Do Algorithms Dream of Super Bowl Spots?
For decades, consistency has been treated as a key factor for making advertising more effective. Be consistent - the story goes - and you will make it easier for consumers to make the connection all the way from seeing your ad on TV to spotting you on that OOH poster to pulling your product from the shelf. That's why marketers must spend so much time figuring everything out just right: what to say, how to say it, where to say it, when to say it. When you decide on those answers, you stick to them. You put your resources on repeating the same message over and over, counting on an easily recognised visual identity and exploring the same brand cues. You try to make all that as present on your audiences' lives as you can, until they become familiar to each other. Finally, you check if it all worked out as planned, by employing research techniques aiming at figuring out just how much of that consistency has been captured by the consumer, in an attempt to establish a direct link to predicting sales.
There's another detail, though: as you go through all that hard work, you have to make sure that what you say about your brand not only is relevant to our audience, but also different from your competitors. You want people to grow used to thinking of your brand in such a way no one else can touch you. Once you establish and defend a discourse of your own, competitors need to seek a different subject to talk about, so people don't mistake one from another. Per example, if you are a laundry detergent that has historically talked about performance - perhaps in terms of cleaning clothes whiter than any other does - a newcomer would have to talk about something else, such as being more gentle to fabrics, or more sustainable to the environment.
As advertising becomes inextricably linked with technology, will that process still be valid in a few years? Exactly how much of consumers' thought process will still inform how we direct the effort of building brands? In that new scenario, advertising overall effectiveness will likely be dictated by the sum of the effectiveness of a large number of independent transactions - each one of them originated by a number of completely different advertising executions. Once we are able to completely customise each and every ad served to each and every consumer - in whatever scale we need, in every medium available - and have total accountability for how each and every one of these interactions performed, consistency isn't a premise anymore. It might only exist as a collateral effect, and its scale will be determined, again, by the sum of successful, independent interactions. In the long run, the entire history of a brand for a given individual might completely differ from the story of the same brand for another individual. It's not just that two different individuals will have different opinions or feelings about the same message they both received from a brand: they will likely never even hear the same thing. What they will hear is whatever they need to hear to choose the brand.
At that point, the competitive advantage won't be consistency, but lacking consistency - the exact opposite. So far, the most successful example that comes to mind on behaving that way is Donald Trump. His own personal brand couldn't care less about consistency. He says what each and every person wants to hear right at that moment. It's all about pleasing the audience. In times of programmatic advertising, Trump is perhaps the first programmatic personality. By freeing himself up of the constrains of being consistent (and, sometimes, coherent as well) with whatever he has said in the past, he could more effectively get to the result that mattered to him: to win the elections.
If everyone else agrees with that approach, and embrace the belief that the end justifies the means, the above will become the norm. Why people think or feel in a given way won't matter anymore. The only thing that will matter is what people do. Consumers won't be recognised by their beliefs, thoughts or emotions - but, instead, only by the likelihood that a given argument, whatever that is, increases the chances of them buying the sponsoring product.
Until someone, once again, remembers that this is all about people, not algorithms - and that humanity is the ultimate hacking tool. And it starts everything all over again.
Rodrigo Maroni is Head of Planning at Africa