Brand Attention and Differentiation: Humanity, saviour of technology (and quite possibly, your brand)


thought leadership

As identified in dentsu’s annual Media Trends Report, The Pace of Progress, the media sphere is saturated with lookalike apps, lacking clear differentiation. However, in a world where attention is increasingly scarce and technology makes more and more things possible, it’s the humanity you bring – accelerated by technology - that will help your brand punch through the noise.

More is possible than ever.

Growth is a function of seizing the right opportunity at the right time – and there are many growth opportunities abound for 2024.

Generative AI is the most disruptive technology in the last decade. With 91% of CMOs saying it’s the technology of the future, and 78% of consumers agreeing with them, it’s set to take centre-stage in the coming months and years.

From Search to Creativity, to media planning and production, generative AI has the potential to take media effectiveness to new heights:

  • Rise of generative search: Whilst still often being labelled as ‘experiments’ by even the most accomplished platforms, advertisers can already benefit from generative AI by developing large amounts of copy variations, and higher frequency of testing, in a drive for greater effectiveness or efficiency.
  • Creativity re-imagined: Just as the internet revolutionised content distribution, generative AI has the potential to do the same for content creation for brands. For example, Shopify Magic enables automatically generated blog copy with the ability to select a tone of voice to your own choosing – whilst platforms such as Stable Diffusion and Midjourney are democratising design and creative imagery.
  • Faster, smarter Production: The global creative production powerhouse, Tag, has identified that research, ideation and hypotheses can be reached and tested quicker, to enable brands to move into activation with greater pace. Once there, mood-boards and concepts can be created with far greater ease, and administrative tasks can more easily be automated or eradicated almost entirely.

And yet, more is the same.

More possibility, enabled by technology, should mean endless variety and huge potential for your brand to create a real and embedded point of difference. Yet with a constant drive toward improvement and with experiences optimised by algorithms toward what their users like, platforms where your buyers spend most of their time are creating ever more ‘similar’ experiences.

So, in the hope that we use technology to create boundless opportunity for ‘difference’, there’s a big risk that the opposite becomes true.

Differentiation used to be the thing for platforms, but these days apps have never looked so similar. Spotify features short vertical videos reminiscent of TikTok, many now feature ‘stories’ and augmented reality lenses, two features originally pioneered by Snapchat.  X (the social app formerly known as Twitter) wants to combine audio, video, messaging and payments / banking.

Advertising remains the primary method of monetisation for almost all leading online platforms, such as Meta, YouTube, Reddit and X, and is a growing source of revenue for others – including Amazon. In their quest for revenue, more ads are placed in platform inventories, meaning a much greater number of ads per pixel (Meta report a 34% YoY increase of ad impressions across all it’s apps). All of this makes it uniformly more difficult for brands to cut through and create difference.

When it comes to creating stand out through ideas and output, there’s potential jeopardy too. Many of the generative AI-lead platforms that enable faster and smarter working draw on similar pools and resources for knowledge, meaning that standard questioning or prompts from those less capable of fully leveraging the technology, could result in similar, bland responses.

Humanity will create the point of difference.

To avoid this scenario, we must strive for the best of both worlds: A relentless focus on human truth and insight from data, but one that’s elevated and made easier, faster and more effective by generative AI. Assuming most brands will harness generative AI in some way, it’s those that apply and leverage a strong dose of humanity that will stand-out.

  • Brand as empath: While apps and digital platforms increasingly look the same, it doesn’t mean their audiences are. People use apps for different reasons, in different contexts, and to achieve different ends. Leveraging an understanding of this, alongside how key segments are navigating uncertainty, the financial crisis - or simply how they buy their groceries - will all make for better and more distinctive prompts or inputs for generative AI, and ultimately more resonant activations.
  • Attention Economics: The study and understanding of human attention has never been more important, as a more meaningful way to plan, buy and measure campaigns – going beyond viewable ads to focus on viewed ads. Dentsu is an expert in this area, having worked with clients and partners to understand and activate on attention since 2017, working across multiple platforms and formats.
  • Using Data for good: The re-focus on identity by the major platforms should serve as a reminder for brands to take concrete steps themselves to improve their own first-party data strategy as we enter a year when third party cookies will likely deprecate in Google Chrome. The advent of Integrity economics and the expectation that brands should behave in more obviously responsible ways, will mean a focus on determining what value exchange buyers expect in return for brands using their data for commercial gain.

The Pace of Progress, dentsu’s 14th annual Media Trends report is now live, in which we explore the opportunities, challenges, and intricacies of ten trends expected to set the pace of progress in the coming year. Download your copy of the full report here.

Written by Chris Davies, Head of Strategy, Carat UK, a dentsu company