It will take a tiny screen to finally wake the industry up to what the digital medium really means – a bright future of the new, and not the mindless misappropriation of advertising platforms of the past.
It's amazing how many opportunities we've missed mindlessly layering old techniques onto new media. We've got excited about better ad targeting, improved measurement, or the opportunity to do real-time marketing, but the vast majority of digital advertising innovation today still comes from the placement of ads and not the message. What an incredible waste.
In fact, the entire ecosystem of contemporary advertising is an absurdly unimaginative recycling of what we knew how to make, buy, measure and sell before. We’ve been stuck in a cycle of technological determinism, framing future possibilities based on previous technologies, and adapting models and structures of the past, to fit the form of the present
When the worldwide web presented us with space to convey brand messages, we did what we knew best: we mindlessly copied newspapers ads, digitised them and in a moment of genius, made them clickable.
When websites allowed page takeovers, we filled those pages with what we knew best (direct marketing) but we made it clickable.
The first brand websites became online brochures, but digitised and made clickable.
When bandwidth made branded videos possible, we just put on TV commercials.
Despite having access to over $10 billion of R&D budgets from new media owners like Facebook, Yahoo, and Twitter, we still see print ads in digital editions of magazines, we see flyers used as ads on Instagram, TV ads in Facebook feeds, and mobile ads that are essentially just tiny, electronic versions of newspaper ads from the 1750s.
The only thing we’ve invented is new terminology. We now have advertorials online, but we call them native ads, we have advertiser-funded TV, but we call it content marketing. We have had tactical print ads, but we now call it real-time marketing. Every single tool in advertisers’ arsenal today has been available since the 1960s.
The digital world is a world of incredible abundance – it’s got the biggest creative canvas, the most incredible technology, huge optimism and boundless funding.
It’s the best thing that could ever happen to advertising, and yet we all started lazily with what we knew best. Things will soon change. For the first time ever we will start to do what we do best, to think originally and to solve problems with creativity.
We’ve now reached a stage in which new technologies are forcing a paradigm shift, and it starts with the iWatch. When the digital medium becomes an extension of our senses, our minds, and our bodies, as [Canadian philosopher Marshall] McLuhan predicted, we have to consider not what we have, but what is possible.
When we’re faced with a new platform, with a set of unique characteristics, we have to rethink our approach to advertising: from pushing messages out to consumers based on past models of communication, to finding ways to add value and service, based on behaviour, needs and habits, and enhance their lives.
The future of modern marketing lies in starting afresh and seeing past pre-determined ideas about media platforms or advertising. For brands, the future is not in catchphrases like "real-time" or "data". It’s about asking questions and exploring new territories:
- How do you work with route guidance apps or GPS?
- How do you link with data from social networks, based on proximity?
- How should you use audio signals, NFC capabilities, or health inputs?
- How are you leveraging real-time data like current, the news or the stock market?
- How are you incorporating mobile coupons, or integrating with our calendars?
- What becomes of the rise of the invisible app, how can your brand run as an assistive, typically invisible layer?
Maybe it’s about providing the information that you are located near a train station when the traffic is bad.
Maybe it’s the flash sale in the store you are passing, the beer voucher as your friend is close by, the suggested happy soundtrack to your can of Coke, the Gatorade after your gym session.
SmartWatches may or may not be here soon, and they may or may not work, but regardless, as a concept, they stand for what advertising becomes when the true power of technology, new media opportunities and creative thinking come together.
The future of digital advertising won’t look like advertising.