Recap of Digiday’s AdWeek Member Event

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Digiday managing director Shareen Pathak hosted a rapid-fire round of wired vs. tired concepts, phases, and trends in the industry with a guest panel of executives. The panel included: Jenny Wall - Gimlet Media’s chief marketing officer, Vimla Gupta – Equinox’s chief marketing officer, Sam Olstein – GE’s director of global innovation, and Adam Leibsoh – GIPHY’s chief operating officer.

The panel used auction paddles marked “in” on one side, and “out” on the other to express their opinion on each topic before briefly discussing their position. The below prompts have sparked much conversation among the Twenty-First Digital team, so we compiled our notes and takeaways to share a brief recap.

Artificial Intelligence (A.I.)

All in. (With some caveats.) Jenny Wall, Gimlet Media’s CMO, explained that  initial work on facial recognition is currently biased towards white males (collective eye roll) because the data used to train these programs uses primarily white males. There’s plenty of progress needed to get the current tech to a place where it’s capable of recognizing all users equally. But the group overall seemed excited about the opportunity to drive a truly personalized user experience.

TFD Takeaway: We’re interested to see how A.I. is adopted within the industry, but it’s too early to jump in for most brands and publishers. We keep a sharp eye on new opportunities for our partners, so when we see potential use cases you’ll be the first to hear about it.

Advertising in Amazon

3/4 in. Everyone’s using it. Even under the suspicion that Amazon is potentially using advertiser/consumer data in self-serving ways. Vimla Gupta, Equinox’s CMO, noted that her brand struggle to figure out how to serve their trademark Equinox experience authentically on the Amazon platform, but trusts they will soon find a solution.

TFD Takeaway: We don’t have a lot of partners using Amazon yet, but we definitely see a clear opportunity for publisher subscriber growth.

Voice Recognition

All in. With some concerns for future generations. Everyone agreed with excitement that voice is a huge opportunity. Vimla Gupta sees voice being a great space for Equinox as meditation apps, location services, etc. are all on the horizon for the wellness brand. Adam Leibsoh, GIPHY’s COO, wonders what voice will do human behavior and social queues. Will kids who grow up telling Alexa what to do be less likely to say “please” and “thank you”? If our technology performs tasks regardless of our rude/inconsiderate speech, will that translate to our human interactions?

TFD Takeaway: Alexa, play our Moody Monday playlist on Spotify. Please. :)

Brand purpose

All in. Obviously, Nike’s recent campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick was fresh on the panel’s mind. Followed by Levi’s ad promoting stricter gun control. All agreeing that brands should strive to use their power of influence for good. Even if it’s not always in a hugely provocative way. "Every brand should be motivated to do good things. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions", Adam Leibsoh noted in a nod to Pepsi’s iconic failure to appropriately display their support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

TFD Takeaway: Never be afraid to use your platform to show your support for, and lift up, a worthwhile cause. Partnering with charitable organizations or community members thoughtfully should never be self-serving, but a message to your consumers that you’re doing your part to support the community you serve and the planet we all live on is appropriate. Take great care and seek sound advice when planning a potentially polarizing message.

Influencer Marketing

All out. In the traditional sense. “Paid to post is getting into a really weird space,” says Jenny Wall. The days of paying an influencer to promote your product simply because they have millions of followers are numbered. For example, Equinox utilizes micro-influencers that fit organically with their brand. Trainers, wellness experts, yoga instructors, etc. are hand-selected because they are already true champions for the brand. All agreed that artificial content is bad and that consumers are hip to the lack of authenticity in most paid posts.

TFD Takeaway: We’re loving the micro-influencer trend and we’re interested to get a few case studies underway. Our advice? Keep it local and make sure their audience resembles your audience. Try pinpointing a few influencers with a large audience that’s primarily in your geographical area that already aligns organically with your brand. Incorporate a giveaway or promote an event with them. Something that garners plenty of audience acquisition opportunities.


Collective groan. 3/4 out. Sam Olstein, GE’s director of global innovation says there are too many young adults using Snapchat as a means of communication to ignore the platform. But the group agreed that it’s still waiting for Snapchat to prove itself as a viable advertising platform.

TFD Takeaway: We haven’t seen any client success stories come out of Snapchat thus far. The platform has gone through some major changes and is still trying to find its place and purpose. No harm in participating as a brand, but give it time to evolve before allocating budget/team energy to this app.

Creative Agencies

All in. With some hesitation, the group agreed that the creative agency model has been going through a painful growth period. The Mad Men era is over and huge global agencies are being forced to make way for a wave of boutique models that often bring the same talent and diversity of thought, without the big agency BS.

TFD Takeaway: If you don’t have internal talent, seek an agency that understands your brand mission and major marketing goals. An in-house team is hard to beat, but a great agency could be that missing piece that pushes you to achieve your marketing goals in exciting and unexpected ways.

Content Studios

All excitedly in. Content marketing isn’t going anywhere. Collaborating with a studio that understands your voice is essential to providing your partners and consumers with worthwhile content. Vimla Gupta, Equinox’s CMO, gushed about the successful revenue stream that content marketing has provided the brand, allowing Equinox to successfully elevate their partners’ messaging through thoughtful, on brand content.

TFD Takeaway: Native content has to be authentic. Whether you’re promoting your own event, or collaborating with a partner, your content has to remain a true reader service at its’ core. Finding a content studio that you can depend on, and providing that level of tailored service to your partners, is a recipe for campaign success.

Pop-up Events

All in. Make sure you have strategy in place to amplify and share the experience well beyond the physical attendees. The North Face’s Pinnacle Project was discussed as an example of a pop-up that reached well beyond the few people that were able to physically visit the exhibit.

TFD Takeaway: If done poorly and without appropriate intention, pop-ups can be a waste of valuable team resources. When taking on a pop-up event, make sure the attendees are actually your audience and lay out a thorough promotion and amplification strategy that ensures ROI.  


All in. Facebook is still a necessary evil. Jenny Wall, Gimlet Media’s CMO, says, “I haven't pulled advertising from Facebook yet.” Her response was met with a collective inhale from the audience, to which she replied that she is, “definitely not feeling well about advertising on the platform" after the recent data breaches.

TFD Takeaway: These account breaches are dangerous to you and your consumers, so we hope Facebook takes every possible step to protect their users because subscriber and audience acquisition efforts are working very well for our clients. Tailor all promotional messaging to comfortably appeal to your users. Pro-tip: We’re currently seeing the most success with Facebook’s look-a-like option. Targeting users that aren’t currently a subscriber or audience member, but have a lot of the same qualities that your active database has.

In summary, consumer behavior drives market adoption. Don’t allocate your budget and team’s energy towards old/new opportunities unless they’re a natural fit for you and your consumer. Give new platforms and tech some time prove their ROI before jumping on board and likewise, be ready to let go of practices that aren’t giving you the results you’re looking for.