Innovation

Can tech make ads less annoying? 7 experiments from Adobe Labs

Even in the digital age, advertising and marketing are blunt instruments. Adobe is one of the companies trying change the game. At Adobe Summit, it offered a sneak peek of some cutting edge projects.

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Image: Jason Hiner/TechRepublic

Two decades into the internet revolution, you'd think we'd have figured out smarter and more targeted ways to do advertising by now. Instead, businesses are often forced to annoy far more people than they target and inoculate innocent bystanders against their brands in the process.

That's the big problem that the marketing industry is trying to solve—especially on digital platforms. And perhaps no company is giving chase harder than Adobe. Now that the company has reinvented itself as an enterprise cloud provider and taken up the mission of helping companies with digital transformation, it is running all kinds of experiments to make advertising more targeted, more effective, and less obnoxious.

At the 2017 Adobe Summit in Las Vegas this week, the company gave demos of seven lab projects that are attempting to innovate marketing using technology. Here's a quick summary of each project, based on their Adobe code names.

1. Marketing VR

Adobe believes VR could bring back some fun and creativity into marketing. It showed off a demo of a video scene where you could replace billboards and other real world ads in the video with template slots that you could fill with digital ads or videos. The most innovative part is that you can use the company's Marketing Cloud to target the ads to the user. So when you look at a billboard in VR you see an ad targeted to your interests.

2. Right Offers

Marketing offers can be a nightmare to coordinate because they are often managed by different teams and so the people that have to redeem them with customers can be confused, especially if there are competing offers. Adobe is building an Offer Dashboard (the demo had 500 different offers) to help push offers across multiple platforms (TV, web, mobile, etc.). But the real magic is that it can target offers to user, make sure an offer isn't seen again after it's redeemed, and cascade offers when it makes sense. The example was an offer to rent a poolside cabana at a hotel, and then when the person redeems it, the system sends an offer for a massage or a free drink when they arrive at the cabana.

3. Right Spot IQ

One of the most important paths to better ad targeting—and thus serving fewer irrelevant and useless ads—is location. It's one of the factors that is rarely taken into account today and it's one of the components of the kind of context that Adobe sees as the future of digital marketing. One of the key ways to pull off location targeting is geofencing. In this demo, Adobe showed a module in its Marketing Cloud that allows very granular control in designing and setting up geofences. The software helps find ideal locations and adjust the size of geofences in a few clicks with sophisticated new topology controls.

4. Journey AI

The main theme of Adobe Summit 2017 was that every business needs to think of itself as an "experience business." And one of the most important ways to do that is to focus on the customer journey. Once you do, you often learn that the journeys you design for customers with tools like Adobe's Journey Manager aren't the ones they typically take. But with the new Journey AI, businesses will be able to use omnichannel data to see the success rates of various journeys and which journeys actually work. Using Adobe Sensei, Journey AI also includes some natural language processing to pinpoint and explain successes and challenges learned from the journey data. It even integrates with Adobe's content management tools so that you can edit and tweak pages and screens on your site to improve journeys, without the intervention of the web team.

5. Sky Replace

High-quality, relevant, and contextual images for web pages, apps, and marketing campaigns are critical to getting attention and telling stories. Adobe showed off a scenario where a professional was in Adobe Experience Manager and ran a stock image search in Adobe Stock to find an image for a promo for an event. When no good image was found, the person filed a request for an image and it automatically pinged a bunch of photographers. Three hours later (in the scenario), a great image turned up. The only problem was that it had a daytime sky at the event venue in the photo and the event was at night. So, using some presets in the cutting edge image editing features in Experience Manager, the person picked a darker sky and did a one-click replace and it looked great. It not only changed the sky, but adjusted the shadows on the buildings to match—something that would have taken multiple steps in a tool like Adobe Photoshop.

6. AI Experience

Marketers talk a big game about customizations, because that's where the really smart targeting happens. However, in practice, marketing campaigns typically end up with very few customizations because when marketers are up against deadlines, customizations get tossed overboard. Adobe wants to use the AI in Adobe Sensei to help. The example it used was a web page for a new food services product. The stock art imagery and the location of key elements on the page can be automatically customized to the user based on their demographics and culinary preferences. So, the page has a different look depending on who visits it, powered by AI.

7. Beyond Clicks

Thinking beyond just web pages and mobile apps, Adobe also trotted out next-gen marketing interactions for voice-powered assistants like Amazon Alexa. With businesses like Wynn hotels choosing to put Amazon Echo devices in each of their hotel rooms, it's creating new opportunities to extend smarter, more targeted marketing to the voice platform. The demo showed Adobe Campaign adjusting customer data in real time and it being queried on Alexa by the customer and being immediately up to date. It also showed Alexa offering suggestions on fun activities, based on customer preferences and data, and extending personalized offers to the customer. It also works cross-channel, as seen when a customer accepted an offer from Alexa and was then sent a push notification from the app on the phone with instructions on how to redeem it.

If you'd like to see these demos in action, Adobe has posted videos of them on YouTube and on the Adobe website.

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About Jason Hiner

Jason Hiner is Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.

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