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Marketers are increasingly looking to machine learning and automation to increase effectiveness of their brand campaigns and marketing initiatives. But human intuition is still critical to success. That’s according to this year’s survey of U.S. Effie Awards Final Round judges. Effie Worldwide, a nonprofit, is an authority on marketing effectiveness. The Effie Awards honor marketing effectiveness.
Judging for this year’s U.S. Effie Awards was held in early March in New York. The annual survey of judges included 156 respondents from the agency and client side. Final-round judges included C-level marketers representing a mix of C-suite agency, brand and media leadership, hailing from AT&T, IBM, Netflix, Spotify, Domino’s Pizza, MINI, Peloton, BBDO, McCann, 180LA, gyro, Mekanism, and Terri & Sandy, among others.
According to the survey, nearly 55% of respondents said that machine learning has had an increased effect on marketing effectiveness. Still, it is early days: Almost a third of respondents said they are not investing enough in machine learning to have an answer.
Notably, more than 35% of respondents said that they believe the optimal balance of automation and human creativity in their organizations is “humans over robots;” 23% indicated they believe it is “an equal mix of both.” Meanwhile, 12% said that “automation should support human creativity.”
TV continues to be the area of investment that is decreasing among marketers, according to the survey. About a third of respondents indicated that investment in TV was decreasing, followed by print. No surprise there. But interestingly, the third-largest area of decreased investment was events and sponsorships.
Luis Di Como, executive VP of Global Media at Unilever and an Effie judge this year, believes that that may be a reflection of the difference in how events and sponsorships are classified, but also, he said, “there is a higher appetite and push to be actively in content and in programming rather than around it. The move from a purely interruption-based model to one that blends a mix of interruption and integration is underpinning a lot of this change.”
Melissa Hobley, CMO, OK Cupid and a first-time Effie judge, agreed. “The reason we’re seeing a decrease in spending on events and sponsorships is instead of [marketers’] saying, ‘I’m going to put my brand on Coachella or the Macy’s parade,’ instead [they’re saying,] ‘I’m going to create something that is exactly the story, emotions, experience I want to create.’” They are pulling money from events where the benefit is halo association and “instead, brands are investing in creating their own things that are going to tell a sharper story of what they want to tell,” Hobley said.
With regard the automation/human creativity balance, both Hobley and Di Como said it was still, for marketers, a tough arrangement to get right. “It’s a tricky balance in terms of, how do we use technology to connect with daters, and where do you need the human touch? We are not yet using automation to do creative. Maybe that’s because we’re in an emotional category. I am selling you a path to find your person,” she said of the dating site. “Perhaps we are leaning more on human touch in some of these areas because of the category that we are in. There are other ways in which we are looking at automation and how certain events are triggered and how we talk to you,” she said.
But, she added, “nuanced insight is not going to come from machines or an algorithm. Automation was not going to tell us that politics was playing an increasing role in dating. How do you articulate that back? That requires a human, someone who is spending time with young women.”
At Unilever, “automation solutions are essentially applied on routine tasks involving a fair degree of simple manual intervention with a view to drive productivity and save time,” Di Como said. “Typically, complex tasks don’t see a lot of automation, but there are various areas where we have made substantial progress in improving the level of automation, for example, around how we drive dynamic creatives, media operations, assessing creative mandatories/fundamentals,” he said.
However, like Hobley explained, he said, “There is still a context layer that should not be automated, where the decision-making needs to take into account speed that automation can deliver and marry it with the context that is human. A good example is how we extract consumer insights—it is a mix of automated insights using data signals and also meeting consumers to extract any insights that automation may not be able to quantify.”
In the end, marketers are looking to AI to have the most impact in their marketing organization and strategy in how it will enable human talent to be, well, human.
“One of the biggest areas of AI impact is around freeing up marketer time to do more creative work,” Di Como said. “AI can be used to analyze data in greater volumes and at faster speeds than people, meaning marketers can spend their time using the data to make strategic, creative decisions rather than doing [administrative] processing. We’re excited about the potential of AI to do this,” he said.
“It’s interesting to me that data and analytics is our biggest problem area and our biggest investment,” Hobley added. “Everyone’s still struggling with the same thing: how to invest in data and analytics but not be chained to it. There’s also powerful, emotional things that marketers are looking to do, but you have to be courageous to do things that are harder to measure. It’s really easy to keep upping your Facebook spend. It’s really hard to say, ‘We gotta keep going with out-of-home [advertising]; that’s working for us.”
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