What could or should advertising be in 2020?
When I think of 2020 I naturally think of 1996. You don’t? 1996 was, in Canada anyway, when investment in data warehouses and data cubes etc. was at its peak. I had been hired by a large telecoms company to figure out what data to capture, how to house it and how to use it. I spent a lot of my employer’s money figuring that out. And I discovered what people have discovered in every business fad – there was incremental value but much less than we’d hoped.
I think 2020 will be similar. I think the explosion of experimentation in the capture, analysis and marketing application of data will reveal where the value is and where it isn’t. We’ll make further progress in automating the timely delivery of ad messages and the parties involved in the process from data capture to effectiveness reporting will have sorted itself out. By 2020 most marketers will have achieved some experience applying data to their particular marketing challenges. As our experience overtakes our suspicion or exuberance, depending on your nature, I think there will then be two challenges we’ll face.
The New Social Polarization: The Data Rich and the Data Poor
The hyper-targeted, data-driven, highly relevant, consumer-selected, non-intrusive, peer-to-peer approach we talk about most back in 2013 will be useful for some brands. While they may constitute more than One-Percent, they are, like the Silicon or Wall Street Millionaires of today, the elite of brands, using the latest technology to make money in their sleep. They’ve living in the sun. They have inherent utility. They are searched and tracked because of the needs they fulfill. They’ll include high-involvement categories like consumer tech, cancer treatment centers, private universities, home renovators and management consultants.
Then there’s the 99%. The brands living on the shady side of the valley. There are thousands, actually millions of brands which won’t be searched and aren’t “a solution to a problem”. Like gum or shampoo or detergent. Sure, they’re solutions to boredom, dry mouth, desire for beauty or to care for your family. But their marketing challenge will be to make someone aware of them and want them despite their relatively low importance. I doubt there is any investment in data that could increase gum advertising ROI.
For these brands, advertising should be what it should be now – and should have been in 1996 or 1976 for that matter – a combination of insightful, entertaining, informative, original. Their success depends on human insight and imagination. For them, data will apply more to building a great distribution system and innovative product characteristics not for advertising.
Differentiation in an Age of Data Parity
The second thing I think we’ll be focused on is how to differentiate when competing brands achieve parity in their ownership and application of data. Perfectly timely delivery of advertising messages is great but it only takes a brand so far. Once everyone can do it (and why wouldn’t they?) the advantage ebbs. As always, the value of a trusted brand with a differentiated point-of-view makes the difference. Whatever Facebook or Twitter or their progeny looks like in 2020 a person will still have the power to ignore or engage in any message – whether it’s from his mother or Mountain Dew. Again the brand’s originality, popularity and trustworthiness will make the difference.