Duane Varan & Steven Bellman – What Could/should “Advertising” Look Like In 2020?

Duane Varan, Director, Audience Research Labs at Murdoch University
Steve Bellman, Research Associate Professor & Deputy Director, Audience Research Labs at Murdoch University

The one thing we can predict is that the future will not look like the past. Who, in 2000, could have foreseen the rise of touch-screen devices? Nokia certainly didn’t. However, our lab-based research has identified a couple of key principles that are likely to play out over the next few years and still be important in 2020.

(1) The first is the arrival of high quality video screens on multiple devices. This means that platform doesn’t matter for television commercial advertising: TV is “everywhere,” and every screen is potentially equally effective. When consumers watch video ads across multiple screens, frequency on any single screen is an illusory goal, and silo-based planning no longer works. Instead advertisers have to plan for reach, across multiple platforms, making the most of every exposure they achieve. Which brings us to our next principle.

(2) Interactivity. The new screens are touchable, making more information and entertainment available, across more platforms, than ever before. Interactivity is the biggest change advertisers have to face, but the one for which they are the least prepared. Our current knowledge is based on the limited “request for information” interactivity that cable and satellite technology could deliver. Online television promises new experiential forms of interactive advertising that are more entertaining and game-like. Interactivity delivers metrics that supersede the exposure currencies of the past. Instead, advertisers need to choose their goals on a case-by-case basis. Interactivity can sift or persuade, or both. It can identify leads or loyals, or convert prospects into new leads. When different platforms offer different types of interactivity, sequence of usage is important, and advertisers need to research and plan for cross-platform synergies.

In a cross-platform and interactive future, the 30-second TV spot will still be the most important medium, even when it watched on a mobile phone. TV does something other media cannot do: it creates a narrative associated with the brand. This branding advantage is difficult to substitute for using other media. On the other hand, no medium, even TV, has a special advantage for retail advertising. Banners, tweets, out-of-home, in fact any medium, can be substituted for another. The narrative-building strength of video advertising also explains why brand integration in movies and TV programs will be even more important in 2020, with its unique ability to weave meaning around a brand. Branded integrations also enhance the effectiveness of the brand’s advertising. Video ads may increasingly be booked on YouTube and other online video networks, but the old networks will still be around, providing quality assurance and curatorial functions, vital when the library of new and old content is growing exponentially. The laws of supply and demand mean that as it gets harder for networks to deliver even a 10% rating, advertisers will pay more for that relatively larger audience. So the 30-second spot will be there, but just one among many tools in the toolkit. The advertiser’s job is to pick the right tools for a campaign’s objectives, and research can help when making that choice.

What do we need to do now for this future?

When the future is not like the past, historical methods are of little use. Instead, what is needed is lab-based research to test new ideas, and the variables that make them work. Industry currently lacks the skills to carry out this kind of research. R & D is understaffed. In the past, advertising agencies developed planning functions to do the marketing research that clients lacked. Nowadays, brands cannot delegate research to an agency. For a start, brands have multiple specialized agencies. And agencies don’t have the funds to invest in research, or the strategic overview to integrate findings at the brand level. The brands that do best will be the ones that invest the most in R & D, and more importantly have the agility to implement its findings. A good analogy is Olympic cycling: once one team adopted carbon-fibre frames and disc wheels, every team had to follow, or get left behind. The only thing we can guarantee is that research is going to be at the heart of the whole advertising landscape in 2020.