Amelia Torode, Partner, Strategy/Innovation Head, VCCP
It’s the “so near and yet so far” factor that makes near-future predictions about advertising so difficult. On one hand, 2020 feels a long way away but on the other it is only 8 years away and all of us can think back 8 years and it seem like only yesterday. My memories of 2004 are vivid: I was working in New York as a Planner and had just met my now-husband. The bars we frequented, the restaurants we ate at and the places we visited do not seem very different to the types of places we go to now. The films that people watched included franchises popular today like Spiderman and Harry Potter and the best-selling artists of 2004 like Usher and Eminem still sell today, so maybe life does not change all that much in 8 years?
But consider the technology of 2004 and then think about the advertising from the time and a fascinatingly different picture emerges. Top sites of that year included AOL, Netscape and Friendster. Facebook had just launched but only to Harvard students. Twitter and YouTube were yet to launch. Motorola’s RAZR phone was the best selling phone of the year. You could use it to text but, at least in the US, a mobile telephone was exactly that, a telephone you could you while mobile, no more no less. We lived in a functional web 1.0 world and our advertising reflected that fact. Big budget television ads shouted, big budget websites grew confusingly large and big budget banner campaigns that no-one clicked abounded. Neither technology nor advertising displayed much imagination, innovation or integration.
Today thanks to technological advances advertising has become participative, multi-platform and social. We create campaigns that connect Hashtags and Check-Ins, Timelines and Hangouts, and develop branded apps that live on Android and iphones and ipads and tablets. Back in 2004 would we even have known what any of these words even meant? So in 8 years time where will advertising be? In a nutshell, I believe that advertising will be as advanced as the technology that underpins and enables it allows it to be. The future story of advertising is actually the future story of technology.
By 2020 we will have gone through a seismic shift moving from social technologies to truly smart technologies. This new smart internet infrastructure will be the catalyst for a new era of smart advertising. We will witness the development of more personal “data/time/location” driven advertising. Better experiences, more relevant offers and distinct consumer choice. In order to prepare for this, agencies should be looking now as to how they can build better data capture and planning into their businesses. The next wave of adland in-takes should be less cheerily client-friendly and more ferociously numbers-friendly. A greater respect should be given to number-gatherers, number-crunchers and those who can create compelling stories out of numbers.
By 2020 advertising will be less trusted as brands and corporations become more scrutinized and consumers become more sceptical. Through the use of social media we already build our trust networks horizontally rather than vertically and this trend will become more embedded as technologies become smarter and more pervasive. Advertising has to work out how to unlock advocacy in new ways. It is less important that a specific number of people have viewed your advertising; the new metric of success comes in determining what proportion of those people would publicly positively talk your brand in their personal and social spaces. In order to publicly attach your name to an advertising campaign there has to be belief in that brand. Technology can unlock uncomfortable truths for brands. Advertising should be the vehicle that prompts brands to address these and then communicate. There are two things that agencies can do in order to prepare for this: the first is to question clients harder than most do now – What is their environmental record, how do they treat employees overseas, what positive impacts are they committed to having on their community? The second thing that agencies should be doing is gaining inspiration from the PR world. PR professionals have long understood the way in which real brand stories can get people and the press talking. Advertising agencies should be poaching strategic brains and creative thinkers from PR agencies and embedding their approach to communication planning process. Stories need to be brought out into the open without made for above the line advertising.
High speed. Real time. Call it what you like, by 2020 advertising is going to get much, much faster. Campaigns will be developed faster, research conducted faster and once in market advertising will be expected to move along at a pace previously unimaginable. We will need to develop fluid ideas that can flow faster. Advertising agencies should be thinking more creatively about where they hire talent from – could we be cleverer about finding writers from the world of daily TV shows? These people are constantly creating culture and stories out of everyday occurrences, what could we learn from them? We will also have to listen smarter and be seen to respond faster. An advertising campaign will still have a central fixed narrative but with multiple interaction points that consumers will expect to change according to their purchases, their interactions and the changing daily world.
So advertising in 2020 will have changed in 3 ways – it will be smarter, more scrutinized and speedier. These changes all occur because of technological advances. The future of advertising is the future of technology. Sitting here in 2012, the world of 2020 probably seems unmanageably complex, but we will manage, we learn and we adapt. There is a secret of how to thrive in this changed advertising landscape is curiosity. Without an inherent sense of cultural and technological curiosity embedded into advertising’s DNA then our industry is doomed to irrelevance. We don’t have to have all the answers, but we do need to be asking all the questions because our future will be built by the curious.