Matthew Godfrey, President, Y&R Asia
It was the recent passing of Neil Armstrong that really brought home how great an impact the 1960’s space programme had upon the hopes and expectations of an entire generation.Putting rockets into space and, ultimately, a man walking on the moon, enabled a vision of endless opportunities and possibilities for the future. 1968 saw two books ‘The Sentinel’ by Arthur C. Clarke, and Philip K. Dick’s ‘Do Androids Dream Electric Sheep?’, take their first small steps toward becoming celluloid classics – the first reborn as ‘2001 – A Space Odyssey’, the second was to become ‘Blade Runner’. But 2001 came and went with more of a whimper than a bang, and now we find ourselves only seven years away from November 2019, the temporal setting for Blade Runner’s dystopian society of rogue replicants and their ‘retirement’. We should probably be grateful that both visions have proved to be more science fiction than science fact, but they serve to prove that, unfortunately, most predictions for the future wildly over-estimate the changes that will have been effected.
I’ve been hoping for a flying car, and a cure for baldness, for decades now, but neither seem any closer to coming true. And just look back and lament upon how little has changed in the Asian advertising industry since 2002.
But we do seem to be finally due for some seismic shifts, driven by unprecedented changes in consumer behavior and advancements in technology. Indeed, one of the more reliable predictions to come of out of the mid-1960’s was of course Moore’s Law, that states that computer capacity will double every two years. Its uncanny accuracy can also be attributed to the fact that it has been used by the semi-conductor industry to set research and development targets, making it something of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
So, looking ahead to advertising in 2020, it should be obvious to predict that by then everything will be digital. Data at every touchpoint, from packaging to e-commerce, means that the entire path to purchase is rapidly being digitized and all agencies will need to embrace this – or enjoy irrelevance. And as it is emerging now, digital’s virtual-world will be blended into our real-world lives. Digital does not mean we will stay glued to our devices. We all still crave real experiences, parties, concerts, sports, meetings, dates, comedy clubs and more. It’s just that we will want technology to be blended with those real-world experiences. Digital will not be a silo, or a medium. It will be a facilitator and an enhancer to our lifestyles.
This will then drive a need for unparalleled integration within communication strategies. People and their embracement of technology is forcing the media, the idea, and the activation to collapse into one stream. Someone needs to lead this, but who? So we’ll undoubtedly see media agencies adding creative to their strengths and vice versa. After years of agencies spinning off specialist brands, they will start to combine again in a ‘Big Crunch’. The pressure for these mergers is likely to start in Asia where there is less infrastructure to argue over, and a larger talent war – which will drive action by agencies through necessity.
The pace of accountability will also be shortened. Decisions of success or failure will be made in real time and not at the end of a contract period. Agencies had better get used to being ‘optimized’ and being paid accordingly. Failure will be quick to identify. However success needs to be redefined from ‘activity’ to sales. ‘Likes’, mentions, views and re-tweets are only the means to an end and not an end to themselves. Agencies need to be more focused on the end goal for the brand or campaign, and be prepared to be measured accordingly.
Fourthly, innovation will be key, and Asia has a high potential to drive the next wave of digital innovation. This region has the young talent, the funding, the entrepreneurs and the mobile culture to lead other regions. Look for these innovations to come from India, China or Indonesia. Particularly China, that has a more complex and competitive social media scene than most other markets in the world. And as this happens, watch out for success from independent agencies and boutique start-ups. They have a natural competitive advantage to be nimble, to be efficient, and to take risks. Many of the start-up agencies in China have huge ambitions to go public with scaleable business models. Many of them will fail, but some of them will create amazing ideas and have a massive impact.
The energy and opportunities of new technology means that the next decade should be the time where Asia begins to lead the world in marketing. Think about it. China is the world’s second largest economy and the world’s number one car market, still growing at over three times the rate of leading Western markets. It should now have a greater impact on marketing over the next decade as it shifts from an imitation economy to an innovation economy, with both the cash and the political will to invest in doing so.
But these are unlikely to be stable times. Asia has long been a region where success comes to those with ambition and speed. The stakes are getting higher, and the speed is accelerating. Hold on tight.
To effect these changes in Asia and to make these leaps, chances will need to be taken and risks will need to be incurred.
The previous decades have been characterized by new entrants and extraordinary growth stemming from predominately tried and tested techniques developed in the west and deployed in the east. To succeed now, means new territory must be explored. New techniques, new methodologies, new structures and talent. Much of what is needed will need to be invented by today’s marketers and agencies in the region. Simply turning up with last decade’s programs will become increasing unsuccessful. That means category growth can only be achieved with category leading strategies. We will all have to work harder and be more inventive to earn results.
The end to lazy marketing has arrived.
Neil Armstrong predicted in a 1970 interview that we would soon have regular travel to the moon and even moon bases. There was not even a doubt in his mind. Predictions, therefore can be disappointing and sometimes even the very best of us get them wrong.