“So what does this mean for advertising creativity?“
I had been presenting the “MAdTech” mash-up — the intersection of media, advertising and technology — to a group of marketing execs at a Fortune 50 company when the most senior among them threw down the gauntlet.
“So what?” she asked.
“We understand that the environment is changing inextricably, but what do we do now to prepare for this new reality?”
I had become so accustomed to describing the changes in content consumption and its implications for marketers, media companies, and tech-enabled content platforms that I was taken aback.
The nods among her team made it abundantly clear that “what now?” was more than a theoretical question, and one that needed to be addressed ASAP.
Thus, herewith are five practical predictions on the future of digital advertising creativity and real-world recommendations on what to do now to prepare.
1. It’s about time
In the future, we will add another dimension to our creative executions — that of time.
For the most part today, time is a fixed component of advertising. If it is TV or radio, we have a specified commercial length and assume we have that full amount of time to communicate our message. We also assume that the audience will give our print ad its full attention for some period of time.
In the future, the vast majority of ads will be placed in non-fixed environments where the consumer often controls the pace of their content consumption experience. In this setting, marketers will need to understand how much time is optimal for each ad.
Variable time options have been made available by new technology, measuring not only whether an ad is viewable, but for how long.
Today, some media properties sell ads not on space, but on time. They charge based on accumulated time. Others charge after a certain threshold is met.
Even if the amount of time is not specified, agencies can optimize media buys for a certain period.
This is important as there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that in-view time has a strong correlation with brand effectiveness: Goldstein, McAfee and Suri make a case for this in their research, stating “… for exposure times of up to one minute, there is a strong, causal influence of exposure time on ad recognition and recall, with the marginal effects diminishing at durations beyond this level.”
Digital attention analytics firm Chartbeat reported similar results, observing that when visitors “read more … they’re more apt to recall the brand that advertises next to that content.”
In addition, research shows that different ads may achieve their desired impact at different lengths of exposure.
As communications professionals, we will be called upon to not only understand if our creative works, but also how long it takes to achieve the desired effect. In-view metrics are widely available today so each of us can begin to understand the impact of time on our advertising.
2. It’s dynamic
Today, ads are most often fixed, unchanging assets. This is even true of most digital ads which are bundled collections of elements rendered in a unique manner.
In the future, ads will be dynamic in two ways.
The first is in size. Ads will change size to match the device they are viewed on. This is called responsive design and is in use today to a certain extent, but it will become commonplace in the future. All ads will take one form on a phone, another on a tablet, a third on a computer and so on.
This will be initially true with display advertising, but video is not far behind.
The second way is even more exciting: Ads will have dynamic content that changes based on who they are served to, where and when. This is called personalized or programmatic creative.
Here is how it works. Ads will be created using a series of components — a headline, an image, a logo, a call to action, a background color, for example, and agencies will create multiple versions of each. When the ad is served to an app or web page, the ad server will collect information on the viewer such as their online behavior, location, time and so on — and assemble the series of assets most likely to elicit the desired response.
You can see this in a simple form today with online ads for local car dealers that include an offer specific to a geography, or for allergy medications that include the time and weather.
In the future, agencies will be able to create ads that have thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of variations. A car brand will be able to create a single ad that, for example, has the ability to feature all of the variants in a particular line as well as change the main message (for example, safety, performance, technology) to fit the profile of the viewer.
As marketers, we will be called upon to not only create effective overarching campaign idea “shells,” but also to be skilled in running data-driven message optimization engines to fill the guts of ads.
3. It’s in the moment
Advertising in the future will look much more like a dialogue than a monologue, and there will be an increasing need to create campaigns in real or near-real time.
In a world where the brand no longer controls the entirety of the communications chain, the consumers’ voice will play a larger role.
Marketers will need to listen to what they are saying and to participate in a conversation — more akin to being a good guest at a dinner party — through listening and joining in broader conversations rather than pontificating from the table head.
Just like at a party, there are individuals whose opinions matter more than others — who are influencers. Communications will seek to influence those people to include brands in the stories they tell.
In this environment, brands will need to employ teams of ambassadors trained in a brand’s voice and ethos and armed with talking points and mini brand stories to share, not just ad agencies that create one-way campaigns. Even if you are in the latter camp, defining your brand voice, ethos and talking points today is a good exercise.
4. It’s all about people
What has not changed in the MAdTech world is the fundamental truth that it’s all about people and how they make choices.
Every day, people decide which products to use, which content to consume and which platforms to use as gateways to access content, to connect, to create and to investigate purchases and shop.
Brands that grow are chosen by more people, more easily and more often. And with increasing brand choices, it is more important than ever before to understand how the decision process works in people’s minds and how we can influence those choices.
The crossroads of human behavior and the consumer decision journey expertise reside within the dynamic duo of Marketing and Insights departments.
As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, for many years now, people in the digital world collectively drank the Kool-Aid regarding the potential of big data, technology and math to answer the industry’s most difficult questions. The response to each has been a similar chorus: “The data will tell us,” “Let the machines decide,” or “The algorithm will optimize for the answer.”
It is not all about data, or math, or technology — yet purveyors of those skill sets are incredibly prejudiced — absolutists really.
Marketing and Insights professionals should be, too. You should be zealots, focusing obsessively on keeping up with the customer. Be their voice and speak loudly and persistently in your company. Be skeptical, dismissive even, of data sources that do not truly reflect the consumer.
It has been said that data scientists will be the new insight experts — that’s rubbish. The new insights experts will be the ones who understand people best — and that is still Marketing and their Insights partners.
5. It’s about the big idea
While perpetually important, having a powerful big idea is more critical than ever in a world where the brand controls only a portion of the communications supply chain.
In the old days of analog media, the brand and its agency controlled not only creating the campaign idea, but also all its manifestations, and often, even delivery to the end consumer.
Today, a brand controls the big idea and a few core executions — usually video — and these then become the catalyst for others to create their interpretations. In this environment, the big idea has to be iron-strong, or the messages that come out down the line will be way off strategy.
I have written previously about the architecture of successful big ideas. These have always been the bedrock of communications achievement and will only continue to grow in importance in the future.
The consumer is living in your future
We have a clear roadmap to the future of digital advertising creativity: The consumer already lives there.
Consumers spend just enough time on content to get what they need, create seemingly infinite variations of dynamic messages fit-for-purpose, maintain multiple in-the-moment dialogues and create, assess and share ideas that resonate with them.
The future may be difficult, but it is not uncertain.
What is sure is that whoever catches up with the consumer first will reap outsized rewards.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.