Alexa, We’re Still Trying to Figure Out What to Do with You

These days, you can find virtual assistants like Amazon’s Alexa or Google’s Assistant in all sorts of things, from smart speakers and smartphones to washing machines and bathroom mirrors.

The challenge isn’t finding these digitized helpers, it is finding people who use them to do much more than they could with the old clock/radio in the bedroom. A management consulting firm recently looked at heavy users of virtual assistants, defined as people who use one more than three times a day. The firm, called Activate, found that the majority of these users turned to virtual assistants to play music, get the weather, set a timer or ask questions. Activate also found that the majority of Alexa users had never used more than the basic apps that come with the device, although Amazon said its data suggested that four out of five registered Alexa customers have used at least one of the more than 30,000 “skills”—third-party apps that tap into Alexa’s voice controls to accomplish tasks—it makes available.

But while some hard-core fans are indeed tapping into advanced features of virtual assistants, like controlling the lights in their homes, for the most part, “people are still using these speakers for very routine tasks,” said Michael J. Wolf, the founder of Activate. “It’s not clear that there is something that’s going to drive people to use these.”

Some believe virtual assistant technology can be that sort of platform, and the company with the most useful assistant will gain an advantage for their other services — like internet search or online shopping. Lose that competition, however, and a company could be at the mercy of its rivals.

Paul Erickson, a senior analyst at the research firm IHS Markit, said, “The more interesting functionality is yet to come.”

For now, consumers’ satisfaction with their smart speakers—and by extension, the onboard assistants—is helped in part by the fact they didn’t pay a lot to get them into their homes.

Wakabayashi, D. & Wingfield, N. (2018, January 15). Alexa, We’re Still Trying to Figure Out What to Do with YouThe New York Times.

Observations from the 2018 CES (Consumer Electronics Show)

Editor’s Note: An ARF Report by Christopher Bacon, EVP Research Quality & Innovation

CES is massive with an estimated 3,900 exhibitors. But despite all the hustle a couple of themes stood out:

Everything will soon be connected. All the electronics manufacturers demonstrated how they were linking together everything in your house through voice-activated devices. You can turn on the lights, brew the coffee, make toast, read (or listen to) your emails/posts/tweets, watch morning news reports all by simple commands to Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. And if you’re too sleepy to talk, you can turn on your 148″ screen on the wall and touch all the devices you want to activate.

Driver not required. Nearly every major automotive company had a car on the CES floor and every one of them had some form of autonomous driving capability. There’s more emphasis on the experience inside the car since there’s less effort required to actually maneuver the machine from point A to point B.

Consumers control content and distribution. Speaker after speaker emphasized that the consumer is at the center of everything they do, be it original content, “shoulder” content—the add-ons to create 360 engagement and allow consumers to immerse in the experience—or means of access. Marketers talked about the importance of brand storytelling to inspire consumer “fans”, taking brand loyalty to the next level of consumer demand. But “fandom” may not be relevant in all industries. Marketers consistently spotlighted how technology is helping to create consumer experiences to drive growth and build brand loyalty.

While CES showcases the potential of what can be, we had some reminders of what’s required to make the future a reality, e.g. the infrastructure has to be in place for all this technology to work. The irony wasn’t lost on anyone that the lights went out for more than 2 hours on the convention floor. Technology won’t work without reliable power, high-speed internet access, and rules of the road. The question is, Who’s going to provide this?

Also, while VR and AR abound, they were still relegated to games and entertainment. There were still long lines of people waiting to take the VR roller coaster ride or big-game safari. But there weren’t many examples of VR and AR being integrated into everyday experiences.

Finally, the juxtaposition of the 148″ television screen with the 6″ mobile screen questioned whether bigger is always better. Will a larger screen encourage more attention or just become more expensive wallpaper?


GroupM’s Irwin Gotlieb: Marketers Ignore Long-Term Brand Building “At Their Own Peril”

Editor’s Note: Selected pieces by AdExchanger’s author Alison Weissbrot from an interview with Irwin Gotlieb, Chairman, GroupM Global.

Although GroupM has invested aggressively in programmatic and data-driven marketing technology, Irwin Gotlieb (Chairman, GroupM Global) still adheres to the importance of top funnel marketing. “I believe strongly in a marketing funnel, and that broad targeting will continue to remain an essential part of marketing,” he told AdExchanger. “If I focus my effort on picking the lowest hanging fruit and stop watering the tree, the tree would die. That’s what happens when brands over-target.”

And short-term focus on cost and ROI are troublesome trends Gotlieb has seen before. “As an industry, we’re not good at keeping institutional knowledge,” he said. “If you’re going to build a brand, you have to take into account long-term effect, short term-effect and everything in-between.”

