Geoff Ramsey is Chief Content Officer and Co-founder of eMarketer and will be speaking at the ANA Masters of Marketing Conference in the new "Second Stage" forum, a more intimate setting for learning about what's new and what's next. ANA's Group Executive Vice President Bill Duggan recently interviewed him on the topic of "all things digital."
Bill Duggan: In your role as Co-founder and Chief Content Officer at eMarketer you're on the cutting edge for all sorts of statistics and data points. In the past year, has there been a data point that you have found to be particularly compelling?
Geoff Ramsey: That's a fascinating question. Since I spend most of my days immersed in data and trends, reading endless reports and uncovering new developments across the entire global digital landscape, you'd think there wouldn't be much that would surprise me. But earlier this year I found a statistic that gave me real pause. We are all aware of how Google and Facebook control the majority of digital ad dollars, collectively raking in 58 percent of all U.S. digital ad revenues [per eMarketer], but now Amazon has emerged as a third player which could eventually challenge the duopoly. Just a few weeks ago, eMarketer's forecast team surprised me with three related stats about the e-commerce giant -- Amazon's U.S. ad revenues will climb 144 percent this year to reach $4.6 billion, putting them in the No. 3 position behind Google and Facebook. While that's still a relatively small share, our team predicts Amazon will control 7 percent of the digital ad market by 2020. I didn't see that one coming!
Duggan: Despite all the continued buzz about digital marketing, there is very little conversation about digital creative. In your opinion, has creative been an under-optimized component of digital marketing?
Ramsey: Absolutely. I have to admit I'm old enough to have worked in the ad world when the majority of ad agencies combined creative and media under the same shop. Forgetting the financial incentives for agency holding companies, this made perfect sense for brands because the message itself is just as important, if not more important, than where it's placed. And today of course everyone is focused single-mindedly on data: who has it, how to get more of it, where to get the right data, etc. But in my opinion, while data is certainly critical, if you don't pay attention to the creative message itself your audience isn't going to pay much attention, either. Consumers will ignore you if your message isn't interesting, entertaining, compelling or providing some kind of value or utility. I think this is being lost in the relentless pursuit of more data. The good news is that data and creative are starting to come together in the form of dynamic creative optimization. Think programmatic delivery of creative in real-time. That's when the balance starts to get restored.
Duggan: eMarketer's coverage of the industry is global. Is there anything you are seeing from outside the U.S. that could have important implications here?
Ramsey: The U.S. and U.K. lead in many digital areas, but there is one particular area where China leads big time, and that's WeChat. From what I can see, WeChat has become the Swiss Army Knife of consumer apps. People in China use it for everything, from media consumption to communication to discovery and even proximity payments. Frankly, we don't have anything like that in the U.S. We're fragmented all over the place.
Duggan: You have spoken previously about a "crisis of trust" in the digital advertising ecosystem. What do you mean by that and how should it be addressed by the industry?
Ramsey: When consumers say they can't trust the media they read, you have a big problem, not only as a marketing ecosystem but as a democracy. We need to be able to trust at least some sources we read and believe that facts exist. Solid, reliable journalism matters greatly. But there's a paradox with consumers. While consumers say in surveys that they don't trust a lot of what they read on social platforms, a majority say that's their primary source for accessing the news. Go figure!
On the other hand, brands play a role in this, too. Some marketers are paying lip service to the importance of brand safety. They may insist that context matters and that they want their ads to appear only alongside appropriate content, yet too many don't put their money where their mouth is. In other words, they are so fixated on scale at any price, using programmatic to chase consumers all over the web, that they overlook the fact that their ads are popping up on sites with violence, terrorist ideology, sexual content or other unsavory contexts. I believe brands should take a firmer stand, and take a flight to quality, or they run the risk of eroding their brand equity.
Duggan: Your upcoming session at the ANA Masters of Marketing promises to discuss "a number of new technologies, platforms and tools that come with steep learning curves and require entirely new approaches." What technology, platforms and tools are you most excited about?
Ramsey: I'm excited about many interrelated and powerful new trends. Some may think that artificial intelligence is overblown or hyped, but I believe it is already changing the field of marketing in every possible way, from awareness-building and CRM to personalization and customer loyalty. AI will power, personalize and accelerate every function we do in marketing. It's already under our noses -- if you as a consumer are using Google Maps, Amazon, Pandora, Netflix or Spotify, for example, then you are using AI.
Related to AI is voice technology. The market for voice-activated devices (think Alexa, Google Home, etc.) is exploding like I've rarely seen. By (the end of) 2018 nearly one out of every five Americans will use one of these devices, and 28 percent of them will be buying stuff on them (per eMarketer).
Now I'm getting excited about Augmented Reality (AR) which is finally ready for primetime. Lots of use cases. Lots of opportunities for brands to really connect with consumers in a deeper more involved way.
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