Are data, technology more important than the human touch?

By Mark Challinor


London, United Kingdom


Trends in digital advertising are always hot topics for debate. This is especially true as the world has been and still is in hugely challenging times. Today, getting the right message in front of the right people, and at speed, has taken on even greater importance.

What can we learn here? 

In today’s newsletter, we will examine where digital advertising is today and how it can be enhanced using something very “not technological.”

Trends in digital advertising: the end or the rebirth?

So, what trends are shaping the future of digital advertising and how you can exploit them to benefit your media business and your digital advertising strategy? 

In a recent INMA Webinar, Pete Doucette, chief revenue officer at The Philadelphia Inquirer, discussed the importance of a strategy based on relationships and data.
In a recent INMA Webinar, Pete Doucette, chief revenue officer at The Philadelphia Inquirer, discussed the importance of a strategy based on relationships and data.

I recently ran an INMA Webinar with Pete Doucette, chief revenue officer at The Philadelphia Inquirer. In it, Pete described the importance of building a digital revenue strategy within which there should be a specific demonstration of a pivot from a scaled, audience-led digital advertising strategy to one based on known relationships and data. 

Privacy limiters and the need for transparency 

I was thinking about this more and the fact that digital advertising is very much in the centre of a bigger digital evolution. It is already under attack from the likes of ad blockers, Apple’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP), and ever-changing data privacy regulations like GDPR. It took a further knocking with Google’s announcement that it will phase out third-party cookies in its Chrome browser within the next two years

Add to that the obvious impact of COVID and that consumers find many digital ads intrusive or sometimes annoying, and it’s quite easy to see why there’s been much debate in the industry about it being in a real crisis.

We need more transparency. 

Audiences value privacy so news media companies must too.
Audiences value privacy so news media companies must too.

As Tracy Day, managing director for ad products and innovation at The Globe and Mail in Canada, told the INMA audience at September’s Whats Next for Advertising Sales master class: “We need to put ourselves in the position of the consumer. They will want to know: Is it worth it (my investment of time)? Does it create value for me? Is it customised for me? How are they using my data (on the back of this)?’”

The end of digital advertising? 

So, without a major overhaul on how we do thing, could this be the end of digital advertising as we (use to) know it? The answer is a definite “no,” but it will have to change, become much smarter, and work harder to be relevant to consumers wherever/whenever they see it (and on whatever platform they experience it on) to carry on delivering strong results/ROI for our media advertisers.

As Pete Doucette told me in a follow-on chat, post-Webinar: “We need to look after our data strategy or face longer-term consequences. Using data efficiently and effectively is what separates out the best marketing strategies from the rest.” 

Digital advertising must adapt to become more relevant to consumers and more successful for advertisers.
Digital advertising must adapt to become more relevant to consumers and more successful for advertisers.

For sure, data-driven advertising and marketing take substantial amounts of data and put it into segments to target existing and potential customers in a much more relevant and engaging approach. However, the concerns from global consumers regarding how their data is handled — alongside with strict, data privacy legislations (e.g. GDPR, ePrivacy etc.) — has meant advertisers have had to re-think how they collect, store, and use collected data.

We must have consent

The onus now is on ensuring we have consent. That means putting our customers first and foremost, then creating any experiences we offer built around their needs and wants. Once we have their consent, we have everything we need to create far more meaningful, thoughtful, relevant, and truly engaging display advertising experiences for them. 

Not doing this will only decrease consumer trust and/or confidence, result in a loss of brand loyalty, and ultimately potential sales. Secondly, failing to manage our data effectively and not having the correct consent can result in large fines.

Here in the UK , we saw the first hefty fines imposed by the ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office) for GDPR infringements just before the pandemic stared in 2019, with fines totalling nearly £300 million (+US$400 million) given to Marriott hotels and British airline BA. 

Using data to drive our display advertising offerings is still the way forward for the vast majority. But having a robust data strategy, as per Pete Doucette’s advice, (with an equally robust, supporting management process) is vital to make it all successful. 

Then, there is the all-important human element to complement what technology provides: insight. In-depth industry knowledge and perhaps, most importantly (in my opinion), creativity.

Creativity: the key element for success? 

Advances in technology, AI, and algorithms are advancing and even exciting, but they can only take us so far. For digital advertising to be truly impactful and therefore successful, it must have creativity at its core — a human touch that all the best AI, ML, etc., will struggle to implement. 

