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How agencies are using AI to innovate for clients and work faster



How agencies are using AI to innovate for clients and work faster

Agencies are getting savvier at using artificial intelligence as data comes into greater focus as marketing and information technology are becoming more entwined.

Some studies back this up. For example, 81 percent of marketing and IT leaders surveyed by data platform Lytics said their two departments will become more involved in marketing over the next five years, while 66% of marketers plan to integrate AI into their marketing stack.

Experts say the use of AI is increasing as ad targeting with first-party data has become even in more demand. AI can help automate some of those processes, from creative to segmentation and potentially help agencies optimize their ad spend by cutting down on tedious tasks.

“I believe the true power of these technologies and tools are not to replace creatives, but rather make us more efficient,” said Ben Williams, TBWA Worldwide global chief creative experience officer. “There will always be a need for and value in creative direction, human curation, human refinement of an idea and decision making in terms of what is right for the brand we’re working with.”

But organizations are still experimenting with AI as the space grows, using it in a range of ways from moderating content and brand safety to implementing it in their communications strategy and creative products.

Generating content and creativity

One of the key ways agencies are testing AI is in the creative process, using data points to drive content. With these insights, AI generators are able to create relevant content in minutes or even seconds. But this doesn’t replace the work of content creators, acknowledged Nadia Gonzalez, CMO of AI marketing firm Scibids.

“It instead gives [creative teams] a rich tool to use, ensuring more diverse content is seen at just the right time and place,” Gonzalez said. “With companies of all sizes using data science and AI-driven analytics, we’ll also see greater dynamism in things like pricing, personalization and recommendations.”

At creative consultancy Codelab303, founder Anthony Chavez said understanding their clients’ desires is the first step in knowing how to use AI for the organization. Besides using automation for time-intensive tasks, they are utilizing AI tools for producing writing, music and other visuals. The firm has worked with brands such as Ulta Beauty and Carvana.

“There are activities that machines can do much better than humans,” Chavez said. “Whether the objective is providing real-time pricing, streamlining sales bookings or automating content marketing, there is likely an AI candidate within every organization, and the question is more about revealing the role than the resource.”

Similarly, TBWA uses AI content generators to produce assets and products for some of their clients, including Nissan and Corona. Williams described AI as part of a current “creative revolution” that can inspire teams and clients to think differently.

“We’re in a creatively exciting time that reminds me of the ’90s when people, brands and the world were exploring and experimenting how new technologies, tools and services can enhance and amplify their brand or mission,” Williams added.

Over time, these automated creative tasks can make the process more efficient, he said, though he also acknowledged the need for the human touch in this process specifically taking those assets and applying the creative direction of those ideas for their clients.

Training algorithms for brand safety

Many organizations have been using this technology to moderate content or identify harmful conversations on a platform. For example, Tyson and Mindshare recently partnered with intelligence startup socialcontext.ai to create a tool called Impact Index. Using this index, the organization is measuring the social impact of its editorial content in the Black community.

The tool will mark content as positive, negative, neutral or toxic based on an algorithm made with tens of thousands of human annotations. Over time, the partnership wants to refine its editorial strategy and help shape Tyson’s media investments to be more diverse and impactful.

“Through our partnership, we’ve been able to uncover a variety of meaningful insights that are impacting our buying strategy moving forward,” said Courtney Ballantini, vp of marketing communications and design at Tyson.

“By considering the entire article and related metadata, we’re able to get down to the rhetorical level,” added Chris Vargo, CEO of socialcontext.ai. “By training algorithms to detect desired social outcomes, instead of just marketing cohorts and taxonomies, the Impact Index is more inclusive by design. Negative content is factual in nature. For instance, coverage of Black-on-Black crime is not toxic per say, but if it’s over-represented in news, it has a negative outcome on [the] perception of the Black community in society.”

Gonzalez of Scibids said AI content moderation is becoming necessary as the amount of digital information grows rapidly. This makes it difficult for even social giants like Facebook and Twitter to police user content and adapt their policies.

“With the world becoming more digital, it will be impossible for human moderators to oversee and anticipate everything,” Gonzalez said. “As with the AI we build for programmatic media buying, content generation and the data behind it will outpace and outperform human capacity.”

