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In the Digital Ad Age, are the biggest brands human after all?

Posted by: Claire Falloon on Wednesday, April 24 2013 02:46 PM

Claire FalloonMobile, big data, content and disruption, the usual suspects, were all marched across the stage at the 2013 Ad Age Digital Conference. One theme, close to all our hearts, truly dominated: the humans that give every brand their reason for being.

Whether the motives behind it are altruistic, dollar-driven or both, the result does seem to be better experiences for people. From insights to new levels of convenience to heart-wrenching, real-life adverstories, at this year’s Ad Age Digital Conference, humanity was the bee in every business’ bonnet.

Some were using it to greater effect or on a more meaningful level than others. Google, for example, walked the walk, eschewing any talk of "digital marketing," opting instead to talk about storytelling. They didn’t just talk about it, but presented it in a way that embodied the ideas they were touting, wowing a late-afternoon crowd with a spine-tingling, genuinely engaging and human-pleasing experience.

Before we get too gooey, congratulating our Adland peers on being human after all, let’s not forget what this is all in aid of: sales, naturally. In these digitally enabled times it does appear, though, that the efforts of businesses to appeal to our human needs and desires is actually resulting in a better time for people.

Digital video and original content is a great example. People like watching TV, movies and videos. If we’re to believe the speakers at Ad Age, people just like watching in general. People also like and need to watch on their own schedule, and they don’t want to pay too much or for things they don’t watch.

Video Logos

Starting from these basic human insights and then applying technology to the problem has brought new companies and business models into being: companies like Netflix, Hulu, Redbox and, more recently, Aereo. Aereo, using tiny digital TV antennas, allows consumers to view live broadcast television in HD on any internet-connected screen. Rejecting the traditional bundled options existing cable companies offer, CEO Chet Kanojia said the idea was to create a digital "cable" option from the consumer perspective, "to connect the dots for consumers so they can access the TV they want."

It’s an idea that has caused more than a little controversy among the TV establishment, but has ultimately resulted in more options and better access for the TV-viewing public. Hulu takes a similarly disruptive view, using their digital capabilities to free them from the usual constraints of scheduling and ratings, and allowing them to focus on finding and creating quality content tailored to their wide range of viewers. Again, it’s a new approach to raking in the bucks for business, that absolutely pays off for the viewer.

As ideas go, putting people at the center of any brand endeavor, digital or not, may seem more common sense than mind-blowing. But with brands and businesses properly putting their weight behind the effort, it appears we humans can only win.

Claire Falloon is a Senior Consultant in Verbal Identity for Interbrand.

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