The Frightening Ramifications Of High-Frequency Advertising

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If you think that creativity will be safe from the automation of everything, you are wrong.

It’s not a question of “if” creativity and advertising will be automated, it is a question of “when.” Whether we like it or not. There is a certain speed that the business of advertising has entered into, and it’s going to shift from areas like the time we spend on finding the right media placement and pricing, down to the actual ad creative itself. Our industry is not prepared for how fast the technology is evolving (don’t feel bad, most industries are woefully unprepared), but it is happening.

Programmatic and retargeting is just the beginning.

Conceptually, it’s easy to look at what’s happening with both programmatic and retargeting technology and draw a direct line to the actual creative messaging that goes into those boxes, but that’s not how this is going to evolve. Did you know that Facebook has been using external data brokers to build much more expansive profiles of people like you, me and our customers? In December of last year, Business Insider published the news item, Facebook is quietly buying information from data brokers about its users’ offline lives. From the article:

“…the tech giant gives users little indication that it buys far more sensitive data about them, including their income, the types of restaurants they frequent and even how many credit cards are in their wallets… Facebook’s site says it gets information about its users ‘from a few different sources.’
What the page doesn’t say is that those sources include detailed dossiers obtained from commercial data brokers about users’ offline lives. Nor does Facebook show users any of the often remarkably detailed information it gets from those brokers.”  

What happens when you couple this kind of data into a world of machine learning?

It’s not hard to imagine two massive technological innovations that are about to collide and change the landscape of advertising forever. It’s easy to dismiss this notion, and think that creativity can never be the work of computers, but think on this a little bit more.

Massive technological innovation number one:

Facebook mixes your daily usage, these external data sources and your social graph using machine learning. Suddenly, the idea of “targeting” a specific audience or segment seems quite elementary and wasteful. Push that thinking further: think about your user activity, online sentiment analysis and more. A system this realistic (from a machine learning perspective) is just around the corner.

Massive technological innovation number two:

Artificial Intelligence takes the machine learning and is able to create the right message for the right user at the right time. The key message here is “the right message.” With so much individual sentiment already in the system, think about the machine learning system’s ability to know, understand and dissect mass trends and cultures on top of that. Just stop and imagine what this really means. The system knows what is getting people motivated and can find the right way to deliver that message to an already analyzed and understood consumer. 

Scared yet? Now, let’s think about the speed…

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to be one of the first non-Googler to take a ride in one of Google‘s self-driving cars on an open/public road. Every fear that you can imagine was present and mixed with real excitement. Within five minutes of the drive, I never wanted to be in another car with a human driver (including myself). We could no longer be trusted. Once you see/understand just how many inputs and decisions that the car is making – without human emotions like frustration, being tired, mind on something else, etc… – it becomes abundantly clear that it’s “doing the job” of driving in a much safer and more pragmatic way than human cans (you should see how far out into the distant the car was able to see/analyze). Why can’t the creative part of advertising be the same?

We’re humans. We’re storytellers. We’re emotional. We’re not computers.

All true. But, how long will it be before computers understand so much about us (at a level we can’t even comprehend)? How long will it be before our true roles at work will be about how we nurture and help these computers to learn and do more? How long will it be before computers can put ideas and cultures and messages together in a way that a great creative never could (literally, a new language of communication)? It’s easy to be dystopian about this. It’s easy to say that we’re decades away. It’s easy to be pragmatic about this as well. Right now, creativity is held in a small group of individuals. What if the entire world of creativity was a part of these computer systems, and they had the ability to parse, create and target? It’s scary (no doubt about that), but it would bring on a type of advertising that we’re currently seeing in the high frequency trading space. The smartest financial analyst can’t possibly understand the market, see the trends, trade and react with the same layers of data, speed and technology that these system possess.

I, for one, welcome our high-frequency advertising overlords… but only because it seems more realistic today – than ever before – that this is where advertising is headed. What do you think?