IAB Engage 2013: The Human Touch – Morning Session Round-up


Geo-fenced, day-parted digital taxi tops. Web content broadcasting without the internet. Digitised plants that show your touch through light and sound. All this and more took centre stage at the Barbican before the show even started at IAB’s flagship event, Engage.

The human penchant for innovation – reason for rational optimism?

Guy Phillipson, CEO of IAB UK, opened the day with amazing stats about a powerful data processor that often gets overlooked in our age of machines: the human brain. Citing our brain’s 2.5 petabytes of processing power, Guy reminded delegates that people can handle complexity—whether that’s in terms of sophisticated advertising messages or in the way we have all become adept users of smartphones and tablets. Predicting that 2014 could mark 50% tablet penetration in the UK, Guy foresees a creative, immersive, and very mobile future for us all.

Matt RidleyContinuing the brainy conversation, “the internet looks a lot like a brain,” explained Dr. Matt Ridley, author of The Rational Optimist. Indeed, the big “brain” that is the internet is just one example of the kinds of progress that have taken place as humanity has shifted from individual intelligence (i.e., the person who crafted a stone axe) to collective, distributed intelligence (i.e. the collective that is required to construct a computer mouse or the worldwide web). 

Man and machine(s)

Echoing Guy’s views that 2013 marked the year of mobile, Facebook’s Nicola Mendelsohn also had mobile on her mind, stating that, in terms of technological and cultural transformation, “Mobile is the Model T of today.” Indeed, Nicola also cited the amazing, and somewhat disturbing fact that there are now “more mobile phones in the world than toothbrushes.” 

Internet of Things expert, Andy Hobsbawm of EVRYTHNG, exhorted the audience to “imagine any product with its own digital life.” Discussing all the ways products themselves can become media platforms, Andy posited a future in which the things we possess have digital lives of their own.

Bryan Melmed, Director of Insights from IAB Engage premier sponsor Exponential, navigated us through the myths behind big data in his presentation, “Data – it’s only human.” Bryan engagingly reminded us all that like humans (and because marketing data’s derived from human insights), data can be fallible and touchy. Practitioners have a responsibility to avoid over-reliance on simplistic views of data, like stereotypical, broad-brushed demographic interpretations of consumer motivations.

Quantcast’s Michael Recce, inventor of the tech behind the James Bond biometric gun and holder of six patents, explained the intricacies of big data and advertising in his talk, “Advertising - now a supermodel.” Returning to the brain’s importance, Michael highlighted that marketers need to understand dopamine and serotonin as much as they understand display and search. Michael declared, “The industrial revolution of advertising is upon us.”

The dawn of a different approach

Lisa Utzschneider, of Amazon, explained Amazon’s human touch stating, “We start with the customer and work backwards.” This means that Amazon, or any successful digital player, should create e-commerce and advertising experiences that inform, aid discovery and empower our customers-- not interrupt them. Luis di Como, from Unilever, and Robin Phillips, of Waitrose, also underscored the need to put customers at the heart of e-commerce and digital advertising solutions. 

Matt Brittin, from Google, continued to emphasise the need for process that’s tailored for real human needs, getting the web to work the way the world works rather than the other way around. This is exemplified by Google’s emphasis on natural language and more. The world’s greatest discovery brand did not disappoint and delighted the audience with a variety of cool real-time demos of Google innovations like Chromecast and Google Glass. Matt declared, “It’s early morning on the web.”