What are your thoughts on the evolution of programmatic? 
Programmatic kicks in when the transaction is so small, humans can’t manage the volume. As we move from purchasing pages in magazines, billboards and 30-second spots on television to impressions, that level of decisioning can’t be done by humans. That all falls broadly under programmatic.

Marketing is about simultaneously working on every level of the marketing funnel. In the last 15 years, the granularity of data available allows us to activate against each level of the funnel. That doesn’t mean I stop doing top funnel work. If you miss any of those steps, you do so at your own peril.

AdExchanger: Can you stop clients from applying short-term thinking to their marketing budgets, or do you just have to wait until the cycle wears out? 
Companies under pressure do what they have to do to see another day or quarterly report. Most often, they do that by narrowing the target, or by trading highly effective media for cheaper, less effective media. That doesn’t yield good outcomes for the long-term health of the company.

We do our best to convince clients they shouldn’t do certain things. If they have a figurative gun to their head and there is no choice, we will execute what we are told. But it is our responsibility to push back.

It’s also risky when millennials and young people don’t value brands the way previous generations have, and you have consolidation in distribution. Some of those distribution points aren’t particularly anxious to protect legacy brands.

Weissbrot, A. (2018, January 15). GroupM’s Irwin Gotlieb: Marketers Ignore Long-Term Brand Building “At Their Own Peril”AdExchanger.

TVB/4As Push for Local TV Station Time-Shifted Ratings

Editor’s Note: Written by Wayne Friedman, West Coast Editor of MediaPost.

For TV stations, there are renewed efforts to push for replacing the still standard Nielsen live-only program measure with a metric that includes some time-shifting viewing. The TVB (the TV station advertising group) and the 4As (American Association of Advertising Agencies) have issued an analysis on replacing live-only program measure with live program plus one day of time-shifted viewing (L1).

The 4As also says that “as national buyers migrate to C7 ratings [the average commercial ratings plus seven days of time-shifted viewing] from C3 to account for current TV consumption patterns, it should be noted that live plus one ratings at the local level tie closely to C7 ratings [on the national level] on an index basis.”

Nielsen has no commercial ratings for local TV stations.

A Nielsen rep added: “We support the TVB and 4A’s recommendations for enhanced data streams that go beyond live and same-day viewing, and better reflect the daily and time-shifted viewing habits of consumers.”

Friedman, W. (2018, January 15). TVB/4As Push For Local TV Station Time-Shifted RatingsMediaPost.

‘Programmatic Is a Relatively Dumb System’: IBM Wants to Use Blockchain to Clean Up Media

Editor’s Note: This is an interview with IBM’s CMO, Michelle Peluso, written by Ilyse Liffreing from Digiday.

Programmatic has become the norm when it comes to media buying, but that doesn’t mean it’s without its flaws. But the hot technologies of blockchain and artificial intelligence could fix the issues.

For IBM, that’s the goal. “One thing we’ve been thinking a lot about is how blockchain is going to affect media buying and how much fraud and waste can be eliminated by putting blockchain in programmatic,” said IBM’s CMO Michelle Peluso.

Q. IBM has publicly talked a lot about investing in blockchain. How do you view its role in advertising? 
A. Programmatic is the way the world works. It’s not going to change, but there’s a huge amount of inefficiencies and waste. Right now, on average, of any dollar a marketer spends, only about 50 cents shows up in front of who you are trying to advertise to. If I want to get a message in front of hundreds of thousands of people, I’m using programmatic and algorithms to deliver it. Where it actually shows up, I really don’t know. And there are so many tolls that show up along the way — there’s a brand-safety toll, a [brand] tracking toll. Everyone’s taking their 10 cents on the dollar out along the way. What blockchain can do is register each point where that ad shows up effectively, so marketers can control the process and get more working dollars in front of customers.

Q. You’re also bullish on AI. 
A. AI is [transforming] and will transform our profession. We are using it to outperform programmatic. Programmatic is a relatively dumb system — it doesn’t learn. You’re basically saying, I want to reach these audiences. What we do with AI is look at what can we do to actually learn from how we use programmatic, which channels perform the best, and look at how much more we should be bidding on. So it’s the notion of learning and improving.

Liffreing, I. (2018, January 15). ‘Programmatic Is a Relatively Dumb System’: IBM Wants to Use Blockchain to Clean Up MediaDigiday.

