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Marketing Strategy

At MAD//Fest, British marketers hammer out the industry’s future

A hand being scanned by a smart tv.

Illustration by Reagan Hicks / Shutterstock / Getty / The Current

A shuttered brewery in the heart of London’s "Curry Lane” may sound like an unusual setting for MAD//Fest, where British marketers met, presented, and pondered as they hammered out the future of the industry.

But it was perhaps exactly the right setting – one of change and regeneration – just as the industry itself goes through wide-ranging shifts.

Indeed, marketers had lively discussions around three focus areas that are redefining the industry currently: identity, connected TV (CTV) and retail media.

The identity revolution

Some of the conference’s most popular sessions promised to demystify the many solutions that have emerged to substitute the cookie.

“The tactics may change, but the fundamentals remain the same,” said Vibhor Kapoor, president at Adroll and chief business officer at Nextroll. In other words, marketers should focus on collecting data, engaging users and understanding how their campaigns are performing, regardless of cookie deprecation.

Today, that may mean tapping in to zero- and first-party data, deterministic and probabilistic IDs, and browser APIs. Speakers largely agreed that logged-in IDs were the gold standard, even as they worried about scale.

One logged-in ID provider, Utiq, argued that the superior targeting precision of its identifier would enable marketers to “pay for what actually creates impact,” according to Nikos Vlachopoulos, director of group commercial functions and E.U. cluster at Vodafone. Utiq is a pan-European ID initiative backed by four of the continent’s biggest telcos.

The elephant in the room, though, was Google’s Privacy Sandbox, fresh off yet another industry report — this time from Criteo — providing recommendations for its implementation.

There was at least some support for Google’s alternative to the cookie. At a packed session hosted by Adlook, Giovanni Tricarico, platform director at the firm, called Privacy Sandbox a “solution that has the chance to rewire the industry” while also underlining that it was a “valuable idea that needs further work.”

At the same time, one audience member called Adlook’s presentation the most “positive” portrayal of Privacy Sandbox “outside of Google’s own reps,” perhaps underscoring the industry’s skepticism toward the solution.  

All eyes on the screen

One of the more thought-provoking insights from MAD//Fest centered around CTV’s evolving role as an enabler of conversions instead of just brand awareness.

British eyewear retailer Specsavers, for example, has a marketing slogan that is instantly recognizable by large swathes of the British public thanks to TV and radio ads. The lift on sales that may result from increased brand awareness “is not necessarily attributable, but its effect is still really big,” said Ed Mullins, director of inventory and partnerships at StackAdapt.

In this respect, Mullins also challenged marketers to consider whether a channel traditionally seen as lower-funnel, like search, actually deserved its reputation. “Are people actually converting on search or is it just the last channel due to last-touch attribution?” 

Executives from dentsu, StackAdapt and SINE Digital gave further shape to CTV’s evolution in the hands of marketers by highlighting its measurement and performance capabilities in omnichannel environments. 

“Launching CTV and following up with different channels can really increase reach,” said StackAdapt’s Khaled Alfangary, allowing for “clean storytelling and sequential messaging.”

CTV’s ability to convert is also slowly taking shape thanks to innovations like shoppable TV ads. “More interactivity and shoppability is where it’s going next,” said Andy Jones, head of U.K. sales at Samsung. “It is still early days, but the more measurement partners you can apply, the more performance-oriented it can be.”

For the British TV industry to compete on a performance-marketing level, though, work still needs to be done.

Rhys McLachlan, director of advanced advertising at ITV, said broadcast-video-on-demand players need to recognize they can’t compete with the likes of Google and Amazon in terms of the data they can offer marketers. He argues they need to “think smarter” about what signals they offer marketers to create differentiation in their ad offerings and offer valuable data that drives business outcomes.

What that looks like exactly, however, we may know soon.

McLachlan alluded to something “big” for the U.K.’s TV industry to be announced this coming September, with “collaboration” at the heart of it. “Guns are coming to gun fights. The impact of what has been agreed is seismic,” he said, without revealing more. The fight, it appears, is on. 

Retail media mania

If there was another topic that attracted as much attention as identity, it was retail media. At a standing-room-only session featuring Boots, Ocado, Tesco and Sainsbury’s, retail media executives expounded on just how far the nascent industry had come in a few short years. 

“We’re becoming more finessed in the U.K. when it comes to what we can offer from a measurement perspective,” said Ollie Shayer, omni-media director at Boots. “First-party data three years ago versus today is almost revolutionary.”

The better data and measurement tools available to retail marketers will be key in managing campaigns across this ballooning ecosystem.

“You can build full-funnel connected campaigns that enhance customer experience and enhance brand growth,” said Tash Whitmey, group managing director at Tesco Retail Media. 

“You can take audiences and activate them across your estate, on-site, off-site, audio, in-store. That capability will only accelerate. When you add GenAI [Generative AI], it’s going to accelerate faster,” said Shayer.

As more retailers get in the game, the opportunities for advertisers are also increasing.

“Retailer audiences are bigger than linear TV audiences,” said Lee LeFeuvre, chief communications officer at SMG, pointing to the over 200 retail media networks globally with over 5,000 retail media channels among them.

Indeed, according to a YouGov study shared by LeFeuvre during his presentation, 95% of U.K. adults have visited a supermarket in the past month, compared to 74% who have watched live TV.

But the opportunity may not receive the value it deserves from advertisers looking for mass reach: In-store CPMs are 72% lower than on linear TV, based on PlanApps data, said LeFeuvre.

“Our view is that in the very near future, retail media will just be media, just like how marketers allocate budget across TV and social — treated with the same level of consideration,” said LeFeuvre. “This encourages a more strategic and integrated approach.”