The perfect blend of art and science

PHD's Ben Thomas earned a Distinction with his essay on this IPA Foundation Certificate question.

We are spotlighting some of the best essays from our MIPA qualifying courses and qualifications. Here, PHD's Ben Thomas earned a Distinction on this IPA Foundation Certificate question, looking at why the future belongs as much to Maths Men (and Women) as it does to Mad Men (and Women).

There is a large debate in marketing currently as to whether marketing is about creativity/ brand building (Mad Men and women) or activation and targeting (math’s men and women).

It was a long-standing belief that marketing was about devising a clear and simple single-minded proposition (goal diffusion) and that the idea should be communicated to as many people as possible to drive salience (Byron Sharp).

However, upon the arrival of digital and advanced targeting capabilities advertising has been split into two camps:

  1. Those that believe advertising is about developing the right message and creative and communicating this message to as many people as possible through the art of insight, an understanding of human behavior and leveraging emotional persuasion (shared meaning)
  2. Those that believe that advertising is about the math’s, the science, pinpointing the right people to target, at the right times, in the right contexts to deliver the message and achieve the best business results. (Multiple versions to multiple groups, max relevance)

The truth is likely somewhere in between the two beliefs. Marketing is about the combination of the art and the science. So I do agree with Sir Martin Sorrell.

The arrival of artificial intelligence (AI) will definitely have a large effect on advertising and I will outline how after taking a second to reflect back on past debates about how advertising works with an appreciation that the past repeats itself. TV did not kill radio as expected and Digital did not kill TV as predicted, advertisers just adapted to the new tools available to them and to the new behavior undertaken by consumers, so why would AI kill all current ways we know advertising works, advertising / marketing services will still be about brand building and activation.

The way advertising works has been defined in many ways (Paul Feldwick), including:

  • Advertising as showman ship
  • Advertising as salesmanship (todays activation and math’s men)
  • Advertising as seduction
  • Advertising as social connections
  • Advertising as salience (Byron Sharp)
  • Advertising as spin

The impact of AI in marketing will likely be mainly in media buying and optimization. Media agencies and brands with big enough budgets to bring media in-house will use AI, such as that being developed by IBM Watson to:

  • Analyse trends and data to understand how people behave and buy to uncover surprising facts that can be leverage in campaigns as insight
  • Plan media; weight, frequency and phasing in the most cost-effective way to deliver business results
  • Optimize campaigns and media buying automatically without the need for human intervention

The largest impact of AI will likely be that it will drive smaller media agencies out of market as they will not be able to afford the AI to deliver great business results like large agency networks or clients. The media buyers and planners will also have to spend their time analyzing human behavior and working with the tech and less time optimizing campaigns.

To conclude, I agree with Martin Sorrell but do think we are some years off effective implementation of AI in marketing and when it does arrive it will not kill marketing as we know it today, brand building and activation will still need to be balanced and at the end of the day humans buy from humans, technology such as AI can always be biased due to the programmer and needs to be programmed to test different hypothesis and to grow the buyer base to grow the brand.

Ben Thomas is a Strategist at PHD Media. This essay earned a Distinction as part of the 2019 IPA Foundation Certificate.

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