Wednesday, 27 April 2011

How technology will revolutionise advertising (eventually)

In the ad industry, we talk a lot about new technology.

But technology won't fundamentally change the way that advertising works, because it hasn't fundamentally changed the motivations of the people we advertise at. And by advertise at, obviously I mean 'engage in brand conversations'.

New technology won't be the death of TV. The Ad Contrarian is better at making that case than me and he does it frequently enough that I can safely link just his homepage.

It won't provide real time advertising response statistics. Well it will, but shortly after it does, we'll realise that we don't want them. I don't even want my morning coffee in real time, never mind visitor statistics for my web-site. These things need time to consider and appreciate.

What technology is going to do, eventually, is give us some decent kit to do our regular client reporting and media buying jobs. I wanted a TV spot history for one of our clients for the past couple of years this afternoon, so I called up DDS because that's what there is. We all use it.

Pay the DDS website a visit and see if you can find a screenshot of one of their tools on it. Red flag number 1 for a software provider that is - if images of the software aren't front and centre on the website and they're using generic business-like stock images instead, then invariably it's because the software is crap.

For the record, if you want to extract a list of TV spots for your client, then the software looks like this. No I didn't write this post in 1992 and never get around to publishing it.

You can't get more than a year's data out, ever. In fact if your client has run any number of ads, then you can't get more than a couple of months out at a time. More user friendly databases than this used to run on the BBC Micro.

Also from DDS and embedded in a large number of media agencies is the BrandOcean timesheet system, which is more modern (it's got a web interface!) and is arguably even worse to use.

It's unbelievable that a client ringing up and asking for a detailed history of their press spends for the past couple of years, can spark panic in a planning team if they've only got a day to put it together. Any exec should be able to run that data in ten minutes.

OK, most industries have got some legacy software hanging about and it's often not very good, but marketing is a special case. The tools we use every day to do our job are shockingly bad. In planning and buying, in research and in reporting, vast amounts of time are wasted by account handlers fighting against crap software.

In a large number of cases - Telmar and much of the DDS suite for example - all the software really does is interface with a prorietary database and make it difficult to extract what you need. You're forced to run four separate queries to get four years' worth of data, or told you can't have TV stations and spot lengths together in the same table, because it's not a report the software knows how to build.

We need - as an industry - to refuse to buy these systems. You've got raw data I need? Great. I'll have it raw in a database please and I'll point my own 21st century software at it.

Technology will eventually change the marketing industry, but I fear that its arrival is as imminent as Facebook's triumph over TV advertising.

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