Beyond AI

Carl White, Co-founder of Nano Interactive, argues that AI alone cannot guarantee better user-engagement.

Last week, Channel 4 announced the launch of a new AI-driven advertising technology that allows brands to place ads that are relevant to scenes in linear TV shows for the very first time.

Using both audio and visual recognition technology, the tool allows brands to scan Channel 4 programming for what the broadcaster calls ‘contextual moments’ – when a category of goods is used or talked about in a positive manner during a programme – before pairing it with contextually relevant ads during the break. The new product is backed by Channel 4 research which found that viewers are twice as likely to remember an advert when it’s viewed contextually, compared to one placed in a regular TV spot.

The broadcaster is just one of many media outlets embracing AI at the same time as rediscovering contextual-based advertising, and this is a significant moment for our industry and one that every advertiser should sit up and take note of. The potential of this approach to both improve user engagement and really drive marketing effectiveness is huge. It’s a sign that technology is helping us to gain a better understanding of audiences and recognise context and content as two key elements for driving effective advertising today.

That said, the ad world should not view this new development as a silver bullet. While AI-driven content will no doubt become increasingly important for ad effectiveness over the coming years, it’s only when you marry this with a strategy that can understand and unlock user intent in a brand-safe way that ad targeting really starts to deliver what consumers want and need. Thankfully, the capabilities are now emerging that will allow brands to finally adopt this truly user-focused approach.

When, where and why
Contextual targeting is very effective for understanding when and where people will be most likely to interact with branded content, but it doesn’t necessarily tell us why they might be more open to purchasing a certain product or service. For this we need to take a more holistic approach, analysing the broader omnichannel journey of each user to identify actual signals of interest.

One of the most effective ways of doing this is through search intent targeting. Advertisers are now able to create detailed maps and anonymous user profiles based on their search activity, allowing them to better predict what else they might be interested in and what they are most likely to respond to.

Using this data in a way that does not compromise the user’s privacy, brands can then deliver their messages in contextually relevant environments, in the instant that consumers search around a given category or subject territory.
We’ve already seen the benefits of context to brand recall, as demonstrated by Channel 4’s study, so imagine the benefits that could be unlocked by marrying a contextual approach with a genuine understanding of user intent. The impact on both user experience and on marketing effectiveness would be significantly improved.

Put the user first
At a time when consumers are becoming increasingly tired of irrelevant marketing and ever more tempted to install ad blockers on their mobile devices, it’s critical for brands to start offering them content and marketing messages that will be relevant to their immediate needs and interests. Improving the user experience to boost engagement must be advertisers’ number one priority.

AI-assisted online advertising techniques have huge potential to help bring about this much-needed shift. But if artificial intelligence is to become more than just the latest buzzword in marketing, it will need to be supported by an in-depth understanding and appreciation of the environment in which content is appearing, partnered with a genuine signal of interest from the user. Only then will AI be able to boost user engagement in ways previously unimagined.