Meta’s Digital Upfront: what we learnt

Posted on Friday 21 October 2022 | IAB UK

Meta’s 2022 Digital Upfront was all about exploring how brands and business can not only survive, but thrive in uncertain times

“Upfronts this year have all taken on a different flavour. All of them have had a dose of reality”, IAB UK’s CMO James Chandler explained, opening Meta’s event by referencing the challenging economic situation the UK is currently in. Chiming with the theme of Meta’s event - how to thrive in uncertain times - Chandler explained that this context makes it “incumbent on all of us to collectively give you - agencies and advertisers - compelling proof points that digital works”. 

Ian Edwards, Global Connection Planning Director at Meta, went on to highlight how the tough business environment we’re currently in can potentially be a catalyst for growth. From Uber to Airbnb, both of which were started in the last downturn, “recessions are incredibly powerful moments to start new businesses” for three reasons: they force businesses to assess what‘s working, what the opportunities are, and how consumer behaviour is changing. 

Digital must flex its brand building muscles

With inflation soaring and the day-to-day impact of the cost of living crisis starting to hit, companies are concerned about how much they commit to marketing budgets, explained Douglas McCabe, CEO of Enders Analysis. In this context - and with digital accounting for over 70% of all advertiser spend - online advertising must flex its brand building muscles to show that it can deliver long-term effectiveness as well as short-term sales. “That is a really big issue because online advertising, in terms of brand building, is what companies require in a recession”, McCabe said. He also highlighted the role that SMEs currently play in fuelling digital growth, cautioning that “their world is going to get harder, which will raise questions about efficiency and effectiveness”. 

In this challenging landscape, first-party data “is going to be the most valuable asset that companies have going forward”, while “context will become absolutely critical again in a way that has been forgotten”. McCabe also said that companies that can work with new regulation will benefit from “embracing the new rules of the road”.

Be a little bit more Ryan, folks 

“F*ck it, ads should be fun”, said movie star Ryan Reynolds at Cannes Lions this summer. Yet according to advertising legend David Ogilvy, “selling is a serious business” - so what approach should brands take? Katrina Dodd, Editor-at-Large of Contagious, encouraged brands to be “relentless in your pursuit of fame” and, while advertisers shouldn’t ignore the business of selling, that probably means being a bit more like Ryan Reynolds. Dodd cited another ad industry trailblazer, Dave Trott, when she said that “anytime we can get a phrase into the language, it’s free media”. That means resonating with audiences on a level like the ‘Whassup?’ Budweiser ad of the early noughties, or sparking intrigue and debate like iHob did in the US when it changed its name. As Dodd put it: “Creativity is all about finding ways to stop us and make us care.” 

Opportunities for acceleration

The team at Meta shared some of the latest opportunities for brands across the platform, while also giving delegates a glimpse ahead on what to expect next. Pete Buckley, Connection Planning Director, showed the audience how advancements in AI are “going to transform the marketing industry” demonstrating how brands can “use AI and machine learning to drive more online sales, at a lower cost, in a privacy-first way”. 

Meanwhile, brand building in the mobile age was the focus of Christina Keller’s session. As Director, Head of Creative Intelligence at Meta, she shared valuable insights on how brands are creatively engaging with audiences via Meta’s mobile apps. A key piece of insight was that advertisers need to authentically resonate with younger audiences by trying to learn “about the visual language your audience and communities use”.  Build your brand for culture, build it for connectivity and, most importantly, build it to be bought, she advised - with ease of buying integral to growth. 

Turning the audience's attention to the metaverse, Kim Maniovich, who is EMEA Marketing Programme Lead of Metaverse Acceleration, acknowledged that there is currently “a lot of scepticism about the metaverse” but “that it’s going to radically change how things are done”. Eventually, “we believe that the metaverse is going to be all around us… layered on top of the physical world” she explained. However, “we’re still a good 10 years from a fully realised, immersive metaverse” and she advised brands to “continue to build immersive content that works in 2D apps” such as AR. 

Create an environment where everyone can thrive

Rounding up the event, Zehra Chatoo, Head of Connection Planning, Retail EMEA, was joined on stage by Jill Scott, former England Lioness and Euro 2022 winner. Scott’s key advice for building a strong team? “Create an environment where everyone can thrive, because it’s not the splash you remember, it’s the dive,” she said, sharing a rhyme she and her teammates used to repeat. 

Scott encouraged women to be visible in male dominated environments, saying: “If you’re a female in a male dominated environment, get yourself out there and show them that you’re going to do what you want to do.” However, she doesn’t support a men vs. women narrative in sport, explaining that footballers including Frank Lampard and David Beckham “were my role models” growing up. 

On how brands should work with the Lionesses, Scott said that “having a genuine connection” is massively important, citing her work with Starling Bank, which is run by a woman. This doesn’t mean that brands should be put off approaching the Lionesses - “the game has got to a place now where we are attracting big brands” - but “do a bit of research”, Scott urged. Ultimately “the Lionesses and women’s football aren’t in it for the money, because we’ve never been in it for the money” , making the need for a genuine connection with brands all the more important.  

 You can find out more about Digital Upfronts and upcoming events here.

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