Yaakov Kimelfeld – Advertising – and the future – are in the consumers’ control

Yaakov Kimelfeld, Chief Research Officer, Kantar Media Compete

“The future is here. It’s just not widely distributed yet.”

Normally, this William Gibson quote is apropos for any crystal ball gazing type of exercise. Not this time, though.

That’s because the future of advertising is already here and has been widely distributed. It is just not widely recognized as advertising yet.

The future of advertising is not about new technological platforms or killer apps. It is about a change in the industry mindset. That is, it is about opening our collective mind.

For most practitioners – advertisers, agencies, publishers, even researchers and data providers – advertising is still a simple one-way street. The message travels from advertiser to consumer and either works to sell or doesn’t.  This success is based on the quality of the message itself and the ability of that message to break through the clutter of other advertisers’ messages as they, too, travel along the same busy street. With a large budget or a smart media strategy, any advertiser can always get the message across to the right audience group somehow. The rest of the equation is just details.

But now, advertisers are slowly waking up to find themselves on a complex network of intertwined country routes, highways, overpasses, roundabouts and tunnels where they are but one of the few among the millions of other drivers.  Even more alarmingly, when it comes to their own brands and products, they are not the ones holding the wheel. Their control over message and distribution is consistently eroding.

That’s because new technology is empowering consumers to manipulate media, and as a result, advertising content is getting picked up and passed along, altered and redistributed to such an extent that it sometimes becomes unrecognizable from its original state. With consumers slicing and dicing though available content, modifying and disseminating it, each user is experiencing a somewhat different picture. And, thanks to the power of social media, those personal perceptions and opinions about the brand can turn into lasting media placements of their own.

Those perceptions can remain long after a campaign is over, and keep on reappearing in search results. This acts like a perpetual media placement in itself, continuing to influence consumer behaviors and their responses to consequent campaigns. Today’s reader is tomorrow’s message.

Just to get a general idea of what is happening to one’s brand in the media ecosystem today requires supercomputers to parse the terabytes of data out there. Long gone are the times of a single metric media currency. Search, sharing and social media introduced so much complexity to analysis that predicting advertising effects today is like predicting climate change. In digital ecosystems, just like in the atmosphere, feedback loops amplify the ways in which a consumer can warm up to or cool off regarding a brand – with each consumer contribution having the potential to cause a butterfly effect in the global marketplace.

The widening of an increasingly diverse and complex marketplace, along with the advance of real time bidding and optimization in digital media, has given rise to predictions of the end of advertising as we know it. This, it is said, will be replaced with the rise of the machines, with advertising going the way of Finance where artificial intelligence has already automated much of the high value work done. One can almost see Agent Smith addressing humbled Don Draper: “The future is our world, Dick. The future is our time.”

We do know, however, that this scene will not take place any time soon or even by 2020 – and not only because Agent Smith and Don Draper are fictional characters. It is because in the future there is a place for Math Men and Mad Men.

In 2020, the media ecosystem will be even more exciting, diverse, complex, measurable and chaotic than it is now.  Technology will produce ever better tools for targeting, measuring and optimizing marketing than are currently available. But it will also allow for new ways of informing, impressing and entertaining people – and enable people to tell stories of their own.

Moreover, in a complex information society, brands could become even more important, aggregating all associations that help to positively differentiate a product, service or person and providing valuable cognitive shortcuts for busy decision makers.

The best thing we can do for our clients and ourselves, then, is to realize that advertising has changed and is changing. It now includes a plethora of things that at one time were not considered to be advertising.

In the final analysis, the internalization and amplification of the advertising messages by consumers may yet be the best thing that ever happened to the industry.