Adland's Digital Revolution: Fast forward to the future

What will the world of advertising and media look like in the year 2025? Selected industry pioneers tell Michael Burns about the personalised ads, genetic marketing, holo-conferencing, consumer power, and parallel universes of 20 years hence.

October 31, 2025. Taylor Adams wakes up to the sound of his favourite song on the radio. "You know, Virgin has a sale on that last item, Tay," his house tells him. "You still haven't acquired it for your mobile. Do you want me to add the album to this week's download?"

"Oh, OK," Taylor replies as he rouses himself and groggily stumbles into the bathroom.

"I can't help noticing you're running out of razors," the cabinet-TV greets him as he enters the bathroom. "Your usual brand is good, I grant you, but Gillette has a special introductory offer on their latest razor and multipack blades. It's the one that Brooklyn Beckham uses ..."

"Just show me the news," Taylor mutters. "OK!" the cabinet chimes, clicking up the latest hi-res sports reports. "By the way, your train to work is running to schedule. You'll have time to visit Jim's Gym on the way. Remember I told you yesterday about their deal for new members?"

As Taylor enters the kitchen, the holo-ads on the cereal packet are vying for his attention with those on the milk. When the Pop-Tarts join in, it's game over for the milk. "Hey, Mr Adams," the cereal box says, as Taylor crunches his way through breakfast. "Kellog's has a competition to win the new supahova jet pack. You need four tokens to enter. You've already got me and the Pop-Tarts here, so take it from us, you're in with a very good chance."

Checking the mirror on the way out Taylor fixes his tie and rubs the nicks on his butchered chin. "House, get in two more boxes of that cereal and some razors. Those ones that Brooklyn Beckham uses ..."

So is this an adman's dream or a technophobe's nightmare? Whatever the reality, advertising and marketing are set to change. With personal video recorders threatening to put paid to TV ads and more and more entertainment and media being focused on the information-empowered individual, technology may seem a threat to the industry. It can, of course, also be a friend.

In the preceding pages we have seen the digital advantage - the power of an intelligent and automated ad distribution system. It already contains details of the destination for the media - what format is required, the language used, the size, resolution, colour restrictions and so on, with high-speed delivery on top. Imagine, then, if by 2025 this automated system also includes accurate profiling of consumers and has finally led to truly personalised delivery of advertising. A young, single man such as Taylor will be targeted by marketers of male grooming products, for example - not bombarded with ads for stairlifts, a waste of money for the clients and a waste of time for everyone.

In a similar way, the global and digital nature of future marketing will make it easy for such a retail advertising campaign to respond not only to real-time research about the way consumers in each country react to the messages, but could also track the inventory systems to see if the messages are in step with stock or production capacity levels. After all, it's no use telling consumers about a store selling a new jet-pack if all the units have sold out by the time the campaign airs.

Media types will fragment, with new ways of reaching consumers. While this may not result in ad wars on the breakfast table, you can be sure that the proliferation of digital delivery platforms will create a dizzying explosion of ways to get the message in front of the public - wherever they are in the world. Even more than today, advertising copy will have to be created only once to be published internationally. Of course, the only way that such a targeted, real-time and responsive process can work is through intelligent automated systems.

"The nature of the relationship between the brand, the service and the consumer will alter," Richard Carter, the director of strategy for Adstream, says. "It will be far more intimate, and will be based - if done well - on a deeper relationship built on a deeper, more personal insight and offer. The impact of this is that there will be an enormous growth in the number of discrete messages and materials that need to be delivered, mirrored by an explosion in the number and nature of consumer responses. Clearly, such a task can only be managed by systems, and not people."

Personalised advertising won't be able to rely simply on being relevant, however - it will have to adapt to changing circumstances. Carter suggests that media schedule planning and buying tools will need to link into massive amounts of real-time data in order for this to become a reality. This new advertising will also have to engage and entertain in order to combat the external overdose of digital media, but it won't just be the traditional agency that creates it.

"Consumers will be able to create static and video ads, using templates, online themselves," Carter says. "This will offer great opportunities for media owners to up-sell products and services. Business verticals, such as the employment of real-estate industries, will have customised media schedule and ad production tools available to them. They will be able to create a campaign, print a brochure, identify profiles of customers, book a schedule, build in automatic rules as to when the campaign should dial up or down depending on responses and demand, in moments. Adstream has a mantra - the right content, to the right people, at the right time, in the right form. There will a lot more of that."

