Bringing together magic and machines: IPA's Golding shares her vision for advertising

As she begins her IPA presidency, Sarah Golding discusses how we can capitalise on the rise of technology - and how the IPA can help us navigate this landscape.

This is the centenary year of the IPA and a wonderful time to be taking over as president. The recent celebrations have been a great reminder of the impact advertising has made commercially and culturally on British life. While it was humbling to see the achievements of the industry over the past century, it was also very apparent to me that I help start us off on the journey of the next, with an agenda that reflects the inevitable path that adventure will take. 

"We need to see the opportunities to grow alongside our new automated colleagues and embrace new tools"

Put simply, in the past 100 years, we all enjoyed laughing at the Smash robots from the future. In the next 100 years, we will be working with them. 

Before I go on, I’d like to touch on how and why I got here. I never had any grand plan to one day become president of the IPA. I don’t sit on endless committees or lead the neighbourhood watch. I’m far happier doing my bit at work, then taking myself off home to watch telly.

But advertising has been very good to me. It took me in when I had no other career in mind. It looked after me when I moved down from darkest Blackburn. I have made lifelong friends in the industry, and it even helped me meet my husband. I am not taking on this presidency because I feel I owe the industry a debt of gratitude, I am here because I genuinely care about the advertising world, because it is such a big part of my life.

So, for the next two years, you are all stuck with me doing my best for the industry I love.

And doing my best means helping equip all our members for the fast- approaching future. The machines are coming and we are going to be ready and, under my presidency, the IPA will play a big part in making sure that we are.

Now, being ready doesn’t mean fighting for our right to exist versus the robots. I am not trying to build a wall against a Terminator-style judgment day. But, equally, I don’t think that as creative industries we are immune just because creativity cannot be reduced to an algorithm. In fact, McKinsey recently pronounced that robots are now capable of accomplishing cognitive activities such as making judgments and sensing emotions. More than many humans I know.

So while we are not all doomed to be replaced by machines, neither are we too creative to be left alone. Instead, we need to see the opportunities to grow alongside our new automated colleagues and embrace the new tools on offer to be even better at what we do.

Take virtual reality. This will fun-damentally change the way we tell stories, moving from single-thread narratives to immersive multi-plot adventures. And this is already high on our clients’ agendas. In a recent survey by Oracle, 80% of marketers expect to provide customer experiences through VR within the next three years.

Then there’s augmented reality, which gives us the opportunity to add our brands’ digital footprints to the real world around us, bringing bricks and clicks together like never before.

Both of these are currently in their infancy. Pokémon Go has given AR its first big platform, while VR’s has yet to come. But we all know that the possibilities these two technologies have created will be huge for advertisers, creatives, media planners, user-experience designers and content creators. And it’s up to us to turn these, and the many other emerging technologies, into the new tools of our trade. 

Pokémon Go: AR platforms allow brands to add their digital footprints to the real world

And it’s up to the IPA to help us all do that.

So the theme for my agenda is simple: the magic and the machines.

In February, Bill Gates (pictured, right) said: "It is really bad if people have more fear about what innovation is going to do than they have enthusiasm. That means they won’t shape it for the positive things it can do."

I would like my presidency to help create a new enthusiasm for what machines can do for member agencies. And that starts with how we can harness them to help us create magic.

"It is bad if people have more fear about what innovation is going to do than they have enthusiasm" Bill Gates

And, let’s be clear, what we make is often thoroughly magical. Joseph Schumpeter, the acclaimed economist, talked of the "alchemy of advertising". The ability to turn base metals into gold or, in his example, confound economic theory by creating demand when there should be none.

Schumpeter: ‘alchemy of advertising

Too often, we are so caught up in new models, new entrants and new payment terms that we forget the magical things our industry can do.

We can change beliefs, behaviours and businesses. We can create crazes, challenge conventions and empower causes. We can sell more boxes and save more lives than almost any other industry on the planet.

We have magic powers. We are all magicians, and the machines represent a new box of tricks for us to use.

Just think what we might be able to learn from Emmy. Who is Emmy? She’s a computer program that can compose 5,000 pieces of original music in a morning.

What might we all learn from Albert? And who is this Albert? Albert is the artificial-intelligence platform that lingerie retailer Cosabella is using to revolutionise its search and social marketing, more than tripling its ROI.

And what can we all learn from Samuel? Who is Samuel, I hear you cry. Well, he’s just a bloke at M&C Saatchi – but a bloke who has led the agency’s team in pioneering AI-driven outdoor advertising.

So far, these are early experiments – but they are exciting and meaningful. I want the IPA to encourage more experimentation among our member agencies.

1 IPAi

There are three parts to my agenda and this is the first: we will be creating a new platform for education, collaboration and inspiration called IPAi.

At the heart of the initiative will be the IPAi Applied Training Programme. Available and accessible to everyone, it will cover topics including the history and hype around AI, where it is heading in the marketing and advertising industries, and how to navigate the tools and APIs available to the technical teams at agencies. These will be intensive modules that will open up the whole subject for many of us.

To help inspire our members further, we will be launching our very own South By South West One (SXSW1). We will be bringing the most relevant thinkers to present their ideas to us here in London. I am particularly delighted that among them will be Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens and Homo Deus, who sees a future in which we all adopt a universal faith in the power of algorithms.

Harari: will speak at the upcoming SXSW1 event

But as well as bringing the most inspirational minds to Belgrave Square, we will be taking our industry’s achievements out to the world, emphasising the importance of the creative tech sector in the same way that financial tech and health tech are already well-established.

To achieve this, we will be working with KPMG to come up with a definition and quantification of the value of creative tech, and partnering the government to promote UK creative technologies to the world. The IPA will also play a key part in London Tech Week, where we will have a whole day dedicated to creative tech.