A broader strategy, from customers to C-suite

As machine learning improves, some agencies are also using these mechanisms as a way to help clients build a broader communications strategy at the leadership level. A new offering at Boathouse Group is focusing on behavior and engagement, aiming to help clients drive engagement and grow relationships in media, both internally and externally with customers.

Peter Prodromou, founder and president of Boathouse Palo Alto, sees AI as being useful to identify actionable tasks and solutions for executives. While working with Kaiser Permanente, for example, he said the focus was using AI tools to reduce the amount of data the CEO was getting so that he could make better decisions faster.

“Most of what is out there right now are either automated tools that do a fabulous job of telling you how to engage, or how to create volume and social and digital,” Prodromou told Digiday. “As opposed to thinking through what somebody who sits in my chair has to do to then put it in front of a client and make it work well and drive results.”

Additionally, Prodromou believes these AI-driven tools may spur greater changes in training and management at organizations. If a client has data on complaints about the company, for instance, the agency can recommend strategies on paid media and other customer service retraining for employees. They can use the data to help the client with solutions on the inside that impact perceptions on the outside.

“One of the things that we think has been undervalued is the opinion of employees, so the tools that we’re looking at focus on employee engagement as much as they do with external constituent groups,” Prodromou said. “There’s such a rich set of places that agencies can go based on the data outputs, and I think it’s going to create a lot of ‘aha’ moments between agencies and the executive suite.”

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NASA Says Hurricane Didn’t Hurt Artemis I Hardware, Sets New Launch Window



NASA Says Hurricane Didn’t Hurt Artemis I Hardware, Sets New Launch Window

NASA’s Artemis I moon mission launch, stalled by Hurricane Ian, has a new target for takeoff. The launch window for step one of NASA’s bold plan to return humans to the lunar surface now opens Nov. 12 and closes Nov. 27, the space agency said Friday. 

The news comes after the pending storm caused NASA to scrub the latest Artemis I Iaunch, which had been scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 2. As Hurricane Ian threatened to travel north across Cuba and into Florida, bringing rain and extreme winds to the launch pad’s vicinity, NASA on Monday rolled its monster Space Launch System rocket, and the Orion spacecraft it’ll propel, back indoors to the Vehicle Assembly Building at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center. 

The hurricane made landfall in Florida on Wednesday, bringing with it a catastrophic storm surge, winds and flooding that left dozens of people dead, caused widespread power outages and ripped buildings from their foundations. Hurricane Ian is “likely to rank among the worst in the nation’s history,” US President Joe Biden said on Friday, adding that it will take “months, years, to rebuild.”

Initial inspections Friday to assess potential impacts of the devastating storm to Artemis I flight hardware showed no damage, NASA said. “Facilities are in good shape with only minor water intrusion identified in a few locations,” the agency said in a statement. 

Next up, teams will complete post-storm recovery operations, which will include further inspections and retests of the flight termination system before a more specific launch date can be set. The new November launch window, NASA said, will also give Kennedy employees time to address what their families and homes need post-storm. 

Artemis I is set to send instruments to lunar orbit to gather vital information for Artemis II, a crewed mission targeted for 2024 that will carry astronauts around the moon and hopefully pave the way for Artemis III in 2025. Astronauts on that high-stakes mission will, if all goes according to plan, put boots on the lunar ground, collect samples and study the water ice that’s been confirmed at the moon’s South Pole. 

The hurricane-related Artemis I rollback follows two other launch delays, the first due to an engine problem and the second because of a hydrogen leak.

Hurricane Ian has been downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone but is still bringing heavy rains and gusty winds to the Mid-Atlantic region and the New England coast.

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What You Get in McDonalds’ New Happy-Meal-Inspired Box for Adults



What You Get in McDonalds’ New Happy-Meal-Inspired Box for Adults

You’ve pulled up to McDonald’s as a full-on adult. You absolutely do not need a toy with your meal, right? Joking. Of course you do.

The fast-food chain will soon sell boxed meals geared toward adults, and each one has a cool, odd-looking figurine inside. 

The meal has an odd name — the Cactus Plant Flea Market Box — that’s based on the fashion brand collaborating with McDonald’s on this promotion. 

According to McDonald’s, the box is inspired by the memory of enjoying a Happy Meal as a kid. The outside of the box is multicolored and features the chain’s familiar golden arches. 

