James Kotecki (00:08): 

This is CES Tech Talk. I'm James Kotecki, bringing you one of my favorite C Space Studio interviews from CES 2024. I had a lot of great conversations in Las Vegas, and I know you're going to like this one, so enjoy. 


Welcome back. You're in the C Space Studio, sponsored by Integral Ad Science. I am James Kotecki, and here we are, it's CES '24. And here we are with Jenn Creegan, VP, Global Marketing and Operations at Microsoft Advertising. Welcome to the C Space Studio. 

Jenn Creegan (00:40): 

Thanks for having me. I'm glad to be here. 

James Kotecki (00:42): 

So what brings you to CES? What's your message here for folks? 

Jenn Creegan (00:45): 

Our message is twofold. One is that Microsoft advertising has really evolved over the last couple of years. We're no longer just an in-depth search business. We now have a full set of ad tech across all of your goals and consumer assets that are pretty unique, and we're here to make sure everybody understands that. And then secondly, just like everyone else talking about our investments in generative AI. 

James Kotecki (01:08): 

Of course, and I really want to get to that, but since you mentioned assets that are pretty unique, what are some of those unique assets that you're highlighting? 

Jenn Creegan (01:14): 

Yeah. So we have ads that serve on our Start experiences in the Outlook web app on all the casual games across Xbox, just tons of different unique consumer assets. And from an ad tech perspective, we bought Promote IQ a few years ago and now have a full retail media offering and bought a DSP when we bought Xandr. 

James Kotecki (01:36): 

And so the Start experience is basically for those who maybe not Windows users, sorry to say, it's basically when you click on the start button in Windows, there's ads right in there, right? 

Jenn Creegan (01:48): 

There's consumer experiences that then have ads and- 

James Kotecki (01:50): 

Consumer experiences that have ads in there and how recent is that? 

Jenn Creegan (01:53): 

Well, it started many, many years ago as MSN and has evolved into the Start experience. 

James Kotecki (01:59): 

That makes sense. That makes sense. Okay. Let's get into AI because that is really the theme that it's dominating CES 2024, we all know it would be no surprise. And Microsoft obviously big investors in OpenAI so much to talk about here. So maybe what are some of the headlines for you as you're talking to people about AI here at Tech CES? 

Jenn Creegan (02:18): 

Yeah, when I'm talking about it here, we're really starting with how consumers are changing their behavior. When you think about what consumers were doing in a search engine as an example, they come in with a pretty simple question, "I want this product, I want this specific answer," and we're noticing now in the chat experiences that they're really coming in with a lot more context. So as an example, three times as long, instead of saying, "I want this particular lens for a camera," they might come in and describe their use case. "I'm a hobbyist photographer," as an example, and I'll describe, "I take pictures of my kids in the rain in the spring, in the Pacific Northwest," and I'll get a really unique recommendation and that research time comes way down. 

James Kotecki (03:03): 

And I suppose ChatGPT and Microsoft Search and other things have kind of trained consumers to do this because of the kind of answers you can get. But is it a way of consumers kind of rethinking search as almost like I'm going to talk to it more like I would talk to a person and I'm just going to talk to it more naturally? 

Jenn Creegan (03:20): 

It's much more natural language conversational. And they're giving us just a ton more detail because of that, because really a conversation, if you will, in terms of what they're looking for. 

James Kotecki (03:32): 

And then so how has that shifted, because that's the shift in consumer behavior, and then how has that shifted? Obviously that's a lot more data for you to process, but what other kind shifts are there in terms of what advertisers can actually take advantage of? 

Jenn Creegan (03:44): 

So we're building a whole new category of ads that we call conversational ads. The first experience of that is compare and decide ads because the consumer is looking to get to decisions faster. We're all time starved, so how are you using generative AI to get that? And so the compare and decide ads really meet a top consumer trend of I really want to get comparisons and get to a decision fast. And so it brings the context of their query into the ad, and then we give them a unique table where they can compare options. 

James Kotecki (04:17): 

Because you said you want to take pictures of your kids in the rain, here's a couple of things and do you say one of these or two of these are sponsored, but these are also good? How do you- 

Jenn Creegan (04:26): 

So it comes back, there's two things that happen. You bring in the query and then we come back with an organic result that is from the LLM and that is not sponsored at all. And then we have a sponsored experience, which is four or five different options. Let's use a car example, might have four or five different SUVs based on what you told us is important to you. And it will show all the detail in a really succinct table that is dependent on the query you gave us. So it's not just a generic table, it adapts as you give us more information. 

James Kotecki (05:00): 

And are you needing to kind of retrain, for lack of a better word, consumers in terms of how to think about this? Or is this about kind of naturalistically meeting, what they would already expect of this kind of thing? 

Jenn Creegan (05:10): 

I think that we're naturalistically meeting what they're doing and what they're doing is changing. I'd say on the business side, we're having more of a need to train marketers and to train our marketers as an example, as I'm the marketing leader. 

