Sanjay Thapar – The Future of Advertising – 2020

Sanjay Thapar, CEO, Bates India

What could/should “advertising look like in 2020?

Strange and interesting at the same time, but I have been living with this question from the time I agreed to give my perspective on this, but every time I start writing, I wonder how can I or for that matter anyone dare to predict the future, 8 years hence. The reason I say this is that for one the speed of change around us is like the blink of an eyelid and for the other the new generation is totally redefining the meaning of long-term.

So each time I started writing and gazed into a crystal ball saying 2020, I just got a response “Too far, don’t care”, yet a architects we must try and have some sense of where the world is headed, so I too will have to attempt this.

So what’s in store ahead? To my mind much of what will be the look of advertising in the future will be determined by the series of actions that we take. Clearly the consumers are changing. They are consuming media differently, interacting with Brands differently and being far more adventurous and experimental than what we have a couple of decades earlier. This means Brands have a new role to play in their lives. They need to understand that it’s now, more than ever before, that consumers actually own Brand. This sounds a bit counter-intuitive and odd, but its true and this also means that advertisers need to recognize this fact and deal with it accordingly.

Social currency is gaining more importance and clients and Brands that recognize this will rule in the future. Everybody is talking about the importance of social media, digital and internet, mobile, shopper marketing etc, but I personally feel all these are just additional and important touch/communication consumption points and its no big deal if we understand where and how our consumer is spending time and then find an appropriate way to reach and communicate with them.

Right and appropriate way to communicate? This is the heart of the matter and a one sees today’s consumers and their interaction with Brands and the relevance of Brands in social currency, the heart of the matter in my mind lies in “Consumer engagement” and that will define of what the future of advertising, which I would rather write as communication.

The future of communications should understand that engaging with consumers should and must form the pillar of all work. This will mean multiple things, including relooking and redefining the role of exiting media, creation of new media and even relooking at the content we create in order to engage and interact with consumers at every possible communication and interaction touch point. It would mean content creation. It would mean analytics through effective listening, it would mean responding and course correcting and a continuous journey of discovery, modification and communication.

What do we need to do now for this future?

Writing an answer to this one is easier, thanks to the brilliantly framed question. As I see the future, all I can say is that the future is determined by a series of decisions and actions taken by us, which we refer to later as past. If this were not the case, why would some categories develop in certain ways and then later change dramatically. Soft drinks are a classic example, by positioning them as thirst quenchers in the height of summer we had a category that was so seasonal, but that’s not the case now and that too has been as a result of a series of conscious decisions and actions taken by corporations that lead the category. There are many such examples, but I guess one is good enough to illustrate the point I wish to make.

When it comes to communications, and that my belief is that the future lies in agencies focusing on consumer engagement, the steps become fairly obvious and simple. Some of these are:

  • Creating content that engages with consumers and not preach
  • Creating opportunities for consumers to experience, interact, identify with and even help shape/co-create or even chart a new path for the Brand
  • Agencies must understand the changing media habits as well as the potential was in which consumers interact with the Brand in each respective media. With this will come the ability to generate and build a social currency for the Brand.

Social currency will be the central pivot/playing field. This is where the game will be played and this is where Brands will lose the battle and this where they will win it too.

And if this is where I see the game being played, one of the most difficult things for both agencies and marketers is to understand that in the social space, it is not they who own the Brand, it is the consumers who do so and if you have to win in this space, you have to let go of control. You can provoke and fuel conversations and debates, but at the same time be honest and transparent in all your interventions. You have to recognize that consumers will help you build your Brand, but if you try misguiding them, they can also kill your Brand.

So in my mind, what agencies and marketers must do is let go of control, be open and transparent, engage with consumers to build social currency for their Brands and create brand experiences that facilitate all of this.