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Marketing in the current era has been completely disrupted by technology. Marketers work to track customers on their journey across new devices and platforms, and are looking to new and ever-evolving technologies to the streamline the process. But are we spending too much time on technology?

To answer this, Rashi Goel, head of consumer communications, Nestle, Sapna Chadha, head of marketing India and SEA, Google and Gunjan Soni, chief marketing officer and head, international brands business, Myntra and head of Jabong (Indian e-commerce brand) took over the stage at Ad:Tech India panel titled ‘Automation Meets Human Experience.’

According to Rashi Goel, the clichéd marketing spray and pray approach which worked five years ago has been replaced by programmatic buying.

She says: “With programmatic buying, I can address my creativity to the demography. Everyone is doing it. We must strike a balance between technology and creativity to make it productive. And the balance has to continue.”

Meanwhile, Chaddha says: “There has to be a balance. If I think about this debate between tech and creativity, my point of view is that it is only helping me and others to be better marketers. It is true that things do start at the heart. Creativity is heart. Data and science are arms and legs and add new dimension to the work we are doing. We are building further on insights. Creativity is more important with data. However, If you don’t have data, it’s bad. So the right message at the right time to the right customer makes a great marketer.”

She complemented her statement by showing the British Airways out of home campaign to remind customers how magical flying can be and how OOH could be contextual and use data in a powerful way.

According to Gunjan Soni, the bar on creativity has gone up. She says: “If I reach out to you with plain vanilla advertising, you are not going to be happy. We need to be more creative as expectations are going up. When we launched, we did something similar to British Airways. I think tech is creating a somewhat more level playing field.

Five years ago you needed to have money and creative. But today with digital medium, if you have a strong creative, it can travel on its own and give you two times better reach, compared with traditional offline media. We are a focused vertical player and should use creative to buck the trend.  Therefore, concluding that automation tech is not replacing human creativity.”

Goel then pointed out that the question is more left dream vs right dream one. According to her, creativity is born at the cusp of two divergent fields. She gave the example of the Spotify data 2016 ad which used data to make an ad around it.

She cited another example of BBH Singapore’s Nike ad where the idea came before data .

Whether the brands run the risk of losing human touch, Gunjan Soni says: “Personally for Jabong, Myntra, we are using power of tech and data for personalisation. We know each individual is highly unique but still before marketer painted them with the same brush. Secondly, I couldn’t talk to anyone one on one.

Our own app is an ad and marketing medium. We have started personalising messages for users based on past behaviours. But we realised that fashion is about discovery. An ideal algorithm for fashion is plus minus one. Therefore, I am using machine learning algorithms.”

She cited the example of Myntra’s campaign featuring cricketer R. Ashwin through which Myntra created 40k segments based on personalisations like gender, city, language and used celebs to speak 100 common names.

Whether machine algorithms will replace human intelligence, she said that we still don’t know. She continues: “We live in an evolving world. We are definitely seeing stuff of creative people getting challenged. We created a brand which uses no designers. We don’t need to get scared but rather re-skill to use the power of such mediums. We need to predict the trends and machines are doing this. I believe it can unleash lot of creativity while it can be risky for creativity at the same time.”

Marketing is a lot about telling stories. Google is at the forefront of tech disruption. Whether that has helped it tell better stories, Sapna explains: “We market Google brands like YouTube, Maps, Search and the aim is to drive more users engagement. My team has access to best programmatic media buying but we start with storytelling. The Pakistan India reunion ad was all about it. For our Maps campaign, our insight was Indians are always late.  We have data but without creativity and storytelling, we wouldn't have gotten people's attention. The challenge is how you marry data and creativity. We might have the best tech but it's difficult to find skilled people with data.

Google India’s biggest challenge today is the pace at which digital marketing is evolving in India, which is much faster than the architecture in place to support their creativity," she said.

She added that this is why Google has set up a focus on India as a market, as it needs specific services and localisation.

"Everyone at HQ is looking only at India. You can watch YouTube offline only in India. We built campaigns around what people hated about tech. The core insight is buffering sucks," she added.

According to Rashi Goel, unlike the tech industry, FMCG is built differently. She says: “We need to serve billions of packs a day. Our power comes from the brands. FMCG has caught up as they are doing programmatic buying, adapting assets to suit the Googles and Facebooks of the world. Stakeholders are important as well. The biggest challenge for FMCG today is to get people to share data while managing existing stake holders.

Across the board, all brands were excited at the potential for India to be able to marry the gap between creativity and data but agreed that more collaboration and education was needed, to make better marketers for the future.