Companies looking for the most cutting-edge advertising technology got some mixed messages at the AdTech conference that kicked off in San Francisco Tuesday. On the one hand, there was an abundance of ultra-personalized marketing tools on display that recalled the 2002 film "Minority Report," except that they are already in use today, some 46 years ahead of that film's fictional date. At the same time, a number of seasoned marketers said that some of the oldest forms of promotions are still hard to beat, while Internet advertising continues to suffer from an oversupply and a lack of focus.
The AdTech confab debuted in 1996 when the consumer Internet was in its infancy and the notion of advertising via this medium was almost exotic. But now advertisers have come to understand that success is more difficult than simply reaching eyeballs online, so the conference is no longer just a venue for showing off a lot of gee-whiz technologies, but a forum for some serious discussion on whether higher tech is necessarily better.
Keynote speaker Jeff Hayzlett, the chief marketing officer of Eastman Kodak Co. [EK], said that although he is always trying to push the envelope with new approaches to advertising, he remains skeptical of people who talk vaguely about "buzz building" campaigns that produce unclear results. Hayzlett (pictured) remains a huge fan of print advertising, spending some 22% of his budget on direct mail.
"In 1980, Charles Wang predicted that by the year 2000 we would be a paperless world," he joked, referring to the founder of Computer Associates. "The only thing we became was a Wang-less world."
Hayzlett added that he remained wary of e-mail-based advertising, noting that e-mail "is one of those things that's been abused beyond recognition."
During a panel discussion, Shelly Palmer, the managing director of Advanced Media Ventures, said that despite large online audiences, Internet advertising was fundamentally handicapped because of its infinite supply.
"Television advertising is a scarce resource," he said. "On the Internet, there is an infinite number of places to have impressions and at some point, infinite supply without infinite demand becomes a challenge."
Other marketers on Palmer's panel agreed that to become effective, online video advertising needs to become a lot more targeted and a lot more aggressive.
Nonetheless, the technology for reaching more targeted audiences, and hitting them sooner, with a more aggressive sales pitch is improving all the time, and is not for Internet advertising only. One of the more impressive displays at the conference came from the interactive marketing company MTI, which makes a technology to improve in-store marketing by identifying individual customers and targeting them according to their needs.
MTI's digital signs serve up specialized promotions over in-store computers or kiosks to match the shopper who is viewing them. The company's marketing chief Jason Goldberg said that one of MTI's customers, an automotive parts seller, has even used its technology to identify different cars and pitch appropriate parts and services, like an oil change.
In response to questions that the technology did recall the more creepy aspects of "Minority Report," Goldberg stressed that the difference was that MTI did not identify customers by reading their retinas, but by inviting them to opt in, in such a way that they were less likely to be concerned about invasion of privacy. - Andrea Orr