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The future of media in Canada

The media and advertising industry has entered a new era in which advertisers are embracing innovations in Artificial Intelligence and machine learning. In light of this, Devon MacDonald, the president of independent Toronto-based agency Cairns Oneil, shares his vision for where the industry is going and the opportunities that lie ahead for businesses to boost the effectiveness of their advertising.

A seasoned leader, business strategist and marketer, MacDonald joined Cairns Oneil in 2021 having previously worked at businesses including WPP’s Mindshare Canada. He is also a board director of the Institute of Canadian Agencies.

Devon, what do you see as the big challenges facing advertisers in terms of media investment?

Media is an undervalued resource by brands. I understand the position many of them are in. Companies are very nervous about expenditures and investing in advertising. And there are looming cost pressures and continued issues in the economy, even with the recent rate change, but we know that investing in advertising helps any brand recover and grow.

I would encourage as many of our clients and other brands as possible to be there for consumers in tough times, and to continue to advertise and support media and their brands.

What is the underlying cause of this caution?

I think that part of the reason brands under-invest today is that there are real cost and transparency problems in media. Too much media in our market is managed in bundled products by agencies who don’t fully expose the information that clients need to make decisions. Details like tech fees, costs, specific placements and margins make a real difference in demonstrating media effectiveness.

Without understanding the actual cost of media it’s very hard for clients to understand campaign return. Not being transparent in media is short-sighted, and I think it hurts the industry in general. What I see happening causes advertisers and their executive teams to distrust media because they know that there are hidden costs. Lack of transparency is hurting advertisers overall – from both a media and a creative perspective.

Further, for too long many clients forced agencies to pitch media based on the lowest cost. This may have worked in different models and times, but isn’t delivering the value that brands need or the media ecosystem to grow.

What about technology’s role here? Isn’t that making media investment much more transparent?

I think transparency in the digital supply chain is absolutely improving, and when we work with digital partners we insist on being exposed to all costs and fees. And we ask for connections from their delivery server to ours to allow for free and clear exchange of data and performance.

What’s most exciting for you about the future of the media?

 Creating and activating a Generative AI system and linking Generative AI into Dynamic Creative Optimization (DCO) is crucial. Advertisers were having a hard time producing enough scaled content that was relevant to feed the DCO machine. In response, we coded a Generative AI platform into our ad server. We can then brief that model about an advertiser just as you would a creative team, teach it about the brand, the campaign, and it creates automated ad copy and delivers this through the DCO engine. Generative AI content is being delivered and machine learning AI used to make the most effective media unit possible.

But what are the limits to what AI can achieve for brands?

It’s important to develop an AI roadmap for clients to talk to them about Generative AI, Machine Learning and Predictive AI. The good news is that lots of clients are already using AI in their own systems or through advertising. But there’s always more you can do. Nobody is at “peak AI usage” and there is a lot of room for organizations to grow. But the roadmapping is all about the comfort level of each organization. We’ve certainly seen mistakes with AI in having bias and we don’t think that imagery or video from Generative AI tools is ready for primetime. We do think that design and ad copy is – but not original imagery or video.

It’s all about the comfort of the client and many still struggle with DCO. But the tool that we’ve developed allows a one-to-one individual message to be deployed to a consumer on a site based on their individual signals matched with the brand platform and message.

Finally, what impact will this targeting make in optimizing media effectiveness?

AI allows us to make decisions faster, with less infrastructure cost and time so there’s real value. The ability to grow the effectiveness of advertising – that’s what media should care about in delivering results for clients, and we encourage clients to take chances. Chances are calculated risks and there are always potential issues but it’s important for brands to continue to be bold, to showcase innovation to internal stakeholders and to consumers. And there’s tremendous opportunity in media and advertising to do so.

Cairns Oneil is a member of the Institute of Canadian Agencies. Report on Marketing is where leading Canadian agencies showcase their insights, cutting-edge research and client successes. The Report on Marketing provides a valuable source of thought leadership for Canadian marketers to draw inspiration from. Find more articles like this at the Report on Marketing.


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