Carter is sure personal profiling will prompt a change in the centre of gravity of marketing. "It will allow consumers to let marketers in to their lives upon their terms and define what messages they want to receive, where and when," he says. "Every individual will become, in a sense, a media unto themselves."

Don't despair if you're nowhere near retirement. Rather than being redundant, ad executives will have to work harder to satisfy the demand in this new world. However, it will be back to working hard at being creative, rather than working hard at making sure you track the ad to its logistical conclusion. The benefits of technology of 20 years hence can thus be broken down into those that improve the cost line and those that allow advertising and brand professionals to improve at their core task - to sell things and improve revenue. "That's the fun of the business," Carter says. "Such technologies will allow us to be free to focus on this in the future."

We asked several high-flyers in today's media environment what they thought the future would hold for advertising. Some of their ideas were even stranger than the world Taylor inhabits.

BEN PRIEST - CREATIVE DIRECTOR, RAINEY KELLY CAMPBELL ROALFE/Y&R

Is there no limit to what man can achieve with technology?

We've sent basset hounds to the moon, created drum 'n' bass, and then there's our greatest accomplishment of all - a machine that washes, then dries, your plates and cutlery, while you sit on your backside watching US Tour golf on Sky Sports.

But what technical developments will occur in the next 20 years to ease the burden on us creative directors?

When I was a junior copywriter, I often dreamed of having a "Webbo" button.This button would be by your desk and could only be pressed once a year. Its use was to be reserved for those midnight moments when you were totally, utterly, 120 per cent stuck on a brief. When you had run aground without a solution and couldn't get moving again.

It was at this moment, after consultation with your art director, that you could make the decision to use the Webbo button.

Within 30 seconds of pressing it, you would receive John Webster's award-winning solution to the brief, which he had kindly donated to you free of charge.

Sadly, this fantasy never became a reality and, of course, I was made a better writer by having to stay there and do the work myself.

The job of a creative director is a different gig and these days I dream of having a remote control with just one pause button on it. When pressed, the whole agency freezes and time stops.

This would then allow me to sit in peace, reading scripts and having a moment of deep reflection as to how they could help a client's business.

I could pop and see a team I need to talk to. (Naturally, everyone would be frozen except them.) Juniors could be nurtured, seniors encouraged.

I could sit and talk to clients at leisure, even write funny, well-thought-out articles.

Finally, and most importantly, I could press pause when I called home to chat to my wife. Then I could listen to her without having to eat, read e-mails and approve work at the same time.

Fat chance.

JAMES KYDD, BRAND DIRECTOR, VIRGIN MOBILE TELECOMS

The most important bit of technology I possess is my mobile phone.

When I worked in advertising in the 1980s, the easiest way to communicate discreetly in a meeting was by sticking bits of paper on your shoes and lifting your leg in the message recipient's direction. We also used coded language, for example saying, "I feel a bit peckish. I don't suppose anyone has a black Liquorice All-sort?" resulted in the agency suddenly becoming mute. Text messaging has changed all that.

Life really has moved on. Sky+, for example, is usable, controllable and invisible.

It is the most consumer-friendly invention in years and it scares the advertising industry to death.

It should be embraced. The arrogance of that sector of the marketing and advertising population that still believes in forcing messages on to consumers (typified by cold-calling) astounds me.

Engaging consumers is key, as it really always has been, and as it will be ever more so for the next 20 years. The message has got to be that the consumer is your friend and should be treated as such.

This means different things for different brands. TV campaigns, in general, will still have a role but they will need to engage.

Consumers will need to want to watch them, if they are to be successful.

Today's viral films are tomorrow's commercials. TV programmes will be based on the best ones. The old way of making TV commercials will be consigned to the graveyard. TV and advertising production will merge.

It will require lots more speed, it will be much more challenging and success will be easier to achieve and harder to sustain. Everyone will use the internet, all the time. Shopping in shops will be primarily a leisure activity, not a way to get what you need.

The world will be a better place, where the consumer is king. And what will be in their pocket wherever they go? Ah yes! The mobile phone, which will be a combination of keys to the house, wallet, music storage device and player, e-mail controller and means of talking to anyone.

