Adobe: Representation, personalisation, experience vital to future of digital advertising

On the 25th anniversary of the first digital ad, Adobe's Advertising Cloud APAC leader talks about the value exchange and personalisation required in tomorrow's digital advertising efforts


The future of digital advertising is about brands being customer-led, not advertising-led, creating a value exchange with consumers, ramping up diversity, and acknowledging they’ve lost channel control.

That’s the agenda according to Adobe Advertising Cloud APAC head, Phil Cowlishaw, who spoke at a media lunch during this year’s Adobe Symposium on the state of digital advertising today and tomorrow. His comments coincided with the 25-year anniversary of the first digital ad, as well as fresh research from Adobe on the importance of representation within advertising.

“We need to start to think about creating a value exchange,” Cowlishaw said, noting clickthrough rates on digital advertising have dropped more than 99.89 per cent since debuting 25 years ago, with the average sitting at 0.05 per cent. This hasn’t stopped digital advertising becoming the largest portion of media investment today, with spend in Australia reaching $8.8 billion in 2018, according to IAB figures, up 11.7 per cent year-on-year.

“But digital isn’t your strategy, digital should be part of your communications plan. That’s important as we think about the future of what digital looks like,” he said. “Nor is it about the KPI of a marketer. It’s about understanding how we’re trying to change behaviour, and what’s the behavioural change we need to drive.”

Turning the corner on advertising means embracing the experience trend, Cowlishaw said. And a big factor in this is the switch of control from brands to consumers.

For example, the concept of time-based content consumption is gone, he said, highlighting 8.1 million Australians now access content via connected TV, while 13.6 million listen to digital audio. He also positioned search as a “capture-all” and way of giving consumers the ability to consume on their terms.

“We have the choice as consumers - we choose when we watch content, when we watch it, and what medium we watch it on,” Cowlishaw commented, adding this is driving a huge shift towards scripted advertising content. “That’s a big opportunity for marketers.”

It's these forces contributing to the industry shift from advertising led, to mass media, to consumer-centric experiences at scale, delivered with velocity, Cowlishaw said.

Yet brands aren't yet meeting demand for better utilisation of personal data in advertising. Cowlishaw pointed to one industry statistic showing 70 per cent of brands falling short on delivering real-time personalisation at scale in the consumer’s eyes. He also noted 80 per cent of customers are more likely to do business with companies delivering personalised experiences.  

"From an advertising perspective, we need to act fact – the population is getting very savvy and more aware on the exchange of data and the value they expect from this,” he said.

"We need to be positive on how we drive this change and understand exactly what data a consumer wants us to use, and what data a consumer thinks is personal and doesn't want used in engagement."

Diversity's role in advertising

Another factor in the mix is consumer demand for authenticity and relevance. According to Adobe’s new Diversity in Advertising survey, more than six in 10 respondents see diversity as an important attribute in advertising. In fact, 21 per cent said they’d boycott brands that don’t showcase diversity, and a quarter are more likely to purchase from brands exhibiting diversity in their advertising.

The survey also found 56 per cent of consumers think more negatively of a brand that’s lacking such representation in its advertising, and 29 per cent are more likely to trust a brand that invests in more diversity in ads. The survey encompassed 1000 Australians.

Related: How can CMOs help brands embrace diversity?

Food for Thought: How a policy of diversity and inclusion helps improve CX

On the bright side, 58 per cent of respondents believed diversity in advertising has lifted in the last three years, and two-thirds agreed their race or ethnicity is represented in the ads they are served. However, digital is behind the game on this trend, too. Survey respondents said it was largely TV advertising they perceived as more diverse. Just 9 per cent said digital advertising was doing the same.

“By shifting that representation, we’re understanding consumers and know it’s better for business as a result,” Cowlishaw said.  

“In an increasingly competitive digital landscape, consumers are demanding personalised and authentic advertising, experiences and engagement from brands. What this research shows is that while diversity in advertising is obviously improving, the real opportunity for brands is to make their customers feel like the brand knows and cares about them through representation.”

Off the back of this, Cowlishaw had three musts for digital advertising. The first is a focus on being customer-led, not advertising led. Secondly, it needs to create a value exchange and elevate and coordinate with other strategies. The third essential is recognising “consumer control is the new normal”.

Cowlishaw also commented on the potential demise of cookie-based tracking and the rise of data protection measures such as Europe’s GDPR. While the shift won't happen overnight, the lesson here again is consumer consent and control, he said.

“Cookies won’t vanish overnight, it’s more about enabling consumers having more control with what is happening with their data and how they’re being tracked,” he added.

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