As we have all found out over the last 18 months or so, the world around us can change amazingly quickly. For advertisers to thrive in such an environment, they need to be creative. They need to be able to think “outside the box,” to pivot, and, if need be, diversify.

CMPs to aid the creative process? 

In its simplest form, a creative management platform (CMP) — a cloud-based software that allows sales teams to create, distribute, then measure performance of digital advertising — is essentially a range of advertising technologies all rolled into one easy-to-use platform.

CMPs can enhance the creative process by taking what can be automated (managing Web content, allowing multiple contributors to create, edit, and publish), thus allowing for additional, expert human input, knowledge, and interpretation.

Creative management platforms (CMPs) are an easy-to-use digital ad platform.
Creative management platforms (CMPs) are an easy-to-use digital ad platform.

Part of the creative process if you will? CMPs alongside the human touch can also help ensure brand messaging and consistency across all advertising channels and markets. So, with full creative control over advertising, you can create impactful campaigns for your advertisers that both hit the target with their audiences and will deliver results for media sales teams and for clients ... win, win!?

One thing is for sure: When tech, data, and creativity combine, they create powerful advertising propositions consumers just can’t ignore.

So, digital advertising is far from dead. It just needs a rebirth, and it’s already happening. Many news media companies I see are tackling the data and technology issues that face us all.

Question is, are you applying the human touch also?

The futurist’s view of human input

Some will know the name of Gerd Leonhard, a German futurist, speaker, and author who specialises in the debate between humanity and technology. Gerd has been a guest keynote speaker at previous INMA World Congresses, and I was lucky to interview him recently when he joined me on my UK Business radio show (The UK Brand Show).

A global “ation” nation? 

Gerd spoke on how we are all becoming accustomed to a new era of “ations” — i.e., digitisation, mobilisation, augmentation, disintermediation, and automation. Anything that can be automated in future will be.

That sounds rather scary for some. In media advertising for instance, what about people’s jobs? In an era where we in the news industry try to get closer to our advertisers and readers using data, context, algorithms, programmatic advertising, etc., what does that mean for our staff and the offerings to our audiences? How does that affect what we should be presenting to our advertisers? 

Of course, the rise in technological advances in recent years has meant we can indeed get closer and understand behaviours, nuances, and trends. But we need to do much more than that, especially when it comes to advertising. 

Gerd told me that in such a world that he describes, “anything that CAN’T be automated will become more important in the future” — all the things, in fact, he showed me in his word cloud below, which includes creativity, insights, critical thinking, values, meaning, respect, storytelling, etc.

Isn’t that what we need to all grasp when thinking about shaping our future sales structures and the way and what we “sell?”

Future Gerd Leonhard uses this word cloud to describe non-automated priorities for the future.
Future Gerd Leonhard uses this word cloud to describe non-automated priorities for the future.

“Human insights beyond data” 

Gerd said: “It’s about reaching human insights beyond data and technology.” 

It’s food for thought, is it not? We are all highly focused on using data and technology to drive our advertising offerings. Rightly so. But we also need to push forward — and dare I say, “exploit” — the humanity aspects of society and our company beliefs via our sales teams. It all seems to fit perfectly alongside, for example, diversity and inclusion, (a hugely important focus of what we do now), as another, complementary part of that future concentration. And it totally complements the notion of not forgetting the importance of the human touch.

The "Diversity Triangle" as described by author Louise Story.
The "Diversity Triangle" as described by author Louise Story.

This past INMA video interview with Gerd is as relevant today as when it was filmed. And here is the UK Brand Show interview I did with him a year ago. 

Date to remember

Join us for the first Advertising Initiative Meet-Up on Wednesday, October 27, when our guest presenter will be Michael Beckerman, chief client officer of Torstar in Canada. Mike will provide his insights into the media buying process from both a client and agency perspective. Come prepared for an interactive session. Register here. 

Further reading

About this newsletter 

Today’s newsletter is written by Mark Challinor, based in London and lead for the INMA Advertising Initiative. Mark will share research, case studies, and thought leadership on the topic of global news media advertising. Sign up for the newsletter here.

This newsletter is a public face of the Advertising Initiative by INMA, outlined here.

E-mail Mark at with thoughts, suggestions, and questions or follow him on Twitter (@challinor).

About Mark Challinor

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