As Voice Continues Its Rise, Marketers Are Turning to Sonic Branding

Editor’s Note: Quotes from Lynne Biggar, Visa’s Chief Marketing and Communications Officer and Lauren Nagel, Group Creative Director at Pandora are included in this article written by author Katie Richards from Adweek.

Sound is a powerful tool that can trigger specific memories or emotions. It’s a staple for marketers who have used jingles […] to connect emotionally with consumers, whether on TV or radio. But as technology like Amazon’s Echo or the Google Home Assistant become more embedded in our daily lives, it’s becoming increasingly important for brands to create those same emotional connections without visuals, just sound.

Visa found that sound could make consumers feel safe and secure in their transactions, and that 81% of shoppers would have a more positive reaction to Visa if it incorporated sound or animation into its marketing or shopping experience. […] The brand released a special sound in December. After using a Visa card, either in a digital or physical store, customers hear a chime of sorts, signifying a secure, speedy transaction. Eighty-three percent of respondents said Visa’s new sound sparked a positive perception of the brand.

“As you think about payments becoming much less frictionless, potentially more embedded in experiences and new places, we started to think about how the Visa brand might manifest itself in formats that are quite different from a shop or a digital website,” said Lynne Biggar, Visa’s Chief Marketing and Communications Officer. That could be in your car, in your home, through your smart home devices or even a Fitbit, she explained.

“We are now in a currency of language and sound, as opposed to screens,” said Lauren Nagel, Group Creative Director at Pandora. “I think for a lot of folks the sound of your brand is still a bit of an afterthought, and as we move more toward a voice-activated world, sound is becoming even more important.”

Richards, K. (2018, January 14). As Voice Continues Its Rise, Marketers Are Turning to Sonic BrandingAdweek.

Rethinking the Profession Formerly Known as Advertising: How Data Science Is Disrupting the Work of Agencies

Editor’s Note: We are repeating this Journal of Advertising Research (JAR) piece so that you can now read it via email. This is a “Speaker’s Box” article in the Journal of Advertising Research. The JAR invites academics and practitioners to identify potential areas of research affecting marketing and advertising. Here are a few excerpts from this article:

There is nothing new about the claim that advertising is not what it used to be. In 2012, the annual report of WPP noted, “We are applying more and more technology to our business, along with big data. We are now Math Men as well as Mad Men (and Women). Thus, we go head-to-head not only with advertising and market research groups such as Omnicom, IPG, Publicis, Dentsu, Havas, Nielsen, Ipsos, and GfK, but also new technology companies—such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple and Amazon—and then with technology consulting companies such as Infosys, Wipro, Accenture and Deloitte.”

At a minimum, it must be clear that a profession that changed hardly at all in the 70-odd years since the commercialization of television is not recognizably that profession any longer. By all that defines a profession—skills, assets, clients, and heritage—it is time to declare a new regime.

When a new technology is born, nothing is more certain than that it will be deployed, whether for good or for evil, and data science will not be an exception. We will receive its benefits, and we will learn to live in and around its costs. But what role will the institutions and people of the advertising profession play in the emerging practice of data-driven marketing communications and customer management?

Deighton, J. (2017, December 1). Rethinking the Profession Formerly Known as AdvertisingJournal of Advertising Research.

The Internet of Things (IoT) Will Be Massive in 2018

Editor’s Note: Bernard Marr, a Forbes contributor, interviews Bret Greenstein, VP of IBM’s Watson IoT Consumer Business.

Greenstein highlighted four key trends, three of those trends were around convergence with other distinct yet highly correlated technologies. This underlines the principle that data is the fundamental ingredient of digital transformation. The technologies predicted to make big waves in the coming year – including IoT, artificial intelligence, blockchain, and edge – are all methods of collecting, analyzing and storing information.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is undoubtedly the buzzword of the moment—everyone is talking about it, but a lot of people still aren’t quite sure what it is. According to Greenstein, 2018 is the year that the understanding of its role as the brain running IoT systems will spread. As more and more devices become connected and capable of speaking to each other, AI – deep learning, natural language processing, image recognition and neural-network driven decision-making – will help them to understand each other, and us.

Greenstein: “In the early days you could do IoT in your home in a lot of different ways and there were a lot of wires and a lot of hard-code – mobile apps came later, but it was still an isolated experience that doesn’t really feel connected … AI is helping to bridge that gap – now we are seeing automakers and hotels and other companies trying to create more integrated experiences and using AI to better understand and interact with people.”

Movement towards greater exploitation of this technology is a key trend for 2018 too, says Greenstein. “Suddenly there are cameras that can not only see, they can understand the image, and microphones which can listen – that’s increasingly being pushed to the edge.”

