It’s that time of year again, when people like me hold forth on where we’ve been as an industry this past year, and where we’re headed. When you think about it, of course, it’s a little silly to assume that come Jan. 1, the focus of a whole industry suddenly shifts at midnight when the ball drops. In my mind, the key themes and issues for digital advertising in 2012 look a lot like the ones we grappled with in 2011. The same things that excited us about digital in 2011 will see us into the new year. But, technology evolves at a breakneck pace these days, and with every new capability comes a new opportunity to engage.
After all, delivering good advertising (and by “good,” I mean relevant) is really about harnessing a moment. It’s about harnessing the user’s intent at the very instant he’s looking for information, looking to find an answer, or looking to solve a problem. We’re all at our most receptive to advertising when it’s consistent with what’s on our mind at a given time. And technology allows us to understand what’s on the user’s mind and match it with a relevant message from an advertiser. Making that connection – on every platform and in every context – will continue to drive the direction of digital advertising in the coming year.
There are other macro-level dynamics at work here, too.
SOCIAL ON THE RISE: Audiences are changing, for good: The so-called “digital natives” are growing up fast, and we need to change our approach to engaging them. This generation’s social-media adoption is broad and deep. Digital natives turn to friends and family as a primary source of authority, and call for transparency after witnessing a great deal of corporate and institutional incompetence and corruption (think Enron, Tyco, etc.). Digital-native consumers will expect that what is of most value to them will come to them, from friends or networks, rather than from sources they search out. As a result of this shift, social-media ad revenues have skyrocketed, and are predicted to reach $8 billion next year. But if brands want to make that money really work for them, they can’t just throw any old social-media strategy to the wall and see what sticks. They need new ad formats that push those Facebook pages and Twitter feeds to consumers in a relevant context, as opposed to pulling them away to social sites. In the right context, social can work with content to add significant value for the consumer, rather than eliciting useless “Likes” that advertisers struggle to monetize.
VIDEO IS ROLLING: As they say, when you’re looking for answers, you should always “follow the money,” and that definitely holds true in advertising. If your first stop on the money trail is social, then video is close behind. Video – beyond pre-roll and in-stream – is dynamically innovating our space. In 2011, we have seen online video emerge as the fastest-growing digital ad format. In 2012, we will see online video that is more creative, engaging, and useful. Advertisers are no longer simply taking what works on TV and placing it online. We are seeing a revolution in video, with more creative content coming directly from users, which helps brands develop a more meaningful engagement with consumers. At Vibrant, our approach is bringing sight, sound and motion together to deliver an immersive, user-initiated experience that is delivering compelling results for advertisers.
SMARTER ANALYTICS: Behind the scenes, as ads grow more dynamic and multifunctional every day, marketers who need to demonstrate ROI continue the search for better metrics. After all, the best campaigns are interactive, offering users utility and entertainment via search boxes, news tickers, and gaming portals. So advertisers are looking more closely at user behavior with pre- and post-click data that gives them more mileage from their campaigns. Finally, we’re seeing a burst of new technologies that can more clearly measure reader engagement and retention, and I think there will be a continued interest in gathering and analyzing data that can go beyond CTRs and counting clicks. With these results available, we will see that all content is not created equal, and that despite the recent increase of volume of content, results will come from placements in better quality environments.
Social, video, and measurement: That’s what I think 2012 will be about. These elements played an important role in what we’ve done in 2011 and drive the direction of the innovation and creative possibilities digital advertising is capable of achieving in the coming year. And we’ll be using technology to connect with consumers in better, more relevant, more sophisticated ways that serve both advertisers and consumers.