The most-awarded campaigns of 2019 offer plenty of lessons for media owners, not least the importance of deeper partnerships with brand advertisers, writes Alex Brownsell.

Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times means we’re probably looking at a fully-blown media trend, to slightly misquote James Bond-creator Ian Fleming.

Significantly, the top three campaigns in the newly-revealed WARC Media 100 rankings each features the deployment of a predictive AI algorithm as the central creative vehicle – albeit in very different circumstances, from the frivolous to the potentially life-saving.

Taking the top spot is Fox’s ‘Monty’, the world’s first “AI predictive commentator” designed to alert fans to the likely fall of wickets in a cricket match; in second place is KFC’s (really quite peculiar) ‘Colonel KI’, devised to predict the outcome of e-sports contests; and in third is Lifebuoy’s ‘Adaptive Data Lighthouse’ infection alert system.

This tells us two things. Firstly, that judges of media prizes the world over (and particularly in Asia) are keen to see advertisers harness data to make campaigns more relevant. Moreover, it shows that marketers are increasingly using data to solve real problems, from helping Aussie sports fans to see key moments in cricket matches, to informing rural Indian consumers if they are at risk of disease.

What does it mean for media owners?

By their very nature, media and marketing awards tend to be client-centric, focusing on brand challenges and category insights. However, there is much for media owners to learn from winning case studies around the use of paid media to amplify the aforementioned data-driven ideas.

Here are three take-outs to get you started:

1. Data partnerships can boost effectiveness

Sport Chek/Canadian Tire’s ‘Digital Window Shopping’ campaign, in which the retailer challenged Amazon’s dominance of the Black Friday sales event, is a good example. By analysing the items left abandoned in online shopping carts, the brand was able to identify the products most likely to be purchased on Black Friday, and used this to inform the creative.

Rather than deploying a “mere” retargeting campaign, the insights enabled Sport Chek and Canadian Tire to achieve “mass reach” – around 30% of Canadian consumers within a few hours. For media owners, this shows a clear benefit in encouraging advertisers to bring their first-party data to the table to help augment campaign effectiveness.

2. Brands still need to achieve fame

More ‘traditional’ channels (a tag broadcast, print and OOH media owners have come to loathe) have a key role in amplifying data-driven media ideas. Fox Cricket’s ‘Monty’ innovation would have been little more than a party trick without the support of online display and digital OOH to deliver the concept to the relevant audience.

Oh Henry!’s ‘4:25 Hunger Bar Launch’, ranked seventh in the WARC Media 100, relied heavily on the same cocktail of online video, social media and OOH to drive awareness of its new product in the build-up to the legalisation of cannabis in Canada. Its channel strategy was explicitly designed to cut through the “clutter” and present the brand in “hyper-contextually-relevant” moments, something that media owners can assist with.

3. Thinking big can deliver better results

Rather than run a set of generic bumpers to activate its sponsorship of Nine’s coverage of the Australian Open, Uber Eats opted to trick viewers into thinking they were watching live tennis footage – only for stars like Rafael Nadal to look directly into the camera and address the audience about what they’ll be eating for dinner.

The level of production required to create the illusion of live coverage was significant, but it showed the impact that can be delivered when brands and media owners are more ambitious about the depth of their partnership. Nine also ensured the stunt gained a broader audience by promoting it across its key content platforms, including the Today show and 9Honey.

Indeed, the best media sponsorship deals now span a range of channels, from social media to mobile apps and even product placement. Take ITV’s Love Island partnership with fast fashion brand Missguided, ranked eighth in the WARC Media 100.

To fully engage the programme’s key 16- to 34-year-old audience, Missguided launched a branded section on the Love Island app, enabling viewers to purchase the skimpy items worn by contestants. The partnership increased brand awareness from 12% to 25%, drove nearly one million direct visits to its website, and accounted for 18% of Missguided’s total summer 2018 sales.

ITV used this knowledge to create an even more immersive partnership with I Saw It First for the 2019 series of Love Island – further evidence that media owners should think bigger and more creatively when trying to attract advertiser investment.