Rob Bradley, Senior Vice President, CNN International Commercial (CNNIC) and Abhijeet Dhar, Director – Sales, CNN International Commercial highlight how CNNIC has worked as a consultant to clients over the past year by providing them insights and data to understand the mindset of consumers and curate content that targets the relevant audience and enhance business.
Q] What were the biggest learnings from 2020 for CNN?
Rob: We learnt that people wanted a brand that they can trust and hence fact-based journalism counts, as people tune into CNN to be informed about what’s happening globally during a challenging year like 2020. CNN saw record numbers and we had our biggest year ever when it comes to audiences and audience growth. From a marketing perspective, audiences and consumers are interested in who they buy from, more than ever. Consumers want an authentic relationship with brands and that’s where CNN plays a big role. We acted and continue to work towards being a consultant for government clients and brands – in sectors such as travel and tourism, trade and investment, auto and technology – working closely together on how they can authentically say who they are and build a close relationship with their audiences. Lastly, 2020 accelerated the digital world reinventing how we communicate.
Q] How has the recovery been in terms of consumer and brand sentiment and ad-spends?
Rob: We had set up a task force in February last year and used data from the audience, research, editorial and technology teams to understand what this means for our business. Doing that allowed us to think how we needed to pivot. We worked tirelessly to identify new industry sectors. The task force acted as a consultant to the different industry sectors – such as business technology and finance – and that allowed us to generate revenue from new areas where we weren’t as strong before. By having a story that was based on data enabled us to unlock new aspects for our business and deliver better results for our clients.
Q] How does your strategy of putting audiences at the heart of every campaign work?
Rob: We have to tell the client something they might not know about their audience and through data and insight provide the reason why they should work with us. We work from an insight led sales perspective. Sometimes, the advertising industry gets too obsessed with smart technology, but what’s needed is beautifully made, high quality, creative content – sponsored editorial or branded content – that is backed by data and resonates with audiences. The ad formats that we deliver now, such as the native 2.0, is an enhanced native proposition which is clearly labeled as native advertising throughout our website, but delivers the content in a way that is seamlessly in-sync with our editorial. To meet the audience demand, we are investing in audio and virtual events. Combining everything together means that we’re using next generation audience targeting with our own contextual and semantic tools and making sure that we’re giving audiences stories and content that they come back for.
Q] What is the challenge when it comes to clients using data and technology efficiently?
Rob: Media owners do have a challenge to smartly use technology that makes it work for them and not get overwhelmed with it. It’s about looking at what you need and being very clear about it. If we work with a clear brief on what needs to be achieved, then it will enable us to think about a solution in a smart way before thinking about the technology. The brands that we work with, they want the right audience and they also want it to be about trusted content.
The goal is reflected in the saying ‘real business insights to make real business decisions.’ Yes, it’s a marketing campaign, but ultimately, we are uncovering audience behaviour and what they’re interested in, around this content. We feed the learnings back to the client with extra value, giving them information that can enhance their business and is beyond just marketing.
Q] Can you share an example of a brand or any campaign and how you went about it?
Abhijeet: Clients want to understand the mindset of the audiences, the consumption patterns and how they’ve changed. As we marry first and third-party data, we have a lot more points of understanding with these audiences. For IBM, we worked on giving them a content-based solution. We looked at topics of interest that resonated with IBM and the audience they were looking at. We also looked at the efficacies of AI and topics such as STEM and girl child education. Based on this, we build the content, but that invariably marries or ties back to how the distribution or the amplification of the content happens. The loop starts from when you identify the audiences which are important to the client, what are their traits and interest areas, what keeps them going and then you build content to match that. When you seed that content across all our offerings, then the point of consumption becomes very important to the client. The loop becomes important because when the client shares the content or seeds it, they become micro influencers for that content piece to a larger audience. Clients want to speak to the audience in a safe environment and we help them do that.
Q] Where do you see India in the digital curve, when compared to other countries?
Rob: When I visited India five years ago, programmatic ad technology was still in a nascent stage. Fast forward to today, there is no difference in the campaign that we deliver in the UK or Singapore, or the US compared to those that we deliver in India. Classical technology has democratised solutions, and the smartness of how we operate. Sure, there is some difference as there is in any market, but when we build a solution, we make sure it works in any market or platform that we operate in. The campaigns are just as smart in India as they are another market.
Abhijeet: Democratisation of technology is the key. In India, over the last year, clients have found audience consultations to be far more sacrosanct and important for a brand’s growth. That means that any investment in identifying what works and what will work is very important. CNN’s technology, the assurance of brand safety married with our audience capabilities and insights goes into building the entire roadmap for clients and brands. That is relevant today, tomorrow and even in the future and this continuity enables us as partners to take the brand conversation forward.