Watts Wacker & Richard Wise – The Future of Advertising

Watts Wacker, Founder, Director, Firstmatter
Richard Wise, Global Head of Strategy, G2 Worldwide

Advertising will always exist – as long as humans do.  It is in our very nature to be curious in a self-seeking way.  And we need signs of trust to be confident in the choices we make of what to eat, where to sleep, what to wear and a good place to socialize and experience pleasure.  Brands and advertising respond to these primordial needs.

And just as advertising will always exist, there will always be experts who proclaim that advertising is dead or that brands have no place in the future.

Story telling, commercial art and reputation building are inherently fragile endeavors.  As soon as we experience success, we experience fear – the gnawing dread that our success will not last – which is why any major change in culture or technology is capable of producing apocalyptic thinking.

Doubters of the perennial nature of advertising need only visit the exhumed ruins of Pompeii and pay careful attention to the details of everyday life in the ancient Roman Empire.  See for yourself the ‘guerilla’ out-of-home advertising carved into cobblestones for a  brothel.  Check out the sophisticated retail decor and point of sale displays (wall paintings) in the fast food restaurants that pop up at every major intersection.  You can even see the remnants of an ancient condiment ad telling you to look for the name Scaurus if you want a zesty garum sauce, the Roman predecessor to Worcestershire sauce.

Or you can visit Chartres Cathedral and examine the windows of the Northern Wall.  You will discover there a “sponsored content” strategy in the leading social media of the High Middle Ages: stained glass.  There, lovingly preserved for nearly a Millennium, you can contemplate messages left for us by the Baker’s Guild and the Winemaker’s Guild assuring us that we can expect the very best from their careful efforts.  The guilds no longer exist but their messages still resonate in the quality of everyday bread and wine in modern-day Chartres.

Advertising and brands are inherently social, and always have been – long before “social” became a marketing buzzword.  Each culture and each generation within that culture has a social memory of what it means to be alive in that time and place.

If you are a corporate leader today there’s a good chance you’re a Baby Boomer or maybe on the cusp of Gen X.  Which makes you  – and us – members of the television generation.

While radio introduced ‘it’ to the “traditionalists” cohorts… television resulted in the preeminence of the “broadcast advertising model”.  One of our dads was a “madman.”  Before he passed away he used to joke about how he had to convince people that they wanted air conditioning in their cars.  I remember asking him about television and why it was “free.”  Like indoor plumbing and electricity, television became what in society is called a universal service.  A universal service is a service that is a requirement to be a contributing productive member of society.  Universal services are regulated by the government whether as a utility or by a commission.  We got free content and the station was set as a public trust with public service as part of the procedure in obtaining a license to operate.

Along came cable.  The original premise of cable entering the broadcast model was that people paid a fee for even better programming (premium being an operative word) with no advertising.  The same thing for satellite TV. The broadcast networks were free.  Cable cost you money but you had no advertising.  Now all of the networks own their own cable channels and we pay for “premium” programs that also have ads in them.  All of this happened before 1994.

And 1994 indeed changed everything.  This is when the Arpanet “morphed” into the Internet and the legislation was signed to make “the net” public.  Interestingly, there was no commission to “steer” this new “service” that is every bit of a universal service in life today.  Every bit of our previous approach to ensuring “universality” just had no way of being applied to the net.

Over the last 18+ years as the Internet evolved into the 2.0 (and 3.0) versions we have seen the broadcast model give way to; first, the network model and then the content creation model.  These models build upon each other.  In the broadcast model value was based upon a one-way communication and the size of the audience.  In the network model communication became a two-way street and each individual added onto the network increased the value for all others already on the network.  Now that each person can create their own content … now that each person can be their own medium and … now that we all have a personal network, what is going to transpire?

People are going to be paid to produce advertising and some will even be paid to watch advertising in the transmedia world of purchased, owned, and earned media.  In a world of Klout scores based upon one’s influence in this new crowd-sourced media environment … in a world of “big data” where everything about an individual is able to be known, predicted behavior is now at a perfect level of correlation and causality.

The advertising market of 60+ years ago has done a ‘180’.  Come see our You Tube channel … meet our 2 million regular viewers and please, tell us what you think of the advertising on our shows that P&G is paying us (not Interpublic) to create on our own.

