Anneliese Rapp – The Individual as the Next Big Advertising Medium

Anneliese Rapp, Corporate Communications Coordinator, 72andSunny

The rise of the individual

To envision where advertising could be in 2020, we first have to understand where culture could be.

At 72andsunny, we believe that the rise of the individual is the central cultural narrative of our times, and that in her trajectory we can trace our future. Not necessarily in the exact form brand communications might take (who knows?), but in how they reach and connect with people.

That rise has already been well documented. Briefly:

  • The individual is increasingly the shaper of her own identity and its on- and offline presentation, thanks in large part to the proliferation of badge brands and ways to badge them.
  • She is a commentator with a voice in conversations that were once one-way monologues.
  • She is her own expert – and when she’s not, she’s as likely to ask another individual as a so-called authority.
  • She is a content programmer, choosing what she wants, when she wants it, and how she wants it.
  • She is a creator and distributor of her own content of all kinds, large and small – a micronetwork with an utterly unique and wildly eclectic POV.

In other words, she is no longer the consumer of media. She is the medium – the most trusted and most personal channel through which content is created, flows, finds shape, and gets presented to the world.

And by 2020, she will be the dominant medium. That’s when everything really changes.

The next big shift

In the age of the media of the masses, what role will mass media play? Content like what NBC and EPSN.com produce will still exist, but how will it get to us? Through pre-packaged bundles – or directly through the individuals who most care about and connect with it? Why mediate the medium?

Follow that line one step further.

How will that content be paid for? Subscriptions, microtransactions, and digital purchases? Those models will likely be more viable than they are today, but the truth is free content wins. And the way to get free content is to have brands underwrite it.

In 2020, the individual (and the communities she’s in) will be the medium for almost all content – including brand communications.

And in that capacity, the individual will benefit in the same way that mass media used to benefit. She’ll get paid in ways that are proportionate to the value of her content and audience.

But there’s a larger win that happens with the rise of the Individual Media Platform (IMP, if you’re getting cheeky with the acronyms).

The new golden age

We believe that when you change the medium, and you change everything. Brand communications delivered through the individual:

Get noticed. Because they don’t have to lurk in the margins. They can be in-stream, alongside all of the other content people actually care about, from peer-to-peer messages to the 2020 equivalent of tv episodes.

Are a better and more acceptable way to get personal, as they’re not mediated through a third party digging through your datastream, but through someone you already have a relationship with.

Solve the discovery problem. Algorithms are good at telling you about things you’re already into, but bad at serendipity. Not so your friends.

Raise the creative bar. Mass media doesn’t really care what advertising it runs. So there’s no quality control at the media level. Individuals, on the other hand, care deeply. Brands and creative work that align with and amplify their identities will be more successful.

Address the related issues of audience duplication and missed opportunities, as we’ll cut out the imprecision of mediated connections and bring our work directly to the people we want to reach – and the people they reach.

Defuse the “brandalism” critique with advertising that’s genuinely additive, far more interesting and far less pervasive (because it’s more efficient).

Ultimately, the Individual Media Platform helps connect people to brands in more interesting, meaning ways. It gives agencies the chance to create the kind of work that gets them out of bed in the morning.  And it rewards marketers with work that actually works.

The early indicator

We’re already seeing early adopter Individual Media Platforms on one of our brands: Call of Duty. There, gamers like FPSRussia and Woodysgamertag have gone past UGC and established themselves as genuine media partners, helping to amplify and spread the communications of a brand they identify with – and being rewarded for it in a transparent manner.

Granted, Call of Duty tends to be 5 years ahead of the curve. It’s a high-interest, identity-driven brand. Its audience is primarily early-adopter Millennials. And Activision, the marketers behind the brand, are determined to pave new ground in their communications.

But where they’re going, the rest of the industry could follow.

What we need to do get there

Because moving towards this future is an economic imperative for all parties. The market will reward disruptive change.

That change will have to begin at the platform level – with the Facebooks or Facebook killers of the world – but it will be agitated for by stakeholders of all stripes, from individuals to marketers to shareholders.

To succeed, those platforms will have to transform their business model from ad-serving to ad-matchmaking.

That begins with the matchmaking system itself – a system to evaluate 1) the networks and interests of individuals and 2) the brands and needs of marketers; find potential matches; and bring them together. A reverse auction house with individuals at the helm seems like a logical solution. These platforms will obviously also need to overhaul existing measurement and reporting systems. And they’ll need to implement a micropayment system to efficiently compensate the individuals behind the “media buy.”

The current pressure on marketers to create brands people genuinely want to be associated with will increase exponentially. Those that can’t make that transition will either wither or find themselves saddled with the disadvantage of paying a premium to get their message out.

Media buying and planning agencies will have to re-organize themselves away from the “horizontal plans” of media properties and channels, and to “vertical plans” of individuals and the communities they form.

Likewise, creative agencies will have to move away from building work to push at broadly defined targets and start building work that individuals want to pick up, take part in, and push on. The best agencies are already doing just that, but in the coming years it will emerge as the macrotrend of our industry.

Lastly, our “new media” of individuals will have to decide how much control they want to take over the whole process, balancing questions of authenticity and identity with the market opportunity.

Troubleshooting

With such disruptive change, things are bound to get messy. No doubt we also got some things very, very wrong. But some of the concerns and questions this line of argument raise can be quickly addressed:

  • “People will resist ads in personal content streams.” It’s not the ads that are offensive. It’s who’s serving them – ie, The Man. But it’s hard to hate ads when they directly support your friends and the content you’re sharing.
  • “People will abuse the system.” We’ll have built-in controls like frequency capping. And the two-way nature of digital is great at self-correcting. If individuals abuse their role as media, they’ll lose their audience and their advertisers.
  • “Brands won’t want to be associated with UGC.” This system will support all kinds of content, including professionally produced. And the “ugc stigma” is already near nil among the cohort who will run the world in 2020: Millenials.
  • “It’s just going to feel dirty.”  It will feel far less dirty than today’s buzz seeding, grey market advocacy, and paid-for endorsements. This is a system of total transparency. Ads will not masquerade as personal content – they’ll be ads. Wonderfully produced, fantastically relevant ads.

Summary

The marketing and advertising industries are already embracing the rise of the individual. But in all of our talk about two-way conversations and letting individuals into our brands, we’ve missed the big shift: from consumers of ad media to the media ads live in.

In embracing that shift, we can embrace the future – a time when digital brand communications create genuine value for everyone involved.