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NBCUniversal Is Using Emotional Targeting in New Gen AI-Driven Ads

The media conglomerate announced Wednesday at One24, its annual tech conference, that it’s using gen AI to analyze TV and social content across its vast content portfolio and link them to audiences’ emotions and motivations. Advertisers can then aim ads at people deemed likely to buy certain products, based on the themes and storylines they were drawn to.

NBCU says it’s developed 300 audience segments this way that let marketers target people down to the episode level of shows like “Law & Order” and “Dateline.”

John Lee, NBCU’s chief data officer, said by way of example that people who watched shows featuring sibling rival themes were linked to having family values and a propensity to patronize a particular fast-food chain.

Lee said in tests with 10 advertisers, which he wouldn’t identify, NBCU’s Gen AI-driven ads performed 21% to 49% better than its previous way of targeting people, which was based on the show titles and genres people watch.

“So now we have what shows they watch, how it connects to emotional themes, and mapped it to people buying, say, pizza,” he said. “When you added this layer, it chose different people and performed better. The connections were not always intuitive. AI could find them.”

NBCU is seeking advertisers to beta-test the approach. At least one big ad holding company is intrigued. Megan Pagliuca, chief activation officer at Omnicom Media Group, said the agency planned to test NBCU’s approach with a number of advertising clients.

“The fact they’ve tied it to personal values and motivation is interesting,” she said. “They are first to market applying gen AI in this way. We think we’re going to get insights into archetypes we haven’t before.”

The gen AI ads and other One24 initiatives come as NBCU and other TV sellers are looking for an edge leading up to the upfronts, TV’s big annual selling period. Along with gen AI-driven ads, NBCU’s other big announcement is that it’s selling ads around the Summer Olympics programmatically for the first time to make it easier for advertisers to buy the coveted spots. It’s also introducing shoppable TV ads aimed at sports fans and a new way for advertisers to see the effectiveness of their ads overall.

NBCU says its approach is different from others

NBCU isn’t the first to use AI to sell ads. Disney announced “Disney’s Magic Words” earlier this year, an ad format that lets advertisers personalize their messages to fit the mood and emotions of a show or movie. Google has Performance Max, and Meta has Advantage+ — AI products that are regularly pointed to on earnings calls as key growth drivers. Apple is also experimenting with using AI to sell ads, Business Insider has reported.

But Lee’s pitch is that NBCU’s approach is different because it leverages its highly produced content. It continues a theme of how the legacy media company has tried to compete with the tech companies, which historically have focused on reaching people closer to the point of purchase.

NBCU’s launch also comes at a time when some advertisers have complained that they can’t control where their ads appear with Google’s Performance Max. Google said Performance Max on average increases conversions by 18% for advertisers.

“It’s not just bottom-funnel,” Lee said. “We’re offering something with premium, long-form content that’s meant to inform the whole funnel. That’s why this aspect of how the human is interacting is so much more important than a company using short-form content.”

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