The age of automation is upon us. But just how much will Technology and A.I. algorithms affect the world of advertising? 

Industry research is pointing to an inflection point, a report from research firm Forrester cited that agencies were in ‘need of existential change’ and would need to ‘disassemble what remained of their outmoded model’, and that by 2030, agencies would lose 11% of their workforce to technology.

A recent Deloitte study went further, predicting possible future scenarios of the advertising industry from the perspectives of; the advertisers, agencies, media companies, digital platform companies and consumers. They found that in three of the four predictions, agencies would lose out to either data fuelled predictive marketing from new tech companies; or personalised digital content creation from brands targeting their own consumers in fragmented groups or individually.

Agencies were only predicted to thrive in a scenario where legislative restrictions on data privacy limited personalised targeting and therefore promoted a return to large scale mass audience engagement. 

However, in three of the four possible outcomes they predicted, creativity would remain essential for advertising whether it was harnessed by agencies, technology platforms, media companies or the advertisers themselves.

Technology is already effectively automating targeting through programmatic as well as media buying and data and insights through machine learning. The next step is the creative process itself.

So the real question we have to ask is how will technology affect the future of advertising, if creativity is predicted to remain essential?

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At the moment, our brain’s are luckily still a little more creative than a computer programme, and just how effective machine learning proves to be at creativity, will be discovered in time. But the growing influence of technology doesn’t have to signal the end of creativity. Ironically, if used ‘creatively’, it may power a much needed evolution in the advertising industry. 

The agency model itself. 

The agency model hasn’t really changed for over 70 years, with agencies hiring the best creative people to work on client accounts and staffing their departments according to the size and requirements of their client’s business. 

Technology has already changed most of the business world, resulting in marketing clients shifting towards a project based model, rather than the previous retainer-fee model. This has forced agencies to merge capabilities and downsize, meaning a lot more work for smaller creative departments.

Despite being champions of innovation when advising brands however, there hasn’t been any major innovation in the advertising model itself?

A report from Accenture on the future of advertising cited a need for organisational change to implement more technology effectively and that the most commonly cited barrier to change was the ‘current culture’ of traditional agencies.

But change isn’t just happening, it’s already happened and in disruption, also lies opportunity.

The global downsizing of the industry has led to masses of talent leaving agencies, but that also means there’s a huge pool of amazing talent hungry to create.

If Covid-19 has taught us anything it’s that it’s not just been a moment to reflect, it’s also become an opportunity to reset.

Remote team working has proven not just a viable alternative, but an efficient model, allowing diverse teams of differing skillsets to work effectively no matter the physical location.

The Forrester report also suggested now was the time to accelerate the transformation of agencies into more ‘streamlined, intelligent providers’. 

And CMO’s who embrace change are quickly adapting to the new normal in work processes, as Jennifer Breithaupt, Global Consumer CMO at Citi, mentioned in a recent interview for Adobe.

“As brands adopt a sprint approach versus a marathon approach, smaller teams working on specialised projects in a condensed timeframe will become a more prevalent model,”

The greatest agencies in history have always been made up of one simple thing, great creative people being empowered to create.

As Micheal Lisovetsky of JUICE recently summarised in a recent AdAge article,

“With automation commoditising media buying – the value of marketers and advertisers will be in creative and strategy more than anything else.” 

I believe the future of advertising doesn’t have to revolve around technology replacing human creativity, but empowering it. 

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The best creative talent has always been locked away within the traditional structures of large multinationals. But now with agencies unable to maintain them, there’s a huge pool of accessible, experienced talent with diverse skills, that technology is ready to empower.

It’s no longer about finding an agency you can afford, it’s about intelligently selecting the very best specialist team for your project, to answer the specific requirements of your brief and budget.

Through technology, creativity will no longer be beholden to large corporate structures, but empowered through independent decentralised, specialist teams.

In times of unprecedented change, there’s never been a better opportunity to innovate and re-think existing processes.

Brave, original, powerful advertising of the future, may not come from incredible technology, but in technology empowering incredible talent with the freedom to create it.

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