What could or should advertising look like in 2020?
The first reflection on these questions is to ask: what is advertising? We have examples of its form and execution in our heads, but what is the overall purpose of it? If we take the word itself, which comes from the Latin words “ad vertere,” to “turn towards,” Advertising is about turning the attention of somebody towards a message to influence that person to be favourably disposed towards the brand, and therefore purchase it.
The overall objective has not changed since advertising began, but the possibilities have grown enormously in terms of techniques and the media available. Advertising varies, of course, depending on the product or service offered and the reaction desired…which may have a more immediate purpose in some areas, (retail) or longer term in big ticket items (cars). We seek to influence people at times in their lives or in their day when they are most open to influence. We will have more data available in 2020 to plan well targeted advertising or brand communication. Big data will allow us to plan effectively and to tailor the message to individuals. We will have the opportunity to build one to one relationships through the data available if individuals want to be communicated to in such a way. The role of advertising will be unchanged – to inform, create desire and make people feel good about a brand and about their use of it.
The founding charter of the BBC (the UK Public service broadcaster) was to inform and to entertain. Marketers can take note of this objective whilst organising themselves around the communication of brand experience, brand knowledge and brand content. Brand content can contain information about the product (provenance, heritage, production, process and usage). The brand remains central to the purpose of advertising. So classic advertising will remain and its role will be to create a presence for the brand in open space, where it can impose itself and be seen by those who might choose to ignore TV advertising or skip through ads on the net. Outdoor is in the environment and gets seen…and can be particularly creative and entertaining. Of course the Internet and social media will have a very strong role, as we use search and e-commerce increasingly in our daily lives. But by 2020 we will have to ensure we are using these media effectively…not intrusive as media in a negative way but as informative and relevant.
Relevant and entertaining content can encourage sharing. Examples such as the short films sponsored by Jameson Irish whiskey by first time film makers (First Shot in conjunction with Kevin Spacey) or the background of creative artists and their work co created with Absolut vodka or stories surrounding the heritage of Chivas Regal. This is product content that is informative and entertaining. But how do people hear about it ? They may come upon it by chance, they may have it sent to them by friends, they may be fans of the brands already and follow it on Twitter or Facebook…or they may be driven to it by classic advertising that gives them a desire to know more or to share in a brand experience or event. We should also recognise that classic media and advertising will have a role to play in emerging markets around the world where awareness and understanding of brands that may be familiar in more developed countries are all new.
The quality of ideas in advertising will remain critically important as will the quality of execution. Nothing changes in this regard whether for classic or digital messages and content. Much of the content on the web will be developed by consumers themselves. Content which is developed by the brands or co created will have to be of a high standard to differentiate itself from the mass of consumer generated content and will have to clearly reflect the brands values, beliefs and benefits. In other words, advertisers will have to ensure even more than now that the investment they place in advertising is well spent because it is building desire for the brand and communicating its message to stand out above all the noise on the web .
What should we do about it now?
I think we have to work with our key agencies to plot the journey to the future, recognizing that they have to adapt and that they cannot do it all themselves. Advertisers and brand companies also have to start adapting and ask themselves: what can they do themselves, and what do they need agencies to do? What will the agency of the future look like by 2020? What are the key competencies that they can offer? What can be taken in house by the brand companies? Many external partners with specialist skills and experience will be called upon to be part of the communications challenge…to entertain and inform and to create experiences that can be amplified and shared through social media. Who and how these relationships and tasks are managed in order to remain coherent and timely will be crucial to the success of the communication and the meaning of the brand and what makes it unique. Planning will be central to the effort and lead agencies will require high level experienced planners to work alongside brand directors and marketing directors who will orchestrate the communications plans, like editors of a magazine. Keeping the voice of the brand clear and consistent while engaging the existing consumer base and recruiting new consumers to the franchise will be the key shared task of lead agency, brand company and support agencies. The structures and competencies for these responsibilities need to be in preparation now.
So in summary, in my view by 2020 advertising will take many forms…brand content brand experiences and product information. In addition we will use classic media selectively to do the job of building awareness and desire for people to go and discover more about it for themselves.