James Kotecki (05:24): 

Can you say a bit more about that? What are the things that you're retraining them on? 

Jenn Creegan (05:27): 

Yeah, so the prompt or the query is super important. So as an example, we're using a Microsoft designer to build images in my marketing team. And the prompt is just if you give a generic prompt, you're going to get a generic image. But if you give a more detailed, contextually relevant prompt, you're going to get better images. And so how do we train marketers to use chat experiences to be more effective? And also how do we train them to use it in what might be unexpected experiences? 


An example might be a blog post where you put the blog post in and ask the LLM, ask the chat experience, what's the three key messages of this? And they come back and if they're not crisp, then you know you have more work to do. 

James Kotecki (06:17): 

Do you find on your team that the people who are really good at prompt engineering, if that's still the term, I mean, this is all going so fast, I'm not even sure that's what we're still calling it. So are the folks who are good at Prompt Engineering, maybe folks who maybe they were, I'm sure you all have all A players at Microsoft, but let's just say generically B players at creative in the past or could now be A players at prompt engineering. So maybe are people able to draw different skill sets out and figure out, "Ooh, because of this new world that we're in, maybe I'm actually really good at this in ways I didn't realize before." 

Jenn Creegan (06:46): 

The example I would use is analysts or marketing content managers who can look at analytical insights differently. So that's maybe a better example than creative prompts where you can ask a question and we can go look at all our data and give you an insight very fast. And that's where I think you don't have to be a data junkie or an analyst to get great answers. 

James Kotecki (07:15): 

So you're at the cutting edge of this large language model stuff here. Are you able to give us any glimpses of the future that maybe the regular person here at CES has not seen yet? How good is this stuff going to get? How quickly is it going to get good? 

Jenn Creegan (07:27): 

Yeah, so I think you can see it in the patterns, it's getting better and better every day. The images you could create or the answers you would get a month ago are totally evolving constantly. And I think if I were to look ahead, the main thing I would say is it's going to infiltrate every one of the types of things that we do, whether that be video, whether that be text, whether that be image. It's going to be part of everything that we do and mainstreamed faster than any technology we've ever had before. 

James Kotecki (07:57): 

So exciting. Another exciting piece about CES is the human security for all theme, which has been the case last year. It's the case this year again. This is the idea that basically technology can help people. How does technology help people live better lives across a number of different dimensions, sustainability is one of those, digital health, et cetera. Can you tell me about what that means for Microsoft, especially in the realm of sustainability? 

Jenn Creegan (08:18): 

Yeah, so as I think you probably know, Microsoft's made a commitment to be carbon negative by 2030. We have all kinds of policies inside the company that are getting us there. From an advertising perspective, what it really means is how are we helping our advertisers make better decisions that are more sustainable? Do that in a couple of ways, through supply path optimization. We do it through our own assets to make sure that our consumer assets are low emission, and then we do it by partnering with sustainability partners in the industry to make sure we're helping protect folks. So it's infiltrating everything we do at the company. 

James Kotecki (08:54): 

Another theme I want to discuss briefly is diversity and inclusion. Not that it deserves to be discussed briefly, but we just don't have a lot of time here at C Space Studio. This is an issue I think CEOs and company leaders have been grappling with over a raucous several past years. I mean, I was reading articles now people are even kind of reframing it, rethinking it again. Where do you stand? Where does Microsoft stand at the beginning of 2024? 

Jenn Creegan (09:16): 

Yeah, look, our mission is to empower every person on the planet to achieve more. And so you can't do that if you don't represent people across the globe. And that goes through every part of our business, talent, hiring people, how we retain people, we do it very systemically as a company. We release a D&I report every year. Every employee at Microsoft has a D&I commitment every year. And we do it in the advertising business by partnering across the industry. So we're helping people in their careers through throughout. 

James Kotecki (09:50): 

And I imagine on the AI side, on the generative AI side, you need to act with some deliberation to make sure you're not training it on data that could have suboptimal results. 

Jenn Creegan (09:57): 

That's right, so how are you looking at the data, how are your engineers bringing diverse perspectives into the way you build products? 

James Kotecki (10:04): 

As we wrap up here, love you to fill in the blank 204 will be the year of blank? 

Jenn Creegan (10:09): 

AI everywhere. It's not just something we'll talk about, it's something we'll do in everything using everything we do. 

James Kotecki (10:15): 

I can't say I'm totally surprised by that answer, but I definitely don't disagree and we really appreciate it. Jenn Creegan, Microsoft Advertising, thanks for joining us today. 

Jenn Creegan (10:22): 

It's great to be here. Thanks for having me. 

James Kotecki (10:25): 

Well, I hope you enjoyed that conversation from CES 2024. That's our show for now, but there's always more tech to talk about. Hit that YouTube subscribe button. Leave a comment, follow us on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, iHeart Media, or wherever you're getting this show. And get more CES at CES.Techa. That's CES.T-E-C-H. I'm James Kotecki talking tech on CES Tech Talk.