A decade from now, we’ll live in a world if highly responsive screens, large and small, that let us experience, create, bend and distribute messages and content of all kinds.

We’ll have intelligent agents and we’ll tell them what brands we’re interested in.  Some of them we’ll agree to sponsors if they’re brands we really love and enjoy associating with.  The brands will stay in touch with us and automatically give us points for repurposing their content and freely associating with it.

Each of us will the duke or duchess of our own digital estate.  It’s no accident that when Apple first visualized the world of intelligent agents in 1988, they called them “information butlers.”  Siri has finally gotten the ball rolling and the possibilities have been unleashed.

In a world of agents, successful badge brands will learn how to think like party promoters rather than manufacturers.  Party promoters know how to make each guest recognized and special.  Party promoters know how to respond to the moment and cook up something that feels so ‘right now.”  Personalization, customization and just-in-time manufacturing morph from cool to cost-of-entry.

There will also be brands that we don’t associate with our public persona but we prefer to use.  Our agents will know this and will scour the content of those brands filtering for offers, promotions and innovations that we’ve indicated we’re interested in.  Our agent will sift and throw away junk, forwarding to us only those offers that they know we are truly interested in.

Successful brands will learn how to appeal to the automated gatekeepers and become even more ROI conscious than ever before.

As Andy Warhol predicted, each of us will be FameUs maybe not for fifteen minutes but maybe to 1500 friends and followers, or 15,000, or 150,000.  It will depend on what we’re up to and what we bring to the table.

And in a world where each us lives with the pressure of being famous, we’ll crave genuine experiences of self-forgetting, escape and transcendent belonging.

We’ll go to music events, festivals, reunions and rallies and we’ll revere brands that know how to show up in a supportive and relevant way to these experiences.

And there’ll be a big place in our hearts for the brands who know how to use intelligent design to remind us of their trustworthy qualities and their gratitude for our business.  “Thank you” is a message that never goes out of style.

So how do you get ready for the future of advertising?

  1. Think positively and look for opportunity – you’ll already be a step ahead of the fearful and zero-sum thinkers.
  2. In your personal life, don’t sit on the sidelines of the digital and social media revolutions.  Go figure out how to be yourself, have fun and add value to the lives of your friends, families and communities.
  3. At work, run lots of experiments – don’t think you have to do everything perfectly.  Don’t freak out if you have a bad experience.  Don’t let it turn into a trauma that blocks creativity.
  4. Don’t be obsessed about every new tool that comes along.  It doesn’t matter ultimately whether you’re using the tool or not.  What matters is: can you offer something valuable in people’s lives – if a new tool serves that purpose, great, let’s use it.
  5. The same is true for things that might look old-fashioned in a digital world like billboards and jingles.  If they add value to people’s lives, use them.  Millennials aren’t snobs about the media they consume and never judge brands for doing things that look “vintage.”  They are far more forgiving and curious than never-trust-anyone-over-30 Boomers were at their age.
  6. When you create new content, design it for your mobile phone, first, computer screen second.  You might be looking at your brand’s content on your fancy HD screen at the office but your consumer is more and more likely to be looking at it on their smart phone.
  7. Learn how to use big data and make it part of how you live and think.  It’s not particularly hard – you just have to make the effort.
  8. Think like Andy Warhol.  When’s your next party?  Where’s your list of influencers?  What are you going to say and do that surprises all your friends?  How can your brand serve their personal brands?  How do you step back and let them shine?
  9. Think like Marshall McLuhan.  Every time you switch gears in the media you use, always ask how is this shaping my consciousness?  Find the message in the medium and you’ll figure out how to own the medium.  That’s how Steve Jobs taught Apple to dominate consumer electronics: by focusing on the user experience not the thing.
  10. Remember, as our favorite shrink, Samantha Boardman says, “In an age where we’ve all become our own Oprahs, brands have to jump up and down on the couch just to keep our attention.”  Tested, bland and safe are recipes for oblivion in the Fame-Us culture of tomorrow.

Two last words (and the most powerful thing any brand can ever say): Thank You.