Blockchain and the IoT in many ways seem built for each other. Blockchain – a distributed and encrypted digital ledger – is well suited for recording details of the millions of transactions which take place between IoT machines. It’s only recently that the idea of convergence between these technologies has been widely talked about, though. “What people missed about blockchain … is that all of this IoT data … requires all of that data to be stored in some kind of unchangeable record. [At first] everyone thought it was about the sensors – but we’re getting to the point where it’s the insights and interactions with people.”


Marr, B. (2018, January 4). The Internet of Things (IoT) Will Be Massive in 2018: Here Are the 4 Predictions from IBMForbes.

The Ads that Moved Us in 2017

Editor’s Note: Clicking on the Ace Metrix source link at the end of the article will provide access to view the commercials referenced.

“These days, ads need to provide a certain ’emotional’ reward for viewers to watch until the end, or even get them to pay attention in the first place. It’s more than just breaking through the clutter; ads need to establish an emotional connection with viewers. But in today’s cord cutting media environment, that is no easy task,” said Peter Daboll, CEO of Ace Metrix. “All of these ads excelled in making us feel something. Whether it was humor, inspiration, tugging at our heartstrings or downright ‘what was that?!’, real viewer reactions created these lists of the best of the best,” added Daboll.

The following lists were derived through a combination of machine learning and Natural Language Processing methods looking at the frequency of emotive words and phrases used in viewer comments. With over 8,000 video ads analyzed in 2017, and over 3 million viewer comments.

The Most Heartfelt Ad of 2017 — Subaru’s ad, “Share Kindness,” pulled the most heartstrings with its powerful message “Love. It Makes the World a Better Place,” and its promotion of Subaru’s charitable event, Share the Love. Even though it didn’t show any Subaru vehicles, “Share Kindness” resonated extremely well with brand considerers, and across auto intenders.

Hyundai’s “A Better Super Bowl”, Walmart’s “#Better Together”, AT&T’s “Rise Up” and MasterCard’s “Sign Up” followed.

The Funniest Ads of 2017 — Skittles “Romance,” was also recognized as a Super Bowl LI Standout. Not only did the ad achieve high Breakthrough (combined Likeability and Attention scores), but it also successfully drove Desire for Skittles. The humor appealed to viewers across all demographics. SkinnyPop and Kia were next in this category.

The Weirdest Ads of 2017 — Weird doesn’t mean bad. Some ads are made with the main purpose of grabbing attention, as is often the case with those that leave us with a weird feeling. Or brands are targeting a specific, narrow demographic, whose message or language might not be understood by others. Mike Dive, the director of Halo Top’s “Eat The Ice Cream,” created the ad with the intention of being “creepy enough to capture the internet’s attention.”


Insights Blog. (2018, January 4). The Ads that Moved Us in 2017Ace Metrix.

In 2017, Reach Was the Buzzword

Editor’s Note: Bob McCurdy, VP of Sales for the Beasley Media Group, provided a monthly review of the year, where “Reach” proved to be a continuing focus.

Here are five excerpts from his monthly notes:

At an ARF conference, Nielsen Catalina unveiled a study which concluded that reach was an important sales driver, accounting for 22% of sales growth; the only factor listed above it was ad creative, with 47%.

The article, Reach vs. Frequency in the ROI Stakes, suggested that heavy frequency reduces ROI, as the 4th, 5th, 10th exposure costs the same as the first, but the ROI from those additional exposures is considerably less. Commercials do have a lingering effect, so any repeat exposure within a short time frame is less efficient than reaching an entirely new potential customer.

At WARC’s How to Be a Smart Marketer session in Cannes, Ehrenberg-Bass Institute’s Professor Rachel Kennedy argued that targeting should prioritize the buyers a brand hasn’t reached before. Brands grow when they bring new people into their brand who have not bought from them in the past.

At an ANA conference, Clorox’s CMO, Eric Reynolds, called for new focus on building brands: “We were targeting the kinds of people who already loved us … and kept pushing our investments down to them. We sold stuff. The ROI went up. But guess what? We forgot the golden rule of brand building: Brands are built through penetration. There’s only so many bottles of Clorox our biggest fans will buy.”

In the article How to Grow Brands by Targeting the Masses, Gordon Euchler, Head of Planning at BBDO, noted, “Targeting people with a high propensity to purchase has a tendency of emptying the pool of people in the market without refilling it.”

Twenty-five years ago Erwin Ephron said, “Reaching many is better than preaching to a few.” It seems that advice still holds true.


McCurdy, B. (2018, January 8). In 2017, Reach was the BuzzwordRadio Ink.