Zachary Treuhaft, Managing Director, VML New York
My View of the Future
1. What COULD/SHOULD “advertising” look like in 2020?
2. What should we do not to get ready for that future?
By 2020, people will have near-infinite choice for information and entertainment. Choice of where and how to be entertained. Choice of what brands to engage with. Choice of how to engage with those brands. For many people, choice IF to engage with brands.
The enabler of this choice is the App Store on steroids, selling movies, music, and television series as one-offs. This App Store connects the living room, desktop computer, tablet, mobile device, and automobile, all united by a password (or an iris scan) and delivered via the cloud. This is of course already available via Apple, Google, or Amazon, but will become more and more ubiquitous as a way of consuming. People will be able to watch whatever, wherever. Buy a full season of ‘Mad Men’ for $20. Keep it in the cloud, watch an episode immediately on the living room TV, watch another episode on the train the next day. No ad breaks anywhere, for those that can afford to avoid them.
Increasing choice for people means decreasing control for advertisers. The long slow slide of brands losing control, losing their ability to repeat a message to a passive sheep of a consumer, will accelerate.
Advertisers will lose the ability to force people to pay attention. So advertising will look less like interruption, less like the uninteresting content that must be suffered or tolerated before the cool stuff begins. Instead, advertising will contain a balanced mix of blunt messaging and earned attention, with the two reinforcing and building on one another.
This does not mean that advertising will become PR. It does mean that advertisers will need to think beyond the one-way messaging that has been standard for the last half-century, a technique built for the era of message repetition with television. Gone is the ability to create a unique selling proposition, turn that into a breakthrough ad, and repeat as necessary to drive results. That playbook was straightforward, and its simplicity is comfortable to advertisers. But the good old days will not return. Instead comes a much more subtle process of planning and executing campaigns. At the heart of these campaigns must be a piece of content or an experience that real people actually want to engage with. Brands must learn to be interesting. They must learn to resist the impulse to prattle on endlessly about their product and its benefits. The brand managers and agency people may spend their full waking hours thinking about toothpaste or soap or fast food, but real people certainly don’t.
So brands must learn to build a way in, a way to drive engagement and conversation in order to earn the right to talk about their product and its benefits. And embedded in this experience must be a way of talking back to the brand, and sharing that communication with friends.
Adding to the challenge, brand content cannot be static. It must grow and change to stay fresh and interesting in an era when tweets and status updates define the pace of communication (i.e., near-instant). Merely building a single communication and repeating it won’t work: The content gets stale too quickly. Brands must keep engaging and entertaining. What have you done for me lately?
Getting ready for this future requires big, uncomfortable changes.
The first change is brands must get comfortable being in dialogue with their target. Brands must become platforms that people can embrace, tweak, change, and collaborate with. Letting people into the brand is anathema to traditional advertising planning. But the people are already in! Give them the tools and the freedom to share, and they will help brands grow. Let other brands in too: The Depeche Mode x Hublot watch. The Chrysler 300 John Varvatos Edition. The New Balance Collection for J. Crew. Smart brands are already embracing the mashup culture. The hardest part of this change is accepting that the days of complete and total control are over.
The most jarring change is speed. Brands and agencies need to get comfortable producing more content, for different platforms, on much quicker turnarounds. Big expensive content (TV, cinema, deep web experience) will still be built to dazzle. But speedboats must enter the picture also, not just for 140-character consumption on Twitter, but through other media. And the App economy presents all sorts of new opportunities to get close to consumers. Imagine a Chevron app that lives in your dashboard computer and directs you to the nearest Chevron station when your gas tank runs low.
Old Spice Man, with his thousands of YouTube videos made in a just a few short weeks, becomes the horseman of this new era. Create a great idea, support it big with breakthrough TV spots, enter into a conversation with people about that idea, let them suggest and mold it in a way that’s fun and engaging. Repeat as necessary.
Great ideas are eternal. Making great advertising in 2020 still depends on great ideas. The difference is that those great ideas must become catalysts for activating people.