John M. Baker – Future of Advertising 2020

John M. Baker, President, dotJWT

Color_JohnBakerWhen people look forward 20 years, inevitably they see The Jetson’s with self-­driving aerocars and humanoid robot servants. The pace of change is so great it has to happen. However, if instead you ask people to look back 20 years, they quickly realize that people then were doing pretty much the same things they do now, just with bigger phones.

The challenge with predicting the future is something science fiction writers talk about all of the time. Aside from the difficulty of getting it right, the hard part is balancing the consistency of human experience with the pace of change in technology.

In advertising the media changes, but the messaging does not.

If we define “advertising” as the task of building awareness and consideration of a product or service in a specific audience, we know that if we are smart, funny or helpful, we get people’s attention. If we have a well-­designed message with good production values, people assume we are more reputable and higher quality. We know that video works as a way of communicating an idea and making it memorable.

So when we consider going forward 8 years, we can be sure that brands will need great writing, design and well-­produced video to be successful. People will still be engaged by great content. So Advertising won’t change.

But then there is the question of where it will run. Media changes.

It is easy enough to run a print ad on the tablet edition of Wired, but it feels wrong. It is easy today to provide a 15 second spot as a pre-­roll for online video, but it doesn’t take much thinking to see that a competing brand will come along and do a better job of using the power of the computer that serves the ad or the mobile phone that displays the ad, and that brand will get the benefit of shifted perception and advocacy. We know that if we don’t take advantage of the media, someone will outsell us and take away our market, or take away our client.

20 years ago when people realized they could send addressable mail in large volumes, a few people probably started by folding up print ads and putting them in the post. Then Lester Wunderman realized this “new media” was more effective with an 800 number reply mechanism and that it could drive membership shopping clubs instead of awareness advertising. Ironically when direct mail shifted to email, the strategies, creative and production process changed again.

By 2020 the core media of advertising will change. We can assume most media will be “served” from a networked computer or “addressable” as in connected TVs.

The question is then what can we learn from other addressable media? Direct mail, Internet display, and search are all addressable. When done right each still rely on strong insights and creativity, but they add skills that are less common in the traditional advertising world: data analytics, dynamic template-­driven creative, programmatic buying, platform integration. These are the skills we have to invest in now.

Consider message targeting.

Lord Leverhulme famously said he knew he was wasting one half of his media budget, he just couldn’t tell which half. At that time he would have been happy to reach middle-­class moms between 25­‐40. When media is served the question isn’t what demographic you want to reach, but what cluster of people with what intention, and what experience. Only want to reach people who are shopping for a car? Consider putting your message in front of a cluster of people that have visited a car shopping site in the last 30 days. Or perhaps pay more for people who have spent at least 30 minutes comparing different models of SUV.

This is possible today with internet display ads. Imagine when it is possible with our TV advertising. There is still the need for smart messaging, but the volume of messages increases dramatically. What you say to convince that 35-­year-old father of two to buy the Ford Explorer is different then the 28-­ year-old single professional who loves skiing. Fetchback ads that redisplay a product we’ve reviewed on an ecommerce site are just a clumsy adolescent take on what can be messaging nirvana.

Everyone loves to quote Minority Report for the portrayal of personalized advertising.


But not even the strongest proponents of interruptive advertising can buy into this future. The mundane repetition of his name to get his attention might come from less sophisticated brands, but not the Gap and Lexus. They have already stopped this practice in their emails because they have people that understand the messaging, the media and the technology.

And it is the technology that will be the hardest part of tomorrow’s advertising.

Today when marketers and technologists get together it is like oil and water or an Anglo-­French dinner party. That will fundamentally change. The reality is technology will continue to pervade everyone’s life and everyone’s job. And this doesn’t just mean understanding how to surf the web. That is like trying to get a job at Ford and saying you can drive a car. If you want to work at Ford, you need to know how one is built.

In just 8 years if you want to work in advertising, you have to understand how networks identify audiences, manage messages, serve them and track their performance. And if you really want to get an emotional response, you have to understand how you can match the story you are telling to the media your audience is using.

With this will be one clear loss for the advertising world as we know it now and that is the loss of the ubiquitous message. The great thing about the classic campaigns of the past was that everyone saw them. If you created Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?, you could revel in the fact everyone saw it: your colleagues, your client’s colleagues, your chairman, the wife of your client’s CEO. This drove a fundamentally ego-­driven culture that relied on the sheepherding of one big idea from initial brief to mass media placement.

In 2020 a strong idea will still be important, but it will only be seen by the people that have expressed an interest though something they have done. Analytics will pick up the size of the cluster, agencies will create the messaging and it will all be delivered though the ad servers.

Unfortunately the number of ideas that will enter the collective cultural conscious is likely to be small. We know The Smirnoff Nightlife Exchange reached a lot of young people in global urban centers and engaged them for much longer then any advertising jingle, but it doesn’t land outside the target audience.

So you’ll have to really interested and ready to buy to see the ad for the Google Ford Driverless Hovercar and the next generation Honda Asimo home valet.