Chris Yeh – The Future of Advertising is Collaborative

Chris Yeh, VP Marketing, PB Works

Once upon a time, advertising was simple.

You created an ad.  You ran the ad.  You measured the impact of the ad.

The results were iconic, and still resonate today in the form of the taglines and catchphrases embedded in our heads.  “Where’s the beef?”  “They’re grrrrreat!”

A great advertisement was like a cathedral—the careful product of a singular vision and a concerted effort, whose end product might stand for centuries (or in advertising time, at least a few television seasons).

But today’s world has taken that advertising model and scrambled it beyond all recognition, like an iPhone in a Blendtec Total Blender.

Each phase of the advertising cycle has become collaborative and iterative in a way that Don Draper would find hard to recognize, and the trend will only become more pronounced by 2020.

Creating Ads

The creation process is more collaborative than ever before.  The rapid spread of various memes via social media provide more fodder than ever before for parody and referential humor.  Meanwhile, thanks to firehoses of data like Twitter and Facebook, the audience itself is more sophisticated and well-informed.  The net effect is that advertisements like the Old Spice Man cram more concepts and images into a short amount of time than previous types of ads.

Rather than building taglines from scratch, ad creators need to scratch the referential itch of the audience.  One way of doing this is to involve the audience, as high-profile crowdsourcing campaigns like the Doritos Superbowl promotion did.  Even if the ads of 2020 don’t always tap into direct audience input, it’s unlikely that creativity will be limited to the creative director and copywriter—the number of influencers on any given ad will continue to increase.

Running Ads

Running an ad used to be the end.  Now it’s just the beginning.  Once the audience gets a hold of the ad, they rapidly morph, mix, and mutate the contents to suit their own needs.  Where playing with commercials used to be the sole province of Saturday Night Live and other late night comedy outlets, such remixing is now a core audience activity.  A single ad might find itself posted to YouTube, shared on Facebook, converted into a LOLcat image, transformed into a Rage comic, mocked in a parody video, boiled down to an animated GIF, or simply passed from TV to PC to tablet to phone, and back again.

Not only do ads draw a response, but the responses draw responses, which in turn draw responses, in a seemingly endless loop of memetic mutation until it finally ends up cataloged on or  Blendtec has generated nearly 200,000,000 video views on YouTube (about double the audience for the Superbowl), and that’s just counting its official YouTube channel.

By 2020, virality may have surpassed reach as the key measure of an advertising medium.  The networks that include the most well-connected audience members and generate the greatest virality will be able to charge a premium.

Measuring Impact

The good news is that we still measure the impact of advertising the same way we always have—by its impact on sales.  But in a mashed-up, multichannel world, tracing the origins of that impact will be more challenging than ever.

The Nielsen ratings may still exist in 2020, but will share the spotlight with every other medium, including online, mobile, in-game, and in-dream.  We may very well see companies whose sole business is to aggregate and normalize the terabytes of analytics being produced.

What’s an advertising woman to do?

Technology may have swept away the old world in which David Ogilvy operated, but the advertising agency of 2020 may reclaim some control by looking to the technology world for inspiration.

In the past decade, much of the growth in the startup world has been fueled by a fundamental shift to a more iterative and collaborative approach.  The hottest concept in Silicon Valley is the Lean Startup movement, which calls upon entrepreneurs to ship minimum viable products as quickly as possible in order to iterate based on user feedback.  Perhaps what we need is a Lean Advertising movement which exploits new media to involve the audience earlier in the process.

Underlying the Facebooks and Twitters of the world is another key concept—Agile Development.  Unlike the old “waterfall” method which depended on flowing from step-to-step on a master plan (reminiscent of following an architect’s plans for a Gothic cathedral), agile development calls for iterative and incremental development whose requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration between self-organizing, cross-functional teams.  Modern software developers use collaboration tools like GitHub to facilitate this creative collaboration, whether working on open-source software or commercial apps.

To meet the challenges of 2020, the advertising world will need to shift to agile creative development, with close working relationships between creative teams, partners, contractors, and clients.  We’ll need the advertising equivalent of GitHub (Advertising Hub?  Creative Hub?  Agency Hub?) to enable these rapid-fire interactions.

Yet for all the differences we’ll find in Advertising 2020, advertising will remain simple.

You’ll create an ad.  You’ll run the ad.  You’ll measure the impact of the ad.  And may the most collaborative agency win.

About the Author

Chris Yeh is the VP Marketing for PBworks, a collaboration software company that makes products that help agencies win more business (New Business Hub) and deliver better results for their clients (Agency Hub).  PBworks customers include Publicis, Landor, and DDB.

Chris has been building Internet businesses since 1995. He has been a founder, founding employee, or seed investor in over 40 startups, including PBworks, and advises a wide array of startups ranging from social media to smartphone accessories. He liked his investment in PBworks so much, he decided to join the company. Chris earned two degrees from Stanford University and an MBA from Harvard Business School.