by Catharine Findiesen Hays and Jerry Wind
What could/should advertising look like in 2020? We posed this question to thought leaders, visionaries and innovators around the world starting in the spring of 2012. Since then, over 200 forward thinkers have weighed in, creating a mosaic of diverse perspectives, from cultural anthropologists, to creatives to cutting edge neuroscientists. Mostly essays of 1000 words or less, along with a few more creative expressions, each entry can be found on the Advertising 2020 Project home page. The project will result in a book to be published in January 2016, a Coursera Course in Fall 2016, and an interactive app soon thereafter.
Highlights of findings from the project will be featured in a series of blogs intended to give a snapshot of what the future of advertising could/should be…and what it WILL be if we collectively take steps now to make this desirable future happen.
By 2020, “advertising,” broadly defined as communications delivered through all touch points and every interaction a brand has with people including customers and other stakeholders, could and should be relevant and respectful, actionable, valuable, and provide an exceptional experience and a surprising story. It could and should be RAVES.
Relevant and Respectful: In the digital age, these are two sides of the same coin. Heads you win: on one side of the coin, the speed and breadth of digitization and mobilization enables communications between brands and their audiences to be tailored in a myriad of fine-tunes. This can be locational and temporal as well as aspirational: where we are, where we’ve been and where we are heading; different messages when I am in my work mode during the day or my mom mode in the evening. By 2020, the notion of “responsive” will be a given – the appearance of messages will be optimized according to the device. And beyond emotion, mood will be able to be taken into consideration – just as it is (or should be) between people: “Is this a good time to talk to you about…?”
On the tails side, this notion of consideration is at the core of the Respect that could/should characterize advertising in 2020. Just as messages can be tailored in all the relevant ways described above, and more, all this risks coming across as “creepy” the technical term for crossing the line without full disclosure. Imagine all of the advertising now that doesn’t feel respectful. We don’t stand for that in interpersonal relations, why should we in communications with brands and the companies behind them? What if advertising actually raised the bar for what is respectful and authentic and honest? Given the $500 billion global spend, the potential for positive impact is huge. Inspired Advertising 2020 contributors envision a future where advertisers are known for their ethical considerations and accommodations for their audiences and reap long-term benefits as a result.
What isn’t respectful? Think of the “In’s”: intrusive, inconvenient, insulting, invasive, inappropriate, inconsiderate, incomplete, indiscriminate, insensitive.
Actionable: All advertising in 2020 should be two-way, giving audiences the option to immediately and easily take action. Social media offers reverberating options to tweet, like, post, comment, share, pan, react and more. Innovative payment options collapse the “purchase journey” to one click. Learn more, opt-in, opt-out, try on, borrow, watch, explore, request, save, later, tag, rate, respond, recommend, remind, schedule, co-create…
Valuable: Advertising in 2020 is seen as creating value in the eyes of its audience while driving long and short-term value for the advertiser thereby creating a positive impact on culture and society. Cognitive value appeals to our brains: this solves my problems, is good for me financially, makes sense to my life and what I am trying to accomplish. Yet, more and more is known about the heart as ruler: we make emotional choices and then follow them up with cognitive rationales. We respond to advertising that will make my life better, give me a sense of identity and self-worth and have a positive psychological impact on my sense of well-being.
These two aspects of value suggest that the worlds of logic and equations must be married with all the senses and muses from music to scents, visuals to touch, virtual to reality.
Finally, value should be co-created, rather than zero-sum. In his book, Doing Both, Inder Sidhu provides years of evidence to demonstrate that challenging managers to make decisions that achieve more than one positive objective results in outcomes that are significantly better than those that assume that trade-offs and win-lose options are required. Advertising of the future seeks ways to create value for the audience while creating value for the brand.
Exceptional Experience. In 2020, people will not make distinctions between the touch points they have with a brand. All will be expected to be excellent. And an exceptional experience with one brand becomes the de-facto standard for all experiences. Most compelling about the exceptional experience is the win-win. The Forrester Customer Experience study, conducted since 2007, measures the effect of 3 criteria that impact the bottom line of the company/organization:
- How effective were they are meeting your needs?
- How easy were they to do business with?
- How enjoyable were they to do business with?
A portfolio of the top 10 performing companies had 8% higher word- of-mouth recommendations, 38% lower churn and 54% higher additional purchases for a total annual impact of $4.7b than a portfolio of the bottom 10 performing firms. For the 6-year period from 2007 to 2012, the Customer Experience Leaders in the companion Watermark study outperformed the broader market, generating a total return that was three times higher on average than the S&P 500 Index. Creating exceptional experience should be the goal of advertisers in 2020.
Surprising Story. Wow! No way! Really? Look! With an overload of communications in 2020 and so many vying for our attention, the element of surprise, essential to the human spirit, should be the standard for advertising by 2020. It is appropriate that this finding comes last, else shock value would reign. But taken with all the other RAVES element, this one is meant to overcome the indifference that most people have toward the messages of brands.
Yet surprise falls flat if not connected to a story that can withstand the scrutiny of the empowered consumer. Is the story manufactured or is it based on something that employees would tell and tell with pride? Does the story connect with what is important to an audience, as well as with each member of the board of directors?
If the advertising bar of the future is set to find a way to achieve all the elements that have come before AND deliver an element of surprise as part of an authentic story communicated through every touch point, then brands will embrace the lesson that journalists and storytellers have understood for the last 30,000 years. (Stay tuned for our forthcoming blog: “Forget the media mix—Conduct all touch point orchestration.”)
Imagining “advertising” in 2020 affords us the opportunity to set a standard for today in hopes of achieving all that it could and should be by 2020…if not before. What would the world look like if this were achieved? How would people feel about brands and advertising? What financial and social benefits would be afforded employees and shareholders? How could “advertising” be redefined? What if advertisers were named person of the year by Time Magazine for these transformations?
 “Customer Experience Affects Your Bottom Line.” Forrester. Forrester Research Inc. 2013