Rob Norman – Advertising 2020

Rob Norman, Global Chief Digital Officer, GroupM

In 2020, brand marketers and their agency partners might reflect on an event that occurred with little fanfare in November 1915.

It was then that The Coca Cola Company obtained a design patent for the contour, or more decorously ‘hobble skirt” bottle. In the days of point of sale displays operated by plunging one’s hand into an ice chest the idea of “a bottle which a person could recognize even if they felt it in the dark” was well elegantly conceived and executed. This sends a simple message, whatever we make, wherever we sell it, whatever we try and communicate – make it ours.

That the same bottle was “so shaped that, even if broken, a person could tell at a glance what it was” sends a more nuanced message that recognizes that every fragment of brand communication can and will be assembled by the consumer and that there is a certain genius in knowing that the totality of the fragments always approximates to the same finished article.

Here then is marketing and advertising 2020. A massively fragmented trail of messages and clues distributed more widely and, seemingly randomly, than any treasure hunt conceived.

Elements of brand communication will be created and distributed by the brand, by its distributors, its customers, its fans and its detractors That same communication will be  shared and mashed up without regard to geography, copywright, trademark, time or place. Messaging will appear in content owned by brands, by a galaxy of other content creators and, sometimes in splendid isolation. It will be present across fixed, mobile, wearable and virtual devices. Messaging, content and brands themselves will indeed by social by design. Products will become services, services will become products.

In this atomized world we will have to recognize that consumers have superpowers. They will have 3D and X Ray vision. Brands can run but they can’t hide, corporate actions will be visible and judged, brand propositions, performance and purpose will be compared and shared.

No longer will marketers be able to rely on programatic delivery of brand messaging rather they will need to determine need states in real time and balance the delivery of paid communication in channels they can control with the discovery of that messaging  in channels that are controlled by the consumer and often mediated by the successors of the Page Rank and Edge Rank algorithms that control message prominence on the Google and Facebook platforms respectively.

It is interesting to note that fantasy dominates the best seller lists and the box office but that science fiction, at least as it relates to planet Earth is now almost impossible to write as technology has reduced the head start that fiction has on fact.

In 2020 the notion of ‘best available screen’ will either be fully realized, it is close to realization for many people today. Today we talk of first, second, third and even fourth screen experiences. In a very few years the very notion of screens may itself be redundant. We know how to touch and swipe, Microsoft Kinect is in millions of homes making gesture control a reality. Google Glasses are real if undistributed but  it’s a minimal leap to the notion that physical screens are of now and not of the future.

The more virtual and ‘data informed’ the world becomes relationships between people, and between people and brands will become progressively more gyroscopic. Put simply our world will alter its focus by sensing the muti- dimensional state of ‘place’ – physical, temporal, behavioral and emotional. This may start in a clumsy way but the ecosystem will learn through technology, data (appended to everything), and both active and passive consumer inputs and become increasingly, and almost invisibly efficient.

Inevitably 2020 will be a post privacy world, Ben and Barbara may be private to a point, the 1s and 0s that they leave behind cannot.  They will be used all the time and by everyone, everything and everywhere. If you are not checked in you have checked out.  It will be hard to get off the grid when you are the grid.

The very notion that privacy at the data level ever could exist will resemble a pre-Gallilean class in the earth’s topography and motion. Attempts to preserve privacy at this level will create a new divide between the discoverable and undiscoverable populations; the latter will be disadvantaged in almost every life function with the possible exception of tax evasion and infidelity.

There’s no scenario we should not prepare for as marketers and agencies, nothing we hold to be true is inalienable. We have to predict what passions will survive and which will be the bear baiting of our near future. It’s easy to talk about music, movies and sport but even there will society continue to tolerate concussive injury, DUI as a lifestyle choice and grotesque player compensation. If it does not Sunday Night in America may not be about football and Lord Stanley’s Cup may be played for something more genteel than hockey. Alternatively it will be the dystopian Rollerball of its time which may not be judged ‘brand safe’.

Amidst the speculation is certainty. In every channel fragmentation of genres and delivery systems  will create a  world of infinite niches making simultaneous reach decrease arithmetically in scarcity and increase geometrically in price.

Thus we will live in an era where the challenges of marketing mirror those of business; put simply a shift from the creation and placement of advertising to the manufacturing and distribution of content and experiences. We will provide the puzzle pieces but consumers will be left to assemble those pieces into an image of their determination.

Our goal and our hope will be that these pieces and the pictures they make will be kept, shared and used to deepen perception, connection, preference, loyalty and advocacy. The purchase funnel will be a vortex and particles will move in ways that don’t suit the predictability of marketing science as we understand it today.

Most positively we are headed inexorably towards a new era of truth. Truth in what products do, truth in how and by who they are made, truth in the opportunity cost of their manufacturer, truth in performance and, yes, truth  in advertising. These are the ingredients that will make brand communications a contemporary analog for that hobble skirt. It will be 1915 all over again.