TOP OF THE MORNING (Q&A)
If you’re in advertising, you’re probably familiar with The Advertising Research Foundation (ARF). Around since 1936, the organization aims to bring the benefits of science to the study of marketing and advertising – words that are undoubtedly music to the ears of many AW attendees, particularly ones involved with AI. “For us, evidence matters,” says president and CEO Scott McDonald. “Everybody’s very sales-y in the business, loves the greatest hot new thing – and our job is to see if there’s any proof for it.” McDonald sat down with Cynopsis ahead of Advertising Week to discuss what it means to do things a little “orthogonal” to the rest of the industry.
What is the importance of Advertising Week to the industry?
McDonald: For the industry it’s to me it’s like the CES of the ad industry. Someone you want to meet is going to be there; people do a lot of side meetings. Outside of being in NY it’s important because of its scale to the industry. To the ARF it’s part of an experiment we’ve been building in the last year or so. It’s a way of breaking out of the insularity of doing your own conferences. Part of what we’re trying to do was come up with something that was a little orthogonal to the other programming.
You’re interviewing on two keynotes Wednesday: The Customer Journey – Being Fit for Purpose; and Connecting the Dots: Fans, Ice Cream and Values. What’s the most important thing to remember about being a moderator of a discussion?
McDonald: I view these kinds gatherings as opportunities to learn. The moderator has to make that happen by asking questions for things you don’t understand, or things that might be doubling up in the mind of someone who might have some skepticism. Beyond that, it’s keep an eye on the clock.
Streaming services are one of the hottest areas of the business right now. What excites you about that aspect of content?
McDonald: You have an extraordinary expansion of choice, a lot of competition for programs, and old shows rights being traded to broadcast, and new values being set for these libraries. From a consumer standpoint there are a lot of interesting questions that are exciting to me as a researcher and observer of these things. For one thing, how do people cope with so many choices? Will this look like Spotify or Pandora five years from now, with algorithms recommending things to you, as opposed to sending you to a guide or more analog forms of program discovery? With the perpetration of skinny bundles, you have people hit a ceiling of how much households can stand, and it’s so easy to cancel a subscription. There’s a lot of hopping around behavior and the question is, how does that get managed by these companies who want to monetize after they’ve made these investments. It’s a scrum right now.
You have a PhD in sociology – how does that help in understanding the advertising space?
McDonald: Sociology concerns itself with measurement as well as creating conceptual models and incorporates other science fields. Things I learned in graduate school that were directly applicable – statistic, network analysis, stratification and inequality, and demography and all those things, they’re part of how you understand the world and sociology is trying to translate those into a narrative that non-specialists can grok. I think I’ve used them every day of my career. I did a panel yesterday about influencer marketing and those are sociological questions.