Is this all still just a digital experiment – Ad Weeks gathering gives mixed signals

Digital Diligence, Doubts Show at Ad Gathering

Marketers Prove Willing to Experiment but Aren’t Convinced of Results

    By Suzanne Vranica
    September 26, 2013, 7:35 p.m. ET
    At this year’s Advertising Week gathering in New York, it was clear that marketers were willing to try just about any digital experiment — from syncing TV ads with tablet spots, to embedding ads in Twitter streams, to letting machines automate ad buying.

But, despite all the excitement, marketers still aren’t sure if all their digital initiatives are helping them reach new audiences. A survey released this week by Adobe Systems Inc.  showed that just 9% of marketers strongly agreed with the statement “I know our digital marketing is working.”

Beyond serving up more than 100 seminars on topics like “Big Data and the Death of the Big Idea,” the annual marketing jamboree, which began Monday, gave executives a chance to schmooze and swap notes on the sweeping changes in the ad industry. Cocktail-hour gossip ranged from the implications of the pending merger between industry giants Omnicom Group Inc. and Publicis Groupe SA to Twitter Inc.’s initial-public-offering plans.

Suzanne Vranica/The Wall Street JournalJohn Mayer serenades marketers.

Madison Avenue’s elite have been cozying up more and more to their Silicon Valley counterparts. FacebookInc. threw a party on the High Line, an elevated park in Manhattan, at which Keith Weed,Unilever‘s chief marketing officer, chatted with Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, partygoers said.

Chuck Porter, chairman of ad agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky, was seen at a poker game hosted by online-game maker Zynga Inc., sporting a velvet smoking jacket and munching sliders.

“There is a genuine relationship aspect to this business,” said Tim Spengler, chief executive officer of Magna Global, a media-buying arm of Interpublic Group  of Cos.

The Adobe survey found that 76% of marketers think marketing has changed more in the past two years than in the past 50.

At one discussion, called “Creative Carousel,” top ad executives spoke of the mounting demands on ad creators as technology offers new advertising opportunities. Agency talent needs to know as much about Facebook posts and sponsored tweets as traditional formats, they said.

“Sometimes I miss the days when I had a print ad and a radio spot,” said Carlos Figueiredo, a creative director at Publicis Kaplan Thaler. He said it feels like there are “a billion” ad options.

On the digital front, a priority for advertisers is figuring out how to amplify their “first screen,” or television, ads with spots on other screens— whether laptops, smartphones or tablets.

Twitter is proving a popular outlet for making that happen. The social-media service has been signing up media partners and advertisers for a program that puts ad-supported video clips into users’ feeds. The latest example: the National Football League said this week that it will put football- game clips on Twitter that will include short ads from sponsors including Verizon Wireless.

Such Twitter deals still represent a tiny share of spending. The sponsorships for the NFL deal, for example, are in the low-eight-figure range for the 17-week regular season and playoffs, according to a person familiar with the matter. By contrast, the price of a single 30-second spot on “American Idol” last year ranged from roughly $300,000 to $500,000, according to ad buyers.

The music app Shazam offers another way to link TV with laptops and mobile devices. The app’s audio fingerprint-recognition technology started out as a way to identify a song playing in a bar or on a car radio. But marketers are putting it to use to augment TV advertising.

When viewers watch certain TV ads and want more information, they can hold Shazam up to the set and it will transfer the information to their phones. Y&R, an ad firm owned by WPP PLC, talked up its collaborations with tech companies like Shazam at one of the panels.

Meanwhile, Vivaki, the digital arm of Publicis Groupe, touted Zeebox, a service that allows marketers to place ads on mobile devices that are synced up with ads running on TV.

Some in the ad industry say this is overkill, and potentially distracting to consumers. But marketers are trying it out. Vivaki ran campaigns for brands such as Kraft Foods Group Inc.’s   Mio flavored water drops. Ads running on the Zeebox app saw click-through rates of about 39%, said Beth Doyle, vice president of Innovations at Vivaki.

Based on the numbers, marketers are embracing the digital chaos. Digital-ad spending will represent about a quarter of world-wide ad spending by 2014, up from 20.7% last year, according to a report released Wednesday by eMarketer and Publicis’s Starcom MediaVest Group.

That isn’t to say the focus at this year’s gathering was all digital. The traditional media businesses went all out. Clear Channel Media & Entertainment, a unit of CC Media Holdings Inc., wined and dined marketers such as Bank of America Corp.   with the help of mini egg rolls, cookies and milk and a serenade from singer John Mayer.

A version of this article appeared September 27, 2013, on page B2 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Tapping Digital Chaos.

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