The first day you can get a Cactus Plant Flea Market Box will be Monday, Oct. 3. Pricing is set by individual restaurants and may vary, according to McDonald’s. It’ll be available in the drive-thru, in-restaurant, by delivery or on the McDonald’s app, while supplies last.

You can choose between a Big Mac or 10-piece Chicken McNuggets. It will also come with fries and a drink.

Now about those toys. The boxes will pack in one of four figurines. Three of the four appear to be artsy takes on the classic McDonald’s characters Grimace, Hamburglar and Birdie the Early Bird, while the fourth is a little yellow guy sporting a McDonald’s shirt called Cactus Buddy.

In other McD news, Halloween buckets could be returning to the chain this fall. So leave some room in your stomach for a return trip.

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Why companies like iHeartMedia, NBCU rely on homegrown IP to build metaverse engagements



Why companies like iHeartMedia, NBCU rely on homegrown IP to build metaverse engagements

To avoid potential blowback from a skeptical audience, retailers as well as media and entertainment companies are learning to invest in their homegrown intellectual properties while building virtual brand activations inside Roblox or Fortnite.

Take, for instance, when they get it wrong.

Earlier this week, Walmart launched its own Roblox world — called Walmart Land — and was roundly mocked for it across social media given the announcement’s disjointed brand message and apparent lack of life. In one viral tweet, a Twitter user described a clip of Walmart CMO William White introducing the Roblox space as “one of the saddest videos ever created.”

This video of Walmart’s chief marketing officer on a stage in Roblox talking about its new “Walmart Land” experience is one of the saddest videos ever created. pic.twitter.com/HtIIToShKs

— Zack Zwiezen (@ZwiezenZ) September 26, 2022

To some extent, this sort of criticism is to be expected during the early days of the metaverse.

“Walmart is an iconic brand; when you see them coming into a platform like Roblox, people are going to be 10 times more critical of what is being launched,” said Yonatan Raz-Fridman, CEO of the Roblox developer studio Supersocial.

But Walmart’s size is not its only disadvantage as it dips its toes into Roblox. Although Walmart has a widely recognizable brand, it owns few intellectual properties that users are actually interested in experiencing virtually — a shortcoming reflected by the somewhat cavernous emptiness of Roblox’s Walmart Land.

Provided by NBCUniversal

The success of other recent brand activations is evidence that media and entertainment brands are better equipped to build metaverse spaces that can dodge online skepticism, thanks to their wealth of owned IP.

“They are having to reinvent themselves, to a certain degree, but that is in their DNA,” said Jesse Streb, global svp of technology and engineering at the agency DEPT. “So they have a unique advantage over, say, some kludgy company that sells lumber, or a construction company.”

For example, iHeartMedia’s Roblox and Fortnite spaces were inspired by the mass media corporation’s wealth of popular real-life events, such as the Jingle Ball Tour and iHeartRadio Music Festival, with virtual versions of musicians like Charlie Puth performing pre-recorded concerts that allow real-time audience interaction.

“There’s a strong brand association with the IP, down to a station level — you’re in the New York area, you probably know Z100,” said iHeartMedia evp of business development and partnerships Jess Jerrick. “The same is true for the event IP, or the IP that we now have in the podcasting space, and of course our radio broadcast talent. So there’s no shortage of really strong IP we can bring into these spaces.”

Translating real-life properties into the metaverse is also an enticing prospect for brands that view metaverse platforms as an experimental marketing channel, allowing them to bring tried-and-true IP into their virtual activations instead of designing them from the ground level. This was part of the strategy behind the recent Tonight Show activation in Fortnite Creative, which was designed in collaboration between NBCUniversal and Samsung. “We’re looking at it holistically — how do we find fans in new ways, and use IP that fans love in new ways?” said NBCU president of advertising and client partnerships Mark Markshall.

Since opening on Sept. 14, iHeartLand has already enticed over 1.5 million Roblox users to visit. The company aims to retain that attention with a schedule of virtual programming featuring popular musicians and personalities.

“At our core, we are essentially an influencer network; our broadcast talent are some of the most connected, most engaging influencers at work in media today,” said Conal Byrne, CEO of iHeart Digital Audio Group. “That gives us this sort of superpower, to be able to go into new-ish platforms, like Roblox or Fortnite, because we talk to our listeners through those influencers.”


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