JEAN-PAUL EDWARDS, HEAD OF MEDIA FUTURES, MANNING GOTTLIEB OMD

Media futures is about what's next, so by 2025, the Holo TV and the 4G phone won't be that impressive. The internet will have disappeared into our TVs, phones and even ourselves. The technologies of the turn of the millennium will have matured and become part of the mainstream.

Futures departments in 2025 will be worrying about technologies and metrics to come: the nano scale, the quantum world and the genome.

Targeting techniques will have moved from the old-hat socio-demographic, through the psychographic and behavioural techniques, ultimately to leave consumers out of the loop completely.

The household robot - the new audience of the day - will make all the purchasing decisions. It will be the consumers' cars we target to drive into our hotels, not the consumer - why bother the driver with such mundane decisions when you can implant the concept straight into the hard drive?

Quantum computing will create unimaginable computing power, literally creating parallel alternative universes. We will not buy a PlayStation 7, it will acquire us. Advertisers who can't convince the consumer in the real world to buy products, can try any number of times to target the parallel alternative versions. Life and marketing will have become one big video game.

Direct marketing will have moved from rational engagement with the conscious mind, through the techniques of the subliminal world, to direct interaction with the target audience's genetic make-up. A response may involve becoming genetically disposed to downloading ringtones every week for the rest of your life.

Imagine being able to clone an audience who are born especially to buy your products. The technologies that are important to us today (2005) were here 20 years ago. There was an internet in 1985 (even broadband), and mobile phones and satellite TV both existed. These were on the edge then and by 2025, what seems like science fiction to us now will be commonplace in our everyday lives.

ANDY BARNES, SALES DIRECTOR, CHANNEL 4

I oversee the negotiation and booking of advertising and sponsorship airtime for our TV and new-media channels. In order to measure and, therefore, make the most of our inventory, we invest heavily in systems to ensure efficient booking of campaigns and accurate measurement of both our supply and deals. We can only maximise revenue if we understand our supply and our markets.

As more and more channels are launched, there is a vast increase in the volume of data. This requires us to ensure that information can be provided in a timely and understandable format. As broadband, mobile and interactivity increase in importance, we are dealing with a wealth of data from many different sources.

It is inevitable that in the future, cross-platform deals will become the norm, so our next task is to try to combine all booking systems to make the reports comparable. We have already started this process by adding sponsorship and promotion booking and measurement to our sales system in the first quarter of 2006. Interactive TV advertising and teleshopping will follow, but the real challenge will be to enhance our systems to handle the potential offered by broadband.

The introduction of digital terrestrial television has had a major effect on Channel 4. We all know that most people will access DTT within the next few years and we are planning to exploit the platform as far as we are able. E4 (as well as E4+1) is already free to air and More4 launched this month. This increase in broadband capacity is very exciting, as we are very keen to provide video content.

In terms of the day-to-day running of the job, we are part of an industry-wide group formed to oversee the automation of campaign approval and copy instructions. This development has the obvious purpose of reducing administration time and mistakes. We already take electronic delivery of more than 90 per cent of our commercials and I am sure that this figure will rise to 100 per cent pretty soon, certainly by 2025.

STEVE HOWELL, DIRECTOR, MADISON BELL MEDIA

Technology is key to Madison Bell Media's task of repurposing digital files to the format our publishing clients require.

All our work is ingested and delivered to the publishers completely digitally.

Due to advances in technology, we now operate to previously impossible deadlines. Now, finished artwork can be delivered to a publication within seconds, on a truly global scale.

The day-to-day operations are becoming easier but, at the same time, the need for speed, accuracy and a vast knowledge of numerous applications is ever more important. This is the key factor to an efficient pre-press organisation. There is no reason for advances in the copy-to-print process to decelerate by 2025.

The key paradigm shift of the industry concerns the move away from the use of paper as a print medium. If you could download your daily newspaper or your favourite magazine to a transparent, handheld viewing device, the use of paper would be redundant. Publishers could upload the publications you have requested while you sleep, ready to be picked up after breakfast.

With automated systems the benefits are, and will continue to be, enormous.

