Mac Cato – There Will Be Advertising in 2020 – But Not As We Know It

Mac Cato, Chairman, Cato Consulting Group

As the Star-Trek cliche goes, there will be advertising in 2020 – but not as we know it.

Creativity sells brands

David Ogilvy, back in the Mad Men era, said that advertising isn’t creative unless it sells. It’s still hard to disagree with this philosophy; I believe it was true in his day and even more so today. How can any thinking brander or creative person doubt, in this age of on-line cacophony, that a “creative” experiential selling message wouldn’t work better than a bland approach? Being creative creates appeal and works toward drawing the consumer to a brand.  Actually being appealing and likable, not just trying to act that way, alway works in human relationships – why should it be any different for a brand?

Like-ability starts with positive brand experiences.

By 2020 the ‘like-ability index’ will be even more important to advertising in all its forms. The biggest shift will be the migration from traditional selling messages to innovative experiential, visual/sensory formats that instantly stimulate feelings of not only liking but that most valuable of brand attributes, trust.

Preferred Relationships

Branded products and services will have understood even more the vital importance of building ‘preferred relationships’ with the consumers they covet. These preferred relationships, not unlike the best of good friendships, will need to be be both consciously and unconsciously nurtured. Both on-line and “being there” experiential “venues” will dominate. Broadcast and print will remain important to advertisers but will be highly segmented and targeted. The smartest brands will encourage ‘fan clubs’ to share experiences, and allow dialogues with the brand’s corporate stewards.

The necessity of always “being there.”

By 2020 audiences will be able to ignore and reject commercial messages thanks to the technology of choice. This new fact of commercial life will have swayed even the most traditional branders to seek new ways of “being there” whenever and wherever a potential consumer may most likely be found. While the media or content context in which a message is actually delivered will influence mood and receptivity, a sense of experiencing the brand in ways that build trust and liking is the key to preference. And we know this because of the rapid advances in neuroscience. We now know for a fact that the most important triggers that motivate a positive preference for a brand lie below the surface of the targeted audiences’s consciousness. These hidden triggers – we call them ‘cues and codes’ – can range from an individual’s positive response to certain colors, logos, music, or – and this is the most effective means of motivation – to an arresting, creative presentation of a brand experience. Consistently presenting the audience with brand experiential ‘ideas they can see and feel’ will be a prerogative for commercial persuasion success in 2020. Apple doesn’t serve coffee – but they always serve the best experience in town.

The global power of story telling.

The telling of little stories starts in childhood and we never grow tired of the experience.The evidence of 10,000 years of human experience proves that the most successful messaging will always be via the telling of stories. From cave paintings to the narrative poems of Homer, it has always been the story that counts. Whether told orally as folk tales or long epic narratives, stories with compelling emotional messages have been the ones that live on through time. From Shakespeare to Seinfeld the story arcs follow our deep seated need to to laugh or cry – and to learn from the lessons told.

Targeting hopes and managing fears.

The common denominator for all forms of commercial persuasion is the intent to convince an audience that the brand featured will address one or both of these basic human needs.

If cleaner, brighter teeth and fresher breath are the rewards promised by dozens of toothpaste brands then the winners will be those who tell their brand story in the most creative way. The best car advertising will focus on psychological rewards in their story lines. The ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’ hasn’t been BMW’s featured message for many years – but it is still the ultimate promise to prospective buyers.

By 2020, with so much competition for attention, targeting hopes and managing fears should be a guiding principle behind any brand positioning. The format or execution of the message itself must keep up with the style of the times but it’s the consumer’s embedded, core emotional need for psychological comfort that must be fully addressed.

Transparency and accountability.

By 2020 organizations of all persuasions, will have understood – some the hard way – that they can’t hide. They live in the proverbial fish bowl and their actions often do speak louder than their words. The inexorable advance of technology will continue to offer up mountains of data to be analyzed – that will then be used by friend and foe alike. Global researchers will have shown that brands that think about why they are in business instead of just thinking about what they are in business for will enjoy better financial growth and increased equity values. Jim Stengel, formerly P&G’s top brand executive, just wrote “Grow: How Ideals Power Growth and Profit at the World’s Greatest Companies” on this thesis.

Economic sustainability and social and environmental sustainability will be synergistic.

In 2012 Keith Weed, Global CMCO of Unilever took a public stand in support of the concept that economic sustainability and social and environmental sustainability must reinforce one another. In November of 2011 in a keynote speech at The Marketing Society in London, he stated that “Great brands and great companies have always walked ahead of consumers. They anticipate what consumers will need, or might need, and shape markets accordingly.”

So what do we need to do to prepare for 2020?

Resist the usual, listen closely – and do your best to figure out what lies beneath. And what should the goal be for analyzing all that D.A.T.A ? How about establishing a brand’s Difference, trumpeting its Advantage, communicating Transparency and emphasizing Accountability? And remember the ‘E’ on the brand eyesight chart stands for Emotional Experience.