This piece was first published in #TheFutureByDesign. Click here to download the publication with insights from leading marketing, creative, technology and advertising minds.
An article published in Newsweek exactly 20 years ago made the rounds recently, thanks to its brave, but wildly wrongheaded predictions about the internet. Amongst its many claims were things such as “no online database will replace your daily newspaper” and “These expensive toys are difficult to use in classrooms and require extensive teacher training.”
Nowadays, the newspaper is already a living fossil. And schoolrooms — at least those that can — have transformed into multimedia centres. So much for predicting the future.
The future of internet advertising is no more clear now than the future of the internet was in 1995. However, there are some trends that are important to track, and failing to do so will leave a brand out in the wilderness in years to come.
Here are two.
Marketing’s most profound shift is from planned advertising to computed advertising. We have already seen this revolution’s early forces marshaled by the likes of Google and Facebook, and by endless ad networks and automated buying platforms.
In brief, these technologies take the manual labour and guesswork about placing your ad in front of the people who need to see it. By collecting and processing huge amounts of data about users, and using matching algorithms to find ads they are most likely to engage with, programmatic platforms not only place ads dynamically but charge efficiently for those ads. This is a boon for advertisers who, in theory, only pay when their ad finds its audience.
Most radical at the moment are systems which dynamically create or modify the ad itself – to appeal to different user profiles or to tease out which version of a message is most successful. Horrifying as this is to agency creatives, there is evidence that this kind of agile advertising works.
Internet of everything
At its most basic, the internet is just a way to connect computers so that they can share data. It’s not this definition which is shifting but the definition of what a computer is. Today, it’s a desktop, laptop, tablet and phone. But it is rapidly becoming a watch, a fridge, a sprinkler system, a light bulb and a car. It will eventually become pretty much everything – it is hard to imagine an object or creature in the future that wouldn’t benefit, in some way, from being plugged in.
That is not science fiction. A casual search online for internet-connected devices will reveal a surprising number of products already being mass produced. (The catch-phrase, in case you didn’t know, is the Internet of Things, or IoT.)
Advertisers will benefit from this in two ways: the amount of data available about people and their stuff will increase exponentially, and the number of touchpoints will mushroom. However, people’s desire for privacy, and their distaste for irrelevant, intrusive messaging, is increasing just as fast.
Winning brands will be threaded through people’s lives, stitched into the fabric of their online devices. But engaging with people this intimately is going to take an unprecedented understanding of human motivation, and a commitment to authenticity which has been absent for much of the history of advertising.
In 20 years what has happened to digital advertising will have been impossible to imagine today. But there is no doubt that big data and pervasive computing will be two of the driving forces in that story.