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Media Mavens: The Innovid Interview with Walter T. Geer III

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Editor’s Note: This Q&A is the latest installment in an occasional blog series where Innovid interviews industry thought leaders about their take on the future of advertising and media. 

In whatever he does, Walter T. Geer III aims to excel. In college, he was a track and field All-American in the indoor pentathlon. In the advertising business, he holds six patents for digital ad formats and invented skippable pre-roll ads. He has worked for companies that range from JPMorgan Chase to Google and from MTV Networks to MySpace. He is currently Chief Experience Design Officer at VMLY&R Health. Read on to get Walter’s take on AI, DCO, CTV, and more.   

Innovid: How did you get started in the ad business?

Walter T. Geer: I was home from college. I didn't know what I wanted to do. And my Dad literally created a resume and a profile for me on Monster.com. Remember that? And he told me you got an interview tomorrow at a company called Transport Entertainment. And I was like, what? He told me I should give this web design stuff a try. I went in and interviewed, and I'm not gonna lie: I totally lied. In the interview, they asked me if I knew HTML, JavaScript, and Photoshop. I had zero idea what that actually was. I just nodded my head and said, “Yes, I do know that.” I went and studied in the library, continued to study on the job, and ended up loving it. Three weeks later, I started the job.

Innovid: Once you got involved in advertising, what kept you in the business?

Walter: I think in the earlier days, it was all about how the .com space was just such a new world. It was an open, empty blank canvas that allowed us to just create. It allowed me to think about innovation in a different manner, understanding who individuals are and how to reach them. I invented a multitude of digital advertising products and solutions that we still see and engage with every day. I worked at the New York Times in 2001 on the small team that created sequential messaging, which is the ads that follow you everywhere you go. Later on, I patented the lower-third ad. Skippable pre-roll I invented and patented as well — just 5-4-3-2-1, skip. 

Innovid: With TV moving to 100% digital, what’s your thinking about what that format offers innovative creatives these days?

Walter: I think it's still an empty canvas to some degree. I see a multitude of people using CTV to now put things in ads like QR codes as triggers. I still think there's so much more opportunity to be had in that space. With dynamic creative optimization (DCO), you can change the color of a shirt that someone's using in a brand is using in a commercial, because the brand knows that I've interacted with this color content in the past. 

Innovid: As data moves to the forefront in helping optimize creative, do you think old-school creatives who want to be the next Martin Scorcese will still thrive in this business?  

Walter: In the creative department, there is such a multitude, such a range of types of individuals. Yes, there are individuals who want to be the next Scorsese or Spike Lee. At the end of the day, we are in a better place now, because 15 to 20 years ago, we were throwing stuff at a wall and hoping it sticks.  

I’m not saying that we are better creatives now. But the data we have now and the understanding of who an individual is, what they do, where they go, and how they do it allows us to analyze the things that we create in a manner that just wasn't possible before. If we go back and think about the advertising that worked and didn't work before, I will guarantee you a multitude of it didn't work, because they just didn't have the insights that we had. When the creative was great, it was a guess. Of course, now with what we know, we’re no longer guessing. 

Innovid: Today it’s possible to measure creative and then almost immediately optimize a campaign. Is that something you try to put into practice? 

Walter: There is nothing but benefit to the use of data — being able to do even the very simplest things like A-B testing with creative and then understanding which one is more effective. Dynamic creative optimization allows you to get there, too. Real-time data and metrics allow you to continue being smarter. 

Innovid: Is there a technology that you cannot do without in the ad business right now?

Walter: That's a really good question. You know what I'm gonna say and this might sound typical, but AI, but here's the thing. It's been with us for a long time. DCO is a form of AI, right? In the advertising space and in the digital world, we’re all using AI to understand who an individual is, target them, and deliver them the right message at the right time. 

Innovid: So what would your dream advertising technology do? 

Walter: Copywriters are going to be the next UI designers of the next decade. Imagine I have 11 Alexa devices in my house, and I say Alexa, turn on everything that happens to be a certain area of my first floor. Alexa turns all that on automatically, but a light bulb over my kitchen table is out. In real-time, Alexa finds the best price for that light bulb is at Home Depot. There's currently a sale at Home Depot for Philips light bulbs for $9.99. “Would you like me to make that purchase?” Alexa asks. Later that day when the light bulb gets to my house, I've never put a bulb in recessed lighting in my life before, so I ask, “How do I install this light?” Alexa starts walking you through all the steps to install the light. That's what I think the future of advertising will be, which is seamless engagement with brands when I actually need it. 

Innovid: How has measurement changed for TV advertising? 

Walter: It used to be just impressions — how many times this ad is actually delivered. We don't know how many people were on the other side of that screen. It could be a family of five; it could be during the Super Bowl with a family and 20 to 30 friends. Now with digital devices we are able to understand where the ad is served, what type of content it was actually served with, where the clicks are going to, and if they actually purchased the product. You see the entire lifecycle, the whole funnel basically from start to completion The real-time data that we have today is allowing us the ability to actually know what people are doing and be able to effectively deliver the right content on the right device for them.

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