Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been a hot topic at digital marketing conferences this year, and Social Media Marketing World 2017 was no exception. Talking about the future of AI can be mind blowing, especially when experts estimate that computers will rival (or even surpass) human intelligence in as little as 16 years. What shocked me more than these predictions was that this technology isn’t only applicable in the far-off future; there are actually practical ways to apply it to business today. Christopher Penn, VP of Marketing Technology at SHIFT Communications, was able to deliver some informative answers to the biggest questions about AI; where it’s going and how businesses should be taking advantage of it:

How do I know if my business could benefit from AI?

How can I implement AI for my business today?

“Become the guy who helps the machines learn what great writing is.”

Is my job going to be replaced by a robot? How can I avoid this?

How can I convince my company and its culture that AI is important? 

You know the triangle where you have fast, cheap and good, but you only get to pick two? AI is going to change that. The reality is that computers are faster, cheaper and smarter than humans, so we should start finding ways to work with AI now. If you don’t, your competitors will.


We (GSD&M’s Social Media Department) sat on the edge of our seats with baited breath as each announcement during the Facebook f8 Developers Conference rolled out. With racing hearts and sweaty palms—no we’re not exaggerating; yes, we love social media that much—we waited as the last announcement was unveiled. To no avail, we were left wondering how f8 failed to mention the product improvements we begged for on our Christmas lists to Zuckerberg. We even tried to call, but Santa must have changed his number.

In all seriousness, to create the most engaging content on behalf of our clients and to continuously evolve our practice, we have some hot-punch list items for Facebook:

And personally, here are a couple ways I believe Facebook could get us to spend even more of our time—outside of work—staring at our phones:

So yes, f8 spiked our curiosity and had us at the edge of our seats waiting for what’s next in the world of social media. But like a kid who got socks in his stocking, we were kind of unimpressed with the lack of “shock” that Christmas brought this year. So come on Zuckerberg, turn off your algorithm switch and hear what we’re saying.

“The smart home is a pipe dream.” That was a headline published by CNN in 2014. Since then, I’ve set my sights on disputing if “pipe dream” is still the ultimate definer of smart-home technology. While recent news on the topic leaves me hopeful that the technology is coming, I’m still not confident that much has changed in the interim between 2014 and today.

Don’t get me wrong; headway has been made in the areas CNN cited as obstacles in its pessimistic assessment. Software companies like Zonoff are building platforms that help the fragmented ecosystem of sensors, appliances and TVs talk to each other. Also, hardware companies like LG and Samsung are developing ways to make our old, dumb washing machines and refrigerators smart, so a connected home may no longer require purchasing all new appliances.

So in all fairness, the industry is making some moves. So now we’re looking at the next big question: How will companies monetize these services? Standstill, we meet again…

Your whole milk is low, might we suggest 1%?

Winifred Chang, the head of home Internet of Things (IoT) partnerships at LG, said at this year’s CES that the smart hubs in LG’s TVs and appliances may one day be subsidized by partnerships with consumer product brands (i.e., your refrigerator might recommend a certain brand of milk when it knows you’re running low). To me, this kind of interruptive model seems like a backward step rather than providing consumers with a service that’s truly useful—so, not something likely worth paying for in the near future.

fridge gif

Less pizza, more rewards

Another way companies are subsidizing their services is by selling the data to third parties. Google is giving away its Nest smoke alarm when you use one of its insurance partners. The insurance company knows when your alarm is fully powered and working and in return gives you “safety rewards” on your premiums. Now, I’m all for discounts based on safe behavior, but I worry that insurance companies might also want to raise my premiums when they see how many frozen pizzas I consume in a week. Again, perhaps not a step exactly in the right direction, but at least it’s a step.

Back before you noticed it was gone

The last and least futuristic way forward is for companies to simply provide a valuable service that people are willing to pay for. A worthy example is Simplehuman’s trash can, which knows when you need more trash bags and will automatically order them for you.

That’s the kind of sensible, useful service I’m looking for. It’s nondisruptive and makes my life easier. And while it might not be the most tech-savvy example of a smart home feature in the market, it’s arguably the only one I’d actually pay for.

Simplicity, you’re the one.

The thing is, I don’t want to worry about buying trash bags, paper towels and laundry detergent—I just want them to be there when I need them, packaged together, discounted and delivered by drone if necessary. How the smart home will make this happens is still up in the air (no pun intended) and somewhat of a pipe dream.

However, when the smart home comes to fruition, just please don’t make me have to skip through product-pushing ads on my fridge or tell my health insurance company I eat too much pizza. Is that too much to ask?

IMG_5457 copy 2As a self-professed technophile, attending CES was a life goal for me. So in heading to 2016 CES, I couldn’t wait to find the next great thing to connect with my Sonos, Hue and SmartThings and make my “connected life” complete. More importantly, this was an opportunity to find the new advancements that would be game changers for our department, agency and clients. Bring it, Vegas!

But, upon arrival, as I stood longingly in front of a smart refrigerator that alerts you when your food is near expiration and creates a grocery list based on your purchasing patterns, an unexpected thought occurred to me: Not many (okay, none) of my friends or peers are jumping at the opportunity to have their home play their theme song when they rise in the morning or for their lights to alter to match their mood when they return home from work. In fact, I suspect the average American consumer is barely aware that CES—or this type of technology offering—even exists.

So if it doesn’t apply to everyone, how does technology of the future apply to the audiences of today?

Brands have to find ways to make ultra-forward-thinking technology accessible for and adoptable by the mass consumer. And by doing so, brands have to be realistic about adoption curves.

