With sustained volatility in the marketplace, GDPR looming and no evidence that disruption from new tech is likely to abate any time soon, this year’s IAB Digital Britain Conference was always going to be an interesting day. Convened to curate thought leadership regarding the state of our digital nation and its impact on the wider advertising sector, these events unfailingly offer a compelling mix of innovative agency case studies and thought-provoking media owner research.

As ever Jon Mew, CEO of IAB UK, opened the day. His theme this year was unabashedly close to IAB’s raison d’etre: building a sustainable future for digital advertising in the UK. He was then followed by a number of fantastic speakers who shared their knowledge on a range of very diverse topics. And, as ever, while there were several recurring or overarching themes for the day, much of the value gleaned was in the form of specific nuggets of data, insight and obscure information from across the digital globe.

Location and Attitude

Sophie Harding presented Mindshare’s latest trends study regarding different attitudes towards technological advancements depending on location. One finding was that Londoners are more likely to be early adopters of new tech and new devices like the Amazon Echo, than people elsewhere in the UK. Perhaps not surprising. However, they were also revealed to be much more comfortable with automation – apparently Londoners sometimes find it easier to deal with a machine and prefer this over the ‘human touch’. On the other hand, Scots are more proactive about data protection than Londoners. And did you know that Yorkshire is the region least aware of augmented reality?

Data and the march of the robots

We also learned from Dr. Peter Day (Quantcast) about the Artificial Intelligence “hype” (his term, not mine) which is happening right now. According to him AI and machine learning will help us understand and make sense of data and enable us to once more focus on strategy and creative and ultimately make our jobs more human again. An interesting inversion of the usual concerns about the machines coming to take our wages away, but one that’s certainly familiar to the account handlers at Space and Time: we’ve been investing heavily into automation over recent years and using the saved resource to provide greater volumes of insight and hands-on account management, of the sort an algorithm could never provide.

Predictably AI and machine learning cropped up elsewhere during the day: a panel discussion led by Catherine Barry from Google gave some interesting insights on programmatic, how it has evolved as a discipline and how the supply chain has undergone some fundamental changes in recent years. Today a whopping 85% to 95% of display spend are coming from programmatic, so it is fair to say (lest there was any doubt) that it is the future of display

Connecting the digital and the real world

We heard from Jennifer Green from Manchester City Council and Catherine Morgan from Ocean, about how their out of homes digital screens across Manchester’s City Centre helped to connect with people and drive participation and engagement. Examples on how these screens were put to use included a litter campaign and the council’s campaign against hate crime as well as some interactive campaigns like Public Health England’s “One you” physical activity strategy. This last initiative involved people downloading the free One You App via Ocean Outdoor’s wi-fi enabled digital ad screens, with the app then giving them the route to a participating Boots store and a voucher to redeem a free lunch – if they made it to the shop within 10 minutes. Clever stuff!

Audio streaming and the real world: when the medium is the message

An audience favourite was Spotify’s Head of Sales Rak Patel, who led an interactive talk on how Spotify and music in general can shape culture, even as outside events are having a massive impact on the way that media are consumed. Real-life events have an impact on what people listen to on Spotify: perhaps predictably in the week after David Bowie’s death, streaming of his songs jumped by 2,800%! We also got to know that Grime artists were backing Jeremy Corbyn in the run-up to the general election.

Not only is music influencing politics these days, we also learned that live events are created around Spotify’s most popular playlists. The music platform’s flagship playlist ‘Who We Be’ inspired a series of events featuring the artists on this very playlist. The same happened with the ‘RapCaviar’ playlist, with Spotify even deciding on the concert locations based on their users’ location data.

From music as data to sounds as brand: there was also a talk from DAX who educated us on how brands can and should make use of sound – voice and music – as a powerful branding tool. Voice is emotionally and socially embedded, something brands can use for their own gain. We have seen repeatedly the power of a sonic call or jingle to bring out a brand identity or to tie a radio and a TV campaign together. When programmatic audio buying is in the campaign mix, this can be even more powerful: there’s an opportunity to make use of additional targeting, segmentation and the greater intimacy that permits. Crucially for brand building, with programmatic radio such as DAX the advertiser can also dictate the order in which a suite of adverts are heard.

Millennial fingers

Evolving this theme of branding and trust, Ally Stuart from Sharethrough gave tips on how to build consumer trust in today’s evolving digital landscape: he emphasised how important it is to respect people’s data, stop misinformation and make ads fit in, i.e. through the use of native advertising. He also revealed a rather shocking survey result: when given the choice whether to lose their phone forever or lose their pinky finger, 46% of millennials would rather lose their pinky finger! Really!? It’s no wonder that they hack at those avocadoes with such reckless abandon…

iProspect shared their top tips for agencies and brands for a successful customer-centric approach, and all of their priorities rang true for our own experience. Agencies were warned they should be preparing for the stricter privacy regulations under GDPR; developing a strategy for voice assistants; efficiently managing high volumes of data and maximising visibility in the online marketplace.

Beware of the shiny

IAB’s James Chandler shared a useful nugget of wisdom with us: beware of the shiny! Only because something looks like it is going to be the next big thing in the digital world, it doesn’t mean it will. He was, however, certain that video is something all brands should invest in as it is simply the best medium for storytelling.

An appropriately cynical attitude towards the Next Big Thing is reflected in the 70/20/10 model that we bring to our own media planning- as much as this structure creates space for the new and the nearly new, it also ensures that the significant majority of media spend is invested into channels that have a proven ability to achieve results.

Smiling: the next big thing

Last one on stage was Futurist Tracey Follows, who called for the digital industry to reconsider our current way of thinking when it comes to digital. Digital should be at the heart of the system – not a computational or information system: the whole system; our living system. We all need to focus more on human centricity as the future of technology is biology. In a KFC store in China you can now ‘smile to pay’ and the band OK Go! recorded their album inside a living organism’s DNA. Who else thinks this sounds a bit crazy? Possibly, but then who ten years ago would have imagined unlocking their phone with their face?

And so

Despite the great bandwidth of topics there were a few recurring themes that every advertiser and business should have on their radars. Unsurprisingly there was a lot of talk of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which we have to be ready for when it comes into effect on 25th May. Other dominant themes were brand safety, the importance of consumer centricity and how voice was going to be the next big thing in years to come. Overall the day was full of valuable insights and inspiration, as usual. Same time next year?

Nikola Paradies – Senior PPC Specialist