Even at CES, Marketers Grapple With Innovative Advertising

Panel discusses recent election as example of cutting-edge marketing

President Obama may be the leader of the free world, but he may also be the leader of the advertising world.

President Obama may be the leader of the free world, but he may also be the leader of the advertising world. A few members of "The Future of Enhanced Advertising" panel (part of the Digital Hollywood event during CES) pointed to the president’s election campaign specifically or the larger election cycle as though those were Neil Armstrong’s first steps on Madison Avenue’s emerging technology moon.

Fred Bucher, who runs the marketing group for Time Warner Cable Media Sales, said the week before Election Day that the Obama campaign began buying spots on TV Land, which he described as "20 networks deep" from the typical presidential campaign buy. Obama’s was no typical presidential campaign, though. The campaign combined its social and digital data with Time Warner’s set-top box data to determine that the people watching TV Land are an untapped voter base of people likely to vote for Obama but not likely to vote in the first place.

"A lot of what we’re doing now is analyzing the data and results and bringing that out to the rest of our clients to learn from," Bucher said.

Those clients may learn from the Obama campaign’s example, but they’re not guaranteed to follow it. "The biggest barrier right now is the cost of connecting data sources," said Amy Ferranti, vp of client services at Designkitchen. "As soon as connecting data sources becomes more automated and more cost-effective, we’ll see more clients taking those risks."

The risk-aversion isn’t limited to data analysis. When it comes to marketers partnering with emerging technologies—the crux of their presence at CES—"the biggest challenge is there’s not a lot of measurement or data to support [those partnerships]," Ferranti said.

While Ferranti, Wenner Media’s chief digital officer David Kang and MediaLink’s Xavier Kochhar agreed that more advertisers are becoming less hesitant to try new things, they are still grappling with how invested they want to be or whether they’d want to reinvest. "Entrepreneurs should be as scared if a test [campaign] fails as if it succeeds because brands want scale. … If you get in front of them and are not ready [to deliver], that’s it and you’re not getting another chance," Kochhar said.

Panelists pointed to two of the biggest budget brands as innovative exemplars. Coca-Cola sets aside 20 percent of its marketing budget for "digital or cutting-edge" campaigns and 10 percent "for the crazy stuff" like partnering with a fresh-out-of-the-accelerator startup, Kochhar said. And Procter & Gamble almost immediately followed the election’s footsteps. During the presidential debates, consumers could participate in polls on Microsoft’s Xbox gaming console, providing a real-time focus group that spanned more than 2 million respondents for the second debate, said Brody O’Harran, who runs U.S. ad sales for Microsoft’s Xbox gaming console. Now P&G is planning to use the Xbox polling tool for tonight’s People’s Choice Awards as well as the Academy Awards and Grammys, O’Harran said.