No more hard-proofing, and with the introduction of universally adaptive JDF (job definition files) documents, there will be no need for paper-based administration, allowing more time to be spent in other crucial areas of the business, as well as preserving the rainforests around the world!

The only foreseeable problem is the removal of the human element from the equation. If we depend on everything being automated, we will eliminate the most sophisticated computer system known to man, the human brain.

To date, we have not witnessed infallible hardware or software. The final arbiter has always been the decision-making/reasoning ability of the system operator rather than the system itself.

My future role then will be focused around the ability to develop, adapt and inform the process, and control the advances in technology, in order to achieve an infallible system, leading to greater profitability and efficiency for all concerned ... and to continue to make the tea!

JAMES WILDMAN, EXECUTIVE SALES DIRECTOR, IDS

I sell television airtime and I like to be available for customers whenever they need me, so I rely massively on technology. E-mail and the internet have transformed things. Ever-faster PCs with broadband allow us to watch TV now. I'm afraid my BlackBerry goes everywhere - my wife thinks there are three people in this relationship. It's amazing to think of what has happened in the past ten years and it's hard to imagine what it will look like for my children, because we didn't imagine the half of this! How they'll laugh at the thought of us weighed down by mobiles the size of a pack of ten ...

The switch to digital in broadcasting is already a huge development and ever-greater technological functionality (smart personal video recorders, video-on-demand, etc) will mean even greater creativity in selling. TV and the internet will merge and will be sold together. Faster machines will lead to more sophisticated analysis of viewing patterns, targeting, behaviours.

More effective targeting/personalisation will be possible and engagement measurement and effect will be a key metric.

We'll be able to do an even better job of selling the more sophisticated benefits of a medium that will deliver on every marketing objective. However, there could be a bit of consumer confusion as there will be so much choice; we think we've got lots now.

I hope that by 2025 I will have retired and life will be glorious. Those lucky people who will take things on will get in to work (if and when they need to be physically in the office) quickly by jet-pack and will be meeting using instant hologram video conferencing, so hangovers will be on full view ...

We'll be masters of technology - you'll walk into the office, clap your hands and the lights/PCs will come on, you'll walk in the kitchen and the coffee machine will automatically brew your coffee. There will be a chip in your ear, which will be your personal butler who will run your life. We'll have personal video cameras on our laps so when we get back from meetings, we'll be able to play them back to our resident psychologist to help us understand body language better.

Sadly, the technology I need to improve my golf swing won't have been developed.

JIM MARSHALL, CHAIRMAN, STARCOM UK

In order to predict how future media agencies will be structured, it is necessary to understand current media developments and, I would argue, have an eye on history.

First, current developments. Ofcom's recent Communications Market Review stated: "Ofcom was founded on the idea of convergence of electronic communications." That convergence is now happening and the pace of change is accelerating.

This means the consumer will be able to watch, listen to or read programmes, articles etc through a raft of delivery systems (TVs, computers, mobiles, clever hand-held devices etc). This will make the consumer the media editor, giving them infinite choice and control. A potentially frightening prospect for advertisers and agencies.

However, history (both recent and longer-term) provides some reassurance.

A number of rules can be applied:

(1) No medium ever dies, so along with the internet we will continue to have flourishing newspapers.

(2) Despite the level of choice, people still have a fairly limited and predictable repertoire of chosen media channels.

(3) Consumers don't care about technology, they are only interested in content.

I would, therefore, argue that the future for media agencies will be about understanding audiences - what their media preferences are, when and how they are accessing those media, and to what degree they are engaged with and influenced by those media. And of course, the role of advertising within their chosen repertoire, and its influence on them.

But what of the transactional role - the negotiation and buying? There is no doubt that there will be further consolidation and size will be increasingly important on both sides. But will the process be entirely commoditised and separated from the main media agency? Will it operate out of large shed-type locations, in places like Croydon and Tamworth?

(of course, there's nothing wrong with either Croydon or Tamworth, they're both great places to come from).

I don't think this will happen, because the transactional process will need to be integrated within an overall approach to understanding audiences.

And also because we will be transacting all sorts of new communications deals, almost certainly cross-platform and often involving interactivity and merchandising support. This hardly lends itself to a commoditised approach.

So the future looks challenging, but potentially hugely interesting and rewarding, if media agencies invest in understanding the behaviour of their target audiences.

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