second-biggest advertiser in the world will hopefully inspire other firms to follow suit.
Mark Zuckerberg’s eccentric security quirk
This month Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg inadvertently revealed he tapes over the speaker and camera on his laptop and set the tech world into a long-overdue debate about home security. After being photographed holding a cut-out Instagram frame in celebration of the apps 500 million user milestone, eagle-eyed followers noted some interesting additions to his Macbook. The multi-millionaire millennial puts tape over his webcam and speaker to avoid conversations and images being picked up by opportunist hackers looking to get some dirt on the 32-year-old entrepreneur. The discovery sparked discussions on hardware security between major heads of state, tech specialists and even the lowly man on the street. In case you’re wondering, yes, you should tape up your webcam and mic when not using them. The NSA files leaked a few years back revealed hacking people’s laptops is not above the security agency, and several cyber security experts have advised people to do everything they can to limit hackers access to their private lives. Whether you think it’s a little extreme comes down to what you do in front of your webcam, but the reality is, taking a few extra precautions never hurt anyone, even if it does make you look a little paranoid.
Everyone is jumping on the Euro Cup train
Even with some premature exits from the competition (not to mention some not so premature exits), the Euro 2016 tournament in France has proven a level playing field for new talent, both on and off the pitch. The tournament has led to some truly inspired advertising so far, with big names like Coca-Cola, Mars and others opting for the “Come on England!” approach in the UK. The flaw with opting for this approach perhaps should have prompted calls for a backup campaign, but so far it seems like most brands hadn’t anticipated the highly likely scenario of England crashing out early. Budweiser was picked up on social media for a billboard spotted following England’s departure from the competition. ‘50 YEARS OF HURT IS THIRSTY WORK’ may have sounded like a great line during discussions in Budweiser’s marketing department several months back, but when seen after England have already been knocked out, it takes on a slightly derisory tone. Coupled with the billboards location in an Asda car park in Coryton, Cardiff, the ad takes on an even more sardonic tone. A far more inspired approach to marketing came courtesy of that most unlikely of sources; the Iceland supermarket chain. Prior to the game between the England vs Iceland game, the frozen foods specialists had encouraged some friendly competition between the two countries by rebranding its stores:
GUYS, quick reminder that we're a supermarket and are not currently playing in the Euros. Isn't the stadium nice? 🤗 pic.twitter.com/z4x2Ekgnfu
— Iceland Foods (@IcelandFoods) June 27, 2016
The store Tweeted throughout the game itself, at several points reminding followers that it was in fact just a supermarket, and did not represent the tiny island nation of Iceland. With the final whistle signalling an end to England’s Euro Cup hopes, Iceland the store tried to stay magnanimous in victory (well, it’s namesake’s victory, anyway):
Everyone should be passing on their congratulations to @footballiceland they are the football team. We are the UK frozen food specialists
— Iceland Foods (@IcelandFoods) June 27, 2016
Brexit marks a change in fortunes for UK businesses
After several months of fierce campaigning, Britain voted to leave the EU. Ignoring the political and economic implications of the vote, Brexit has already begun to impact on the country’s thriving marketing and advertising industries. Even before the vote, the uncertainty caused by the EU referendum was beginning to influence the markets. For ITV, this uncertainty led to the broadcaster lowering its ad revenue forecast in the first half of 2016. Likewise, ITV rivals Channel 4 blamed the slowdown in advertising spend on the referendum. Jonathan Allen, director of sales of Channel 4, told Campaign “About a quarter of it [fall in ad revenue] is Brexit.” The reason behind the fall was the level of uncertainty the referendum created. Advertisers are wary of investing too heavily when they’re not sure what’s around the corner. The slowdown looked set to lift as soon as the vote came in. However, with the political environment still precariously ambiguous, advertisers have been wary of investing too heavily, which places more emphasis on maintaining current brand policies and shifting market focus even further towards the digital landscape. The truth of the matter is, nobody can be certain what effect leaving the European Union will have on the advertising and marketing industries. One thing is for certain, however, is that the vote gives the UK and the EU, a whole new set of opportunities and obstacles. It’s up to the industries to ensure they’re ready to tackle both.