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Q&A with Peter Crofut: BrandDiscovery helps marketers rewrite the advertising playbook

In advertising, we’ve always aimed to show the right ad to the right person at the right time. But this prompts the question: how can we really be sure what “right” means?

This isn’t just a throwaway thought; it has the potential to remake how we think about advertising, particularly on Connected TV (CTV). Old ways of measuring success and planning strategies are changing because of new technology — and because what viewers expect is changing too.

We spoke to Peter Crofut, VP Business Development – Agencies & Brands at Wurl, to hear his story — and why GenAI is changing all our assumptions about what makes advertising work at scale.

What attracted you to Wurl and the opportunity for BrandDiscovery in particular?

Peter: I was excited to join Wurl because in my career thus far I’ve always said; we spend too much time looking in the mirror around data, around technology, around audiences. Marketers repeat the mantra, ‘We’ve got to meet the right user at the right time with the right ad’. But we’re grading our own homework.

How do we know what the right moment is, the moment that creates a positive experience for the viewer of the ad — and in a way that drives improved outcomes and performance for the advertiser?

I’ve always challenged customers with that: how do we actually know what right is? What context are the buyers in? And where are they on their decision-making journey?

In retrospect, this was pretty provocative, because it wasn’t that people didn’t care, we just didn’t have the technology or the insight to do any better — especially in CTV. Advertising is so massive in scale nowadays, that most brands don’t have the capability to evaluate performance on the macro level and placement on the micro level, simultaneously. We could get close, but there were always assumptions. AI has changed our ability to understand what is the right context for an ad.

Now we can have an almost unlimited number of AI ‘viewers’ cataloging content, matching ads to context, and driving more effective campaigns. That’s really an incredible feat of ingenuity. And that’s why I was so excited to be involved with BrandDiscovery.

Why is context an important consideration for marketers?

Peter: Well the first thing we need to unpack is why marketing ever moved away from context in the first place. If you think about what the most fundamental currency of advertising is, it’s attention, right?

How do we build brand awareness? How do we grow the bottom of the funnel? How do we even just let people know that we have a 30% off sale ongoing? We get the attention of our target customers.

Our CEO, Ron Gutman, just did a really good blog on how emotion influences perception, and the impact of advertising on chemical reactions in the brain., In short, human beings are hardwired to respond emotionally. Like it or not, when we watch TV, we are emotionally involved in the content. Ads are also designed to evoke emotions – but swinging from one emotion (created by the content) to another (created by the ad) is not instantaneous, and can be a big part of why some TV ads feel so disruptive. If advertisers want to create positive brand experiences, it is intuitive that context should matter.

In fact, when you mix this science with data, that’s where the magic happens. We’ve found that there’s a significant uplift in conversion when you find moments of ‘emotional resonance’, often 2x or 3x. Doing this deep dive into the metrics is one of the things that led us to develop BrandDiscovery. Ads clearly work best, and create positive attention for the brand when they are aligned with the content. So the question isn’t ‘why is context so important’, it’s why is it so hard to find the right context?

In CTV currently, there’s a notable lack of transparency and lack of control — due to minimal or inconsistent metadata passing through the bidstream. That lack of transparency is a significant pain point for CTV advertisers. When you’re trying to navigate so much content and so many streams, how do you ensure you’re delivering an experience that’s personalized?

When you use the type of GenAI-powered technology that BrandDiscovery is built on; you finally get the ability to accurately target ads based on their context.

How is BrandDiscovery different from other contextual targeting solutions?

Peter: First, I should point out that adding BrandDiscovery targeting is free. We don’t charge any data fees so more of your budget can go toward working media. Second, with the help of GenAI, we are finally able to offer scene-level targeting. We’re not categorizing an entire program, series, or channel under any one contextual category. Instead we are looking at what is happening on screen directly before the ads air.

This scene-level targeting is especially important when applied to the three types of contextual targeting available through BrandDiscovery: emotion, genre, and brand safety. I’ll get into genre and brand safety in a second, but let’s talk a little more about why scene-level targeting for emotion is so important. Because we’ve all experienced this and it plays out at scale.

Let’s say, we’re watching a show and we’re in the middle of a very sad scene. Now, we’re in tears, we’re emotionally vulnerable, feeling sadness, and all of a sudden an ad pops up that’s happy, yay, has lots of bright color. Typically on happy ads, you’ll also notice the volume increase on the commercial. They’re designed to be interrupting, to stick out. But that is not the right place to meet where I am emotionally, and in fact, it can create a lot of distrust around the ad. It’s a jarring experience.

That goes for genre targeting and brand safety as well. You want to match the ad to the experience. Because if you are watching a grim battle scene in a war movie and you get an ad for a fun water park for your family, you’re not in the mental space to process that appropriately.

No brand wants their expensive creatives running in non-brand safe environments, both because it risks damaging the brand perception, but also because they’re simply less effective.

And it’s not something that consumers want. The modern viewer is used to a personalized experience. They get that when they’re browsing the channels, so why does that experience end when they’re watching ads?

There’s a really different level of attention when viewers feel and have an affinity towards that brand, and that happens when the brand has shown them that they understand where they are at versus inserting a disruptive experience.

And, if you don’t get that right there are going to be other advertisers that do.

How is technology likely to impact the future of brand advertising?

Peter: In terms of strictly CTV, we’re trying to build a new normal, where transparency and effectiveness are the standard. The ecosystem currently is a mess with inconsistent metadata, confusing targeting, and data fees that make it costly to access even the limited information that is passing through the bidstream. This has made it an uphill battle for agencies and brands to put relevant content in effective placements.

With BrandDiscovery, we’re trying to give control back to advertisers, by giving them the transparency and data they need to make better decisions about placement.

GenAI has the capability to transform how we think about approaching CTV advertising: we now have the tools we need to put the audience experience first, really think about the KPIs we want to drive and reverse engineer campaigns that get us there.

We’ve already learned so much about how emotions impact conversions and advertising effectiveness from the pre-launch testing we did with BrandDiscovery. If you’re interested in seeing specific campaign results, check out this case study.

Our journey has just begun. As more brands start start adopting this approach, advertisers will have a wealth of information about what the ‘right’ answer is to contextual and targeting questions.

Once we start getting targeting right, that goes hand-in-hand with increased effectiveness: leading to higher brand awareness, recall, and reduced cost per engagement for advertisers.

And I think that’s a really exciting opportunity for everyone in the ecosystem.

BrandDiscovery is available at no additional cost across over 60 billion CTV impressions per month in the US. Talk to us today to find out how you can benefit.

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