How old is advertising? The general consensus among historians is that our earliest ancestors bartered for goods, though that process was likely facilitated by word-of-mouth. Long before J. Walter Thompson and the rise of “Madison Avenue”, advertisers ran small shops with representatives who scurried about cities like New Amsterdam purchasing narrow ad-spaces in columns of newspapers of the time. In 1786 London, William Taylor opened what is regarded as the “first advertising agency in history.” In those 233 years since, the industry adapted to the vast cultural, political and human movements that defined the final quarter of the 18th century to where we are today.
We’re now savvier, possessing historical frames of reference and access to data and investigative journalism that would make Ida Tarbell smile, and the gates that once kept a majority of people out continue to be dismantled piece-by-piece. This makes us more informed communicators and strategic planners and makes our jobs to convince much more challenging. We’re still in the throes of rapid growth among advertising technologies that have empowered companies to more efficiently target audiences while reducing reliance on traditional ad agencies. This has created a race among traditional agencies to integrate new tech, and build unique client experiences and tools while reimagining what creativity means. Adding to these existential matters, the intense, external pressures of life, impacting us as workers and consumers, can fuel tremendous stress that interferes with our ability to offer our most thoughtful ideas.
The recent news of Droga5, particularly independent-minded among agencies, and Accenture Interactive, the experiential marketing arm of a $40 billion consultancy, merging has set many in our industry abuzz about whether this initiates the next phase in the advertising evolution. Alex Hesz, chief strategy officer of Adam & Eve/DDB, writes, “Accenture’s $1bn M&A war chest should tell us…that someone has spotted value in our industry that we are not exploiting.” Perhaps, he writes, consultancies appreciate before advertisers that in this industry “We don’t sell ads, we sell impact.”
Speaking to that hidden value, what trends should we as people who care about our jobs focus on honing this year now that we’ve begun the 2nd quarter with a running start? Here we’ll explore the industry’s latest to keep you adaptable, future-oriented and sharp in this oscillating market:
Search ‘empathy + ads’ and a wealth of results will appear for you. Empathy, a word you might feel is overused in advertising, is going to be with us for the long haul, especially as difficulties of today – inequality, exclusivity and xenophobia – are deeply entrenched in our society. The cultural winds of globalization, helped along by our own work with international companies, expose materially distinct cultures to one another. Using empathy to foster understanding and open broader discussions of ethics is an important element of any marketers work for the foreseeable future. To have the desired economic impact sought, corporations must operate with a conscience. Who better to awaken it in them?
2. MACHINE-LEARNING AND AI
Despite the understandable anxieties about machines taking over our jobs, they’re just going to change the nature of our tasks. Returning to AdTech, machines will begin taking over the ad buying process leaving humans more time to focus on delivering well-tailored, strategic campaigns more likely to have relevance to an audience. Speaking of audiences, machines possess the capacity to better assess customer profiles. This will improve data available for us to make informed decisions about how to offer a product or idea of value to the people we’re trying to reach. We don’t want to get too ahead of our skis, though we are optimistic that by automating the data parsing and “bureaucratic” elements of advertising, we’ll have relief to focus on the more exciting aspects (unless you're inclined to data analysis) of our jobs: our imagination.
This new frontier in our work is not without fine print, however.
Audiences get their own category because companies desire to foster communities of long-term, dedicated buyers—linking back to the importance of the kind of aforementioned empathy above. The caveat? The European Union General Data Protection Regulation declares people have a “right to be forgotten” meaning companies are not allowed to collect this data without a person’s consent. The fixes?
4. GENERALIZED, CONTEXTUAL ADVERTISING
Cited by Katherine Hays, CEO of Vivoom Inc., contextual advertising is one way to overcome the new and largely necessary dimensions of data privacy laws like GDPR. “General data about the interests of the visitors to that page” will become a prominent component to how advertisers use audience information to create campaigns. Hays rightly notes that we should probably expect the US Congress to begin policy discussions around data 'anonymization' and regulation. We expect this strategy to catch on as those conversations manifest new laws.
5. SUBSCRIPTION MODELS
Noted back in January, WNIP concluded that advertisers are particularly interested in following peoples’ behaviors across subscription lists. By subscribing to a service, people lawfully provide more of their data to the publisher or owner of that service. This not only creates a steady income for businesses like newspapers, but it also elevates publishers as an important partner to advertisers looking for access to “clean audience data”.
6. ‘INFLUENCER’ MARKETING
If you’re in this side of the market, or you’d like to be, you’re in great stead. Emarketer reported “62% of marketers” when surveyed stated, “they’re growing their influencer marketing budgets.” With the intention of drilling down into data to offer more closely tailored stories, images and other content to individuals, micro-influencers are a particularly appealing bet for companies. While empathy serves as a way for us to connect and redefine our values, there remains a great need among us to be our unique selves. Philosophical arguments about individuality aside, this is an exciting and confounding time for us to understand the multitude of consumer sensibilities and personalities. For now, that’s a science that only we as humans can closely understand.
It feels as though with each day tech evolves faster than we can keep pace: chatbots, virtual reality and visual searches will become enormous aspects of our jobs in the near future. That will change how we interact with our new physical and metaphysical worlds. That tech is still in its early stages, but it might not be a bad idea to become pen pals with some computer science and engineering savants.
These are just a few of the trends we most closely took note of as the dust settled in Q1. Keeping yourself abreast of these developments will only help you as your careers continue to grow. As always, we encourage you to post your thoughts or comment on trends that you feel will be key in the coming seasons!
All the best
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