I want the IPAi initiative to last well beyond my tenure and to be a constant champion of the power of our industry to make magic with machines.

2 Magic with numbers

The second set of initiatives that follow from my agenda are all about the numbers. I want more members to be more comfortable with the numbers of marketing and advertising, to see them as a real source of meaningful inspiration. While many marketers see data as a source of transformation for their industry, too many in ours view it with suspicion.

But I want to end the fear. I want to shine a bright light on how the best uses of data can be creatively inspiring, culturally disruptive and commercially impactful. Magical, in fact.

Data won for Farage, Johnson and Trump. The brains behind these election surprises found new ways to use data to drive an individual’s emotions, not just trigger a short-term action. Imagine those skills harnessed by advertisers and their agencies. Well, that’s exactly the magic I intend to help us achieve.

To this end, we will start by running a number of events through the 44 Club to engage our younger members with this new reality.

We will also be publishing two new think pieces from Les Binet and Peter Field, starting with Buying Behaviour in the Digital World. These are being produced in partnership with Google and Thinkbox and will reach a wide audience.

It remains a key priority of the IPA to build an effectiveness culture in member agencies. To achieve this, we have to gain a more coherent understanding of how different marketing approaches measure performance in the short and long term. Because it’s pretty hard to make magic if you don’t know how the trick is meant to work.

So I am asking that the President’s Prize at the 2018 IPA Effectiveness Awards goes to the paper that most clearly demonstrates the most effective use of data.

And I will also be opening this year’s Effectiveness Week in October, which will have a particular focus on how to make sense of all the data now available to us.

But, as well as gaining a better understanding of how data can contribute to making magic, it is imperative that our members understand the rules around its usage. Therefore we will be ensuring that all agencies are up to speed with the new data protection regulations that are coming into force in May 2018 with a series of IPA webinars.

"The IPA will be more challenging and championing, more future-facing and inspiring"

3 Monitoring the machines

However, we must acknowledge that there is the dark side to data that threatens our industry commercially and reputationally. A dark side that the IPA has to help protect us from. And this is the third part of my agenda – monitoring the machines.

The advertising industry will be profoundly damaged if it is associated with the improper use of our clients’ money. A study by The & Partnership estimates that 20% of the total $32bn spent on digital video and display advertising is being lost to fraud. If a restaurant failed to bring 20% of the food you ordered, you wouldn’t go back in a hurry.

I applaud the initiative taken by Marc Pritchard at Procter & Gamble to push technology brands to open up to independent ad verification. And I will be adding the voice of the IPA to these requests as we are already working to produce a best-practice guide on online measurement.

I am also encouraged by some of the efforts taken by Google to address the brand-safety issues that plagued it in recent months, particularly its agreement to work with outside companies to verify where ads appear on YouTube.

I am determined that the IPA leads the industry in demanding solutions. The UK is arguably the most advanced large-scale digital market in the world. More than half of our adspend goes online, supporting some of the highest levels of ecommerce. I call on our partners at ISBA, the Internet Advertising Bureau and the largest tech companies to come together with the IPA to redouble our efforts to clean up the digital media frontier.

A new IPA – facing forwards, not looking inwards

The machines are coming and we are going to use them to make magic like we’ve never done before.

Magic that will make our creative work more compelling, our targeting more relevant and our storytelling more engaging.

Automation will change our working lives at every level in our industry. Before we know it, the machines will do the competitive reviews, the legal checks, the contact reports, the image searches and myriad other daily activities that are part of agency life.

And that will free us all to give more time to the creation of brilliant ideas, many of which will be brought to life using emerging technologies.

But only if we embrace the machines, enjoy the machines and trust the machines.

Automation is not going to happen overnight. McKinsey suggests that, by 2055, around half of today’s work activities could be automated. But I am setting the IPA on course for the next 100 years, not just the next two.

I want this to feel like a new era for the IPA, which for most of my career has been focused on addressing weaknesses of ability, diversity and corporate standing.

But I want to take the IPA up a level – to look forwards, not just inwards.

The Advertising Association has shown that the export of advertising services is worth £4.1bn to the UK economy, and the creative industries have been selected as one of five key pillars in the government’s post-Brexit strategy. So I am determined that we be in among it with other leading industries, debating the topics that matter to us all, not just the specific issues in our category.

So the IPA will be more challenging and championing, more future-facing and inspiring, bolder and braver.

Because the machines will change many things, but not the dedication of all of our members to the business and brilliance of advertising.

The machines will be our new colleagues. And they will be the smartest, fastest, most incredible colleagues any of us has ever had. And I can’t wait to start making more magic with them.

Sarah Golding is the president of the IPA and chief executive of CHI & Partners

Golding’s speech

Campaign takeaways

Creative tech

• Focus on making the creative tech sector as prominent as established ones such as financial tech.

• Forge a government partnership to promote UK creative tech.

• Create a new platform for education, collaboration and inspiration called IPAi to encourage experimentation among member agencies.

• The IPAi Applied Training Programme will include practical training on navigating artificial intelligence.

•  A new IPA event will take on SXSW with author Yuval Noah Harari as star speaker.

•  A day dedicated to creative tech during London Tech Week.


• Two new pieces from Les Binet and Peter Field produced in partnership with Google and Thinkbox.

• The 2018 IPA Effectiveness Awards President’s Prize will recognise the paper that most clearly demonstrates effective use of data.

•  A series of webinars will give a better understanding of data regulations. 

• A call on ISBA, the Internet Advertising Bureau and the biggest tech companies to come together with the IPA to clean up the digital media market and address issues such as brand safety.

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