5 game-changing ideas from Advertising Week to apply in 2024

What’s great about advertising is that it’s constantly changing. That’s what keeps the industry interesting while also making our work mentally challenging.

The change was quite apparent at Advertising Week this year (the second year back in person), with a palpable buzz about everything from the impact of inflation to how to innovate with AI. Many of the sessions focused more on the technology powering advertising than the creative component, which signifies quite a shift in how we approach the work of advertising today. The end goal is still the same: Create authentic connections with consumers. But the how of doing that is very different today than it was in the past. 

Read on for our five big ideas from Advertising Week that you’ll want to consider for your 2024 marketing:

1. Define what generative AI can actually do for you today, and in the future

AI was literally everywhere throughout Advertising Week, but the reality is that vendor organizations are using AI as a branding opportunity (can you blame them?). There’s an important distinction between generative AI—the kind that’s been making headlines in the past year—and rebranded, high-quality predictive AI, which is great, but many big players have been doing for more than a decade.

The applicability of true generative AI in marketing today was minimal; most of the discussion around generative AI was how to use it for bettering your team or your own work process, like writing outlines, getting 100 different headline options in an instant, etc. “The problem is that there aren’t a whole lot of generative AI use cases for media,” said Jay Pattisall, VP, principal analyst at Forrester. “What they’re doing is mistaking the broad use case that is generative AI for actual predictive AI, which has been operating in media for the better part of 10 years.”

It's probably going to take a few years to see the real applications of generative AI in marketing—there’s a lot of refinement still needed to make the technology truly autonomous and marketing-ready. But while that’s happening, there’s a lot to be gained from using quality predictive AI, as long as you can distinguish fact from fiction with the AI hype.

2. Tech connections matter more than ever  

In nearly every conversation, there was some discussion about data deprecation, cookie loss, signal loss, etc. A recurring theme was that connected tech, rooted in first-party data, is the best path forward to delivering the best customer experience.

Now, that is much easier said than done. There are myriad organization, technology and data hurdles to clear to get there. Jenni Finch, head of media for brands like Pearle Vision and Lenscrafters at Luxottica said, “It’s understanding how you set your organization up to flourish in the future… That also means getting a unified view of our consumer—our reset is really about bringing that into a single view, which is a really long and complicated process.”

And without that unified view, the customer experience does suffer. “If you don’t have that end-to-end platform that’s connecting all of these things,” said Dave Peterson, GM of retail media at Epsilon, “any one of those components that’s fragmented or done differently, that results in a poor experience for the customer.”

In another conversation, Jennifer Mennes, VP and global head of digital marketing and partnerships at Mondelez, echoed that marketing is becoming less and less about the channel or tactic, and more about using the right tech foundation to make real connections. “There’s no difference between brand marketing and performance marketing—it’s all about connecting with consumers in that authentic way,” she said. “Sometimes it’s connecting in a high-end, emotional way, and other times it’s reminding them that they need cookies for their kids’ lunchbox.”

Being able to build thoughtful, authentic relationships with consumers requires you to know each person in a real way. In a cookie-less future (and present quite frankly), that means connecting your tech stack so you’re never missing a beat across the customer journey.

3. The environmental impact of media waste is real

There was a big focus on how much energy the advertising industry uses—from running servers filled with data to delivering millions of wasted ad impressions. I counted no less than five sessions with an environmental lens.

Kroger Precision Marketing coupled an Advertising Week panel on this topic with an announcement that they’re going to start measuring carbon emissions for their retail media network. The biggest challenges started with getting corporate buy-in to do things this way and ended with making sure you don’t look like you’re just “greenwashing” your adtech.

Running tens of millions of ad impressions only to actually reach a couple thousand in-market consumers isn’t sustainable for business or the environment. "Our business is energy intensive as we think about the warehouses that are fueling servers that are influencing the digital economy," said Cara Pratt, SVP of Kroger Precision Marketing. "We're hopeful that this commitment will pave the way for retail media to make sure the ad ecosystem becomes more performant through the carbon supply chain." And that ethos applies to all of digital media, not just retail media. 

What’s good for the planet is also good for marketers’ bottom line: A more efficient advertising partner ensures you’re always reaching the right in-market consumers.

4. The “brand” is the customer experience 

Gone are the days of the single, perfect ad unit. Your “brand” is how the customer experiences it, which, today, can be quite different for each person. And that’s a good thing.

Elizabeth Preis, CMO at Anthropologie, shared their journey to rethinking the brand for a gen Z audience. But what that really meant was building different views of their brand—from influencers to images to messaging—to be relevant for each individual they may want to talk to. “Your creative costs are going up, but the opportunity cost of serving ads that don’t resonate is also a compelling argument,” she said. “We will think and act digitally first because that is how customers often first actually respond to your brand.”

Finch of Luxottica echoed a similar sentiment: “If we don’t know who our customer is and the various things they expect and the things they are going to want to want, then they’re going to have a bad experience. You have one customer, but they have 1,000 different behavioral characteristics that influence them at any point.”

Part of it is letting go of that perfection in creative; Pries noted that it’s all in a digital environment, so if something isn’t working, they can pull it and swap for something else. That’s the beauty of the approach—it’s very flexible, but speaking to customers the way they want you to requires your strategy to be flexible as well.

“We tend to go for an easy button and put budgets in different groups that will run up against what the marketer is trying to accomplish,” said Joe Doran, chief product officer at Epsilon. “They plan in siloes (shopper marketing vs. media buying vs. linear TV) instead of thinking ‘How do I go and most efficiently spend all of my money?’ At the end of the day, that’s what the CMO is really asking for.”

5. Retail media is stepping farther and farther outside of just “retail”

Everyone has a retail media network—not just retailers. What was a niche within a niche for retailers and brands has grown to be its own marketing category that non-retailers are finding their footing in.

We’re seeing that retail media is a space for brands that have 1) consumer data and 2) consumer attention. Lyft Media, for example, did a whole session on connecting with consumers on the go: they have data on where people are physically headed, and their value prop to brands is that they can deliver ads in those geolocated moments—i.e. picking up a bottle of wine on their way to a friend’s house, etc.

7-Eleven also has their own retail media network that skews heavily towards a gen Z audience, which is an attractive value proposition for a lot of brands that want to better connect with that group. Mario Mijares, VP of insights, loyalty, marketing and monetization platforms at 7-Eleven, said “Pick one that’s going to have the most impact not only in the retailer but in the impact of the market.”

In all of this, brands need to consider how well their retail media partners actually know who the people they’re reaching. Retail media research from Epsilon showed that 64% of brands and retailers both agree that retail media networks with multiple technology providers have a negative impact on shoppers. “Where we get in trouble is when we make assumptions,” said Diana Haussling at Colgate Palmolive. “Not everyone buying diapers is a parent; not everyone buying a pregnancy test is a woman. Consumers are more savvy and will tune you out if you don’t understand who they are.”