What can a late ’90s Jim Carrey film tell us about the current state of advertising? Day 2 at AdWeek Europe 2017

Truman Burbank exists in a world created entirely for him with thousands of hidden cameras recording and tracking his every movement. Within his bubble he remains completely unaware of the truth of the real world outside. Anusha Asthana, during ‘The Big Data Backlash’ panel at Advertising Week Europe 2017, made the comparison between our own newsfeeds and the 1998 comedy-drama come sci-fi thriller The Truman Show. Yes, as Ghostery reminds us, we are constantly followed as we journey the web and yes, our newsfeeds are designed to filter anything we might disagree with or find unappealing, but are the dangers as serious as they seem?

Anusha Asthana’s journalistic perspective on Day 2 of Ad Week Europe heavily contrasted with the excitement of the vast majority of panellists that featured on The Guardian Stage; every marketer was in agreement that data, employed properly, created unrivalled investment efficiency. The height of the data enthusiasm was reached during the discussion ‘Can machines predict when you will fall in love?’. The panellists, who included MEC UK’s Data Director Sarah Kenny and Digital Business Director, Crissy Sealy, concluded that the statement is true in terms of brand love. They surmised that with enough of the right kind of data, machines will be able to identify the right people who are primed and ready to fall in love with a brand, the pinnacle of targeting and media planning.

However, the last in the series of data discussions I attended on Tuesday, ‘Marketing To Emotions: The Humanity In The Data’, centred the debate on the important balance between data’s potential and creativity. Ultimately, what made Truman Burbank’s reality television programme so compelling for his fans was the depth of the real emotion within his false reality. This discussion, which was chaired by MEC Global Solutions’ Strategy Partner, Shula Sinclair, led to the slightly reluctant conclusion that building the emotional connection is the final and largest hurdle between brands and consumers. Even if the data has found the right person at the right time, a memorable creative message that creates a lasting emotional connection is vital for any successful marketing campaign.

Anusha Asthana’s journalistic perspective brought a necessary contrast to the industry’s snowballing excitement over technology during Ad Week Europe that the creators should be praised for. While marketers laud greater targeting, Asthana’s voice represented the public’s disdain for being served ads for items they’ve already bought… The conversation during ‘The Big Data Backlash’, with panellists sitting alongside Asthana including The Guardian’s Commercial Director, Nick Hewat; BritainThinks’ Founding Partner, Ben Shimshon; McCann London’s Planning Partner, Karen Crum and PHD UK’s Head of Audience Planning, Rebecca Burchnall, effectively shone light on how the industry’s relatively new programmatic toy plays into the hands of conservative America whose trust in mainstream media has been in decline since Watergate.

Encouraging discussion between CMOs, pollsters, and journalists forces the industry to come to terms with the wider societal implications of new MarTech and Ad Week Europe should continue this effort. In the same way that Google was forced to answer difficult questions about brand safety on stage the following day, Ad Week Europe should not only be a platform on which we celebrate industry success, but should also be a space in which marketers break out of their own bubble, face scrutiny from experts from other fields, and work together to move forward in the right direction.

Overall, I found AWE 2017 to be a truly thought-provoking experience. Seeing industry leaders share a stage debating the biggest topics of today and tomorrow was a rare and fantastic opportunity.

Jared Bentsi-Enchill
MEC Graduate