Key takeaways from CES 2021

By IBM Watson Advertising

CES 2021 may be over, but given the unprecedented changes to the marketing and advertising industry, the ideas shared during this year’s event will resonate as particularly relevant for years to come.

IBM Watson Advertising (IWA) spent CES discussing how the industry must break the cycle of modern advertising and find new ways to build authentic connections with consumers. We heard similar opinions expressed by other speakers and brands throughout the week.

These are our key takeaways from CES 2021.

“The importance of data allows marketing to become an investment center and not a cost center.” Jay Altschuler, VP Media Transformation, PetCo

A few years ago, everyone was talking about data. Now, they’re talking about what you do with it. Numerous upcoming changes to data privacy will risk a degradation of the consumer experience but also represent an opportunity for brands to rebuild trust.

As an industry, we must focus on creating solutions that are trusted, unbiased by emotion and privacy-forward while still facilitating relevant experiences for consumers. First-party data will be a huge piece of this effort. When that isn’t available, contextual marketing data such as weather – which does not rely on cookies or personally identifiable information (PII) – will be instrumental to delivering targeted activations and predicting consumer behavior while respecting the growing privacy regulations.

“One of the key barriers to AI adoption is lack of trust. Creating and applying AI that is explainable, ethical and unbiased is key to overcoming this perception and accelerating AI's impact.” Bob Lord, Senior VP, Cognitive Applications, Blockchain and Ecosystems, IBM

AI is not only transforming business; it’s dramatically changing society overall and can be used as a force for good. Everyone knows about the potential of AI to drive value from traditional data sets. But as noted by Eric Cornelius, Chief Product Architect for BlackBerry, the technology really shines in the unknown, leveraging net new data samples to further improve predictions, automation and optimization in ways we may not always anticipate.

AI will play a critical role in the future of marketing by making non-personal data more valuable and reducing dependence on walled gardens. Kevin Guo, CEO and Co-founder of Hive, also discussed AI’s potential to replace monotonous tasks so humans can focus instead on higher-level work.

As a result, our industry needs to accelerate adoption through ecosystems and strategic partnerships. We must also ensure that diverse voices are represented in the data we use to train AI, the leaders we elevate and the decisions we make that shape the technology’s future.

But the outcome is based on the inputs. Rich, unbiased data sets can lead to sharper insights. As stewards of the technology, we must open the black box of AI to ensure transparency, openness and fairness.

“We’re applying AI to help break the cycle and solve the transformative challenges our industry is facing. AI can help brands emerge from the global pandemic stronger.” - Randi Stipes, CMO, Watson Advertising and Weather, IBM

In the 2020s, values will guide how money is spent. Kenny Mitchell, Chief Marketing Officer for Snap, discussed how today’s consumers – especially Generation Z – are very different in how they view their place in society, how that relates to what they buy and the role of technology.

Brands must keep this “value-based buying” consumer behavior in mind. Messages that tie back to the greater good should be core to the company’s overall mission. Otherwise, brands risk being perceived as inauthentic.

A strong example is the campaign that the Ad Council ran as part of the IBM Watson Advertising “Call for Creative” initiative. In June 2020, IWA offered five brands free use of our IBM Watson Advertising Accelerator solution to build “creative for good.”

The Ad Council leveraged this technology to educate and build awareness for their “Love Has No Labels” campaign, which saw strong results. The Ad Council and IWA are now evaluating how this technology can address the global COVID-19 pandemic.

To learn more about how AI can help marketing and advertising break the cycle and better connect with consumers in a cookieless world, watch this recent Beet.TV interview (this link leaves ibm.com) with Sheri Bachstein, Global Head of Watson Advertising and The Weather Company.