Why Can’t We Connect with People as Strongly as We Do with Our Devices?

By Evgeny Popov

Since the end of the pandemic, there has been a seismic shift toward living in the moment and not experiencing everything through a screen. As we were all forced to stay in our homes and not engage in normal in-person meetings, we all longed for the day that we could see each other again. So were brands and agencies, who spent the time alone from customer interaction retooling their industries to become fully digital.

In the last 24 months, we have all sought more personal connectivity as human beings, but we are also consuming more data, time, and resources on all of our devices. And with more advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning taking shape each day, we are finding more ways to "need" our devices as much as we need human interaction for survival.

The relationships we have — with each other and with our devices — need rebalancing, and the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity is the ideal spot to recapture it by focusing on the relationships that people have, and the connections we have with our technology. When put together, we have the potential to recreate the ability to create meaningful connections with the people and devices that matter to us.

Contextual Creates Connectivity and Feelings Create Relationships

To be clear, I am not a relationship advisor; I am rooted in advertising technology. But forasmuch as we have been working with brands and agencies about how they will "break up" with cookies once they are depreciated, you might say we are each getting first-hand counseling experience in the process.

Ever since Google announced (the first time) that it would phase out the use of third-party cookies in Chrome, coming on the heels of Apple's deprecation of IDFA, the advertising and technology communities have been working feverishly to create a new set of identifiers, tools and tactics to find ways to best connect advertising with those who consume content.

That brings us to contextual advertising — a long-established but fast-evolving approach to targeting with high relevance and one of the potential solutions to solve for it. Contextual advertising's ability to target ads based on linguistic elements, keywords, and tone enables brands to align their ad experiences with content in the moments when consumers are feeling most connected — without the use of tracking technology.

The moments when brands form initial bonds with consumers using a mobile device, a desktop or via a connected television are not relationships: They are connections. Our role as advertising professionals is to do everything possible to deepen that connection. Sure, we can "like" or "love" a post on social media that a brand shares, but digital emotions only carry so much weight.

The real currency is found between the love, the emotion and the trust found between people. Harnessing the power of relationships will not just catalyze connections, but it will fuel the purchase of products that our clients covet.

Take a brand like Nike, for example. I have a connection to this brand; I have purchased it, worn it, and I encounter it regularly in my life. But Nike knows that real brand power is about more than its product. That's why it creates experiences that harness and enhance the relationships of its customers, such as the community of runners that it fosters through its Nike+ Run Club app. Why not bring such a community to Cannes itself and unite runners along the Boulevard de la Croisette? I'm expecting Cannes to represent a learning opportunity for how brands can learn more about relationships through the moments that comprise the consumer experiences and connections that brands and agencies around the world are shaping.

You Can Deepen Connections and Relationships, Together

Relevant moments can take many shapes — be it sports fans reading the backstories behind their team's championship season, fashion fans flocking to their favorite publications to see which designers are outfitting celebrities at events, or new parents trying to gauge how their insurance needs have changed following the birth of their child.

Recognizing and measuring these and other relationships we have as people go a long way in shaping the connections we have as consumers...and that is where we will win.

Let's say that you work for a bottled water brand. You want to connect with families who you know consume bottled water. Studying the relationships of the people living in the household will create opportunities to find connection points. A student who plays hockey and soccer while living at home will have different media consumption habits than his parents. But the "Soccer Mom" and "Hockey Dad" each have a relationship with their child as well as with the sport. These relationship moments provide a host of resources to provide meaningful brand connections on the devices that matter to each person in the family.

Learning about relationships between people who matter to your customers will also educate your team on the connections they have with specific devices and channels of communication. When we map out consumers' relationships and connection points between brands and content, you will see how the relationship between people making the purchase influences specific connection points.

In between the rosé sipping and entertainment that will take place at Cannes, I am hoping we can all invest some time to engage in real-life conversations. That, after all, is how good relationships are born.

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

Evgeny Popov is EVP and GM of international at Verve Group.