Brands have to look for insights into the problems technology is attempting to solve and find more realistic ways to address these issues.

Let’s use my coveted refrigerator as an example. Sure, it’d be great if I got a text when my guacamole was about to expire. But the bigger issue here is less about having excess tortilla chips and nowhere to dip them and more about the global problem of food waste vs. food scarcity. Now that’s an entirely different subject for a separate blog post, but my point is that high-end technology isn’t the only way to solve the problem of food waste.

Packaging: Let’s rethink it. What if food packaging changed color when nearing expiration? Or, food that had a 1–2 day refrigerator life was placed in green bags, while food lasting 3–5 days had an orange package?

Existing data. Grocery stores and brands already know what consumers are purchasing. What if we used the technology that gives certain customers certain coupons to send notifications when the bananas they bought last week were better fit for banana bread? 

Communities that work. The social network Nextdoor has made it exceptionally easy to alert neighbors of a lost pet. Could like-apps also offer up to neighbors that carton of milk or unopened tub of guacamole that will go bad while you’re at CES?

Perhaps I have a personal plight with the items in my fridge, but this is the type of thinking that CES inspired. What problems can we solve with the technology we already have, rather than assuming consumers are ready to adopt the latest-and-greatest—in smart fridges?

How can we solve transportation and commuter issues until the drone is ready for prime time? How can we make reality better than the virtual version?

Don’t get me wrong. I think technology is one of our best approaches to solving problems. But in doing so we can’t lose sight of the people who have never heard of CES and will never understand the need for a $10K refrigerator that beeps when their bananas are no longer that perfect shade of yellow.

We, as consumers, brands and advertisers have to be smarter than the smart things.

Now, about that robotic dog. Dog ownership sounds hard, so this is problem solver I could get behind. See you at the “dog” park.IMG_5456 copy



So ye olde Internets were abuzz last week with reports about Samsung Smart TVs both tracking owners’ conversations and serving up ads in the midst of already purchased movie content. Samsung is quick on the defense to assure customers that the parameters of their products’ voice recognition and intent is perfectly business appropriate and not heralding the feared dawn of a dystopian surveillance state for all.

That all said, the hysteria over the initial reports of Smart TVs recording their unsuspecting owners really throws into relief the precarious balance we are going to have to strike in coming years as marketers. One of our core tenets as an agency is that the advertising we put out itself is an uninvited guest to consumers and that we always have to be cognizant that we are crafting engagement that begs their participation, enjoyment and trust. If potential customers are instantly turned off by a brand’s efforts at the data collection that is used to inform and time the creative messaging they receive, we could be hitting a brick wall by the time we arrive on the scene. As the age of the Internet of Things, Big Data and Empowered Data continues to unfold, we can’t lose focus on that delicate entity known as consumer trust during all phases of the marketing cycle.








Helping execute a Super Bowl ad campaign is, of course, on the bucket list of many advertising professionals, and I count myself lucky to have touched the campaigns I have in my career. The reality, though, is that the Super Bowl bar continues to rise in terms of brands creating a multifaceted experience. No marketer has the luxury of stopping with a Super Bowl ad anymore. With the over four-million-dollar cost of entry, the responsibility is real to craft innovative consumer engagement opportunities (e.g., contest, call to action) to complement the game day spot investment. Clever, headline-grabbing, real-time content and organic social participation featuring lots of positive buzz about the ad are also musts.

What’s a social strategist to do?


A topic that continues to intrigue me in this dawn of the Internet of Things/Everything is how much even basic Internet access can still be easily taken for granted. I suspect this is because I grew up in a rural area where cable TV and even city water access were huge deals when they finally arrived. Though memory isn’t the most reliable mistress, I think I was actually nearing high school by the time the county water plant connected to our home, finally making my family bona fide utility-paying citizens. As a child, I picked up on an unspoken message that we were different to not have great TV connections or city water running to our homes. We were… country and thus effectively banned from resources considered completely mundane givens by our city-living peers.


If you’ve been to CES you know before you have a chance to unpack or fully process the overwhelming number of innovations, ideas and connections you’ve just made, the first question that everyone asks is “What was the coolest thing you saw at CES?” or “what was the one thing that really blew your mind?” So, let’s just cut to the chase right here and now and ask the GSD&M squad who spent the week in Vegas what was the one thing that they remember most. It can be a specific innovation from the show floor or a key takeaway or idea that inspired them.

Aaaaand, GO!


Another day of pounding the pavement at CES 2015 has uncovered more exciting innovations that are on the horizon and huge potential to trigger fundamental shifts in consumer behavior in a variety of categories. As marketers, it’s important for us to keep our pulse on how these shifts in behavior open up exciting ways to engage and provide value for consumers.

We heard a great description of CES from a CNET tour guide that sums up the show so far. “CES 2015 is the intersection of the Internet of Things and Big Data”. So the opportunity for us is to ask ourselves how we make all of this data actionable. As Shelly Palmer stated in an innovation breakfast event yesterday, how will not only consumers’ behavior change, but our behavior change (as marketers) based on the data sets being created by what you see on the CES showroom floor?  It’s a paradigm shift in the way we think about technology and how it serves our needs as marketers.


The CES 2015 showroom officially opened today with, what resembled, Black Friday Door Busters as the velvet rope dropped to release throngs of eager tech enthusiasts onto the floor. The first day is always filled with anticipation to see tomorrow’s technology in action.

The GSD&M team is on the ground at CES tweeting and posting in real-time, but we wanted to take a moment to ask some of our team for three words to describe CES on Day One.