News & Views

Opinion / It’s time visual content took centre-stage

by Contagious Contributor

If we were under any illusion as to the attraction of visual content, you need only look at the headlines from last week. Photo-sharing platform Instagram unveiled a new tool to help curb scrolling addiction - news that should bring home just how visually-orientated a species we really are.

And yet, while image-dominant platforms like Instagram and Snap have exploded onto the scene in recent years - attracting swathes of cult-like fans straddling all age groups (the fastest growing cohort of Snapchat users is people over 35) - there continues to be an obsession around text-based content within the advertising world. This is leading to a wasted opportunity for brands to engage with the right kind of consumers, at scale and in the moment, through the dialect that consumers are coming to know best – images.

AI-powered computer vision technology can change this trajectory, giving brands the tools to unlock a treasure-trove of actionable, image-based insights that have the capability to excite existing audiences and deftly cultivate news ones. Through this technology, advertisers can engage with consumers more creatively via images - all while delivering real value to the customer.

Why now?

Visual content should now become central to modern marketing strategies. Images play host to a plethora of valuable insights that have perhaps been largely underestimated by brands, agencies and creatives alike. Recent events such as GDPR have turned the status quo on its head, opening the door for computer vision technology to come to the fore and prove its true marketing power.

GDPR has laid waste to cookie-based targeting techniques that relied on the use of third party data, forcing brands to think more creatively about how they communicate with customers. But perhaps more importantly, it’s acknowledged the calls of frustrated consumers across the continent, by stopping brands from serving annoying, irrelevant ads at will.

Thankfully, computer vision has the capacity to help advertisers navigate both these obstacles. That’s because this AI-powered technology can not only draw insights from images that educate us about the very consumers we want to attract, but it can also retrieve data without the need to harvest any personal information.

Beyond this, the machine learning element of computer vision can spot trends and identify patterns across a sea of images that, by extension, allow advertisers to deliver personalised content at a more accurate level than ever before. And because this process of analysis occurs in real-time, any content delivered is ultra-relevant, maximising the likelihood of positive, results driven, brand-consumer engagements.

Play it safe

With so many brand safety scandals already littering the ad space it’s perhaps unsurprising to hear that one of the biggest concerns for brands is now protecting themselves against damaging content online. But by focusing on text alone, brands are inadvertently making themselves vulnerable – a lot of damaging content can be visual and lacking accompanying text. No kind of black list could have helped the likes of Waitrose, for example, when it was discovered its ads had been funding terror organisations by appearing next to extremist YouTube videos.

It’s this ability to independently navigate brand-safety hurdles by scanning the internet and activating changes in real time that catapults computer vision from a nice-to-have to a necessary tool – giving marketers the power to infiltrate large expanses of visual territory online, all the while remaining inherently protected.

Future-proofing your brand

Having the ability to capitalise on an already plentiful resource is one thing, but “selfie-commerce’’ - driven by AR-ads - is growing in popularity.

AR and VR may have had a slow start, but this is expected to accelerate - thanks, in part, to greater investment from Apple and Google. Both companies launched AR toolkits for app developers last year, which will no doubt act as catalysts for driving development within the wider AR eco-system, which correspondingly impacts the advertising sector in a big way.

AR and VR campaigns embedded directly into content that the user is already paying attention to can boost emotional impact and encourage positive brand affinity simultaneously. With this in mind, the prospect of automated image recognition is particularly exciting, as it may just be the key to open the door to the next frontier of advertising as we know it.


The future of digital marketing is all about visual data, and we’re only at the beta stage in terms of what image-recognition technology could deliver for brands. The internet is gradually becoming a place where consumers are abandoning traditional text-based communication – it’s therefore essential that brands invest in a better understanding of visual content and its implications for marketing strategies.  

Peter Wallace is UK commercial director of GumGum, a leading AI company with expertise in computer vision.

For more on how brands are using machine vision to do everything from aiding discovery to improving the customer journey, Contagious I/O subscribers can read our trend on the topic here.