Question 1: What could/should advertising look like in 2020?
Question 2: What should we do now to get ready for that future?
First off we should get rid of the word advertising. We all do so much more these days. Call it full-service, integrated, whatever. Many have opted to avoid nomenclature altogether choosing instead to make up terms to describe our unique offerings: creative shop, innovator, alchemist. What we’re in is the communications business. The methods and the media we deploy will continue to evolve and it’s anyone’s guess what’s next. But if we’re not utilizing everything out there at our disposal to develop and convey our messages we’re not serving the best interest of our clients. And delivering exceptional client service must be the focus of our work.
Unlike advertising, the term brand is one we should not be quick to discard, unless of course we can come up with a better one. Brand is the cornerstone of effective communications. It recognizes that no campaign, no matter how cute or clever, should stand alone. We’re not doing our job unless every effort we undertake is part of a bigger picture, a broader agenda. Only in this way can we assist our clients in building audience and ensuring long-term viability.
But taking this idea one step further, only those brands that stand up for something meaningful will stand the test of time. With the democratization of media we are no longer in control of the message. We are one voice among many and if we don’t communicate with integrity we will suffer the consequences. I don’t think I need to run through the latest examples of companies that have been called out of late for bad operational practice, manipulative messaging or hypocritical acts. Who you are and how you operate matters. And if you don’t recognize this you will be punished.
In the end, the most successful communications agencies will be brand stewards. They will create work that forges relationships with all stakeholders – both internal and external – that are profound and lasting. They will marry science and art to uncover insights and connect deeply and personally with the target. In addition to informing, entertaining, surprising and provoking they will set the bar higher. Tomorrow’s increasingly conscientious consumer will demand this. The best communications agencies will recognize the inevitably interconnected system of which brands form part. And they will mobilize the power of brands to go beyond one-dimensional self-interest and embrace benefits that ladder up to society at large.
Like all industries ours is in flux. Perhaps this is where we will always be. It takes openness and agility to navigate through and these are the qualities that all organizations need to thrive. But one thing that will remain constant in our business is the concept of service.
The position of influence we hold is a powerful one. How we choose to wield it will be the ultimate differentiator.