There continues to be a mismatch between the future promise of digital display advertising and the current reality. It may be the fastest-growing ad channel, aided by the most advanced technology and data and the best targeting we’ve ever seen. But can you remember a single digital ad in the last month?
The reason is we’ve forgotten the message -- focused only on the delivery. No other channel places such focus on the science of how, who and when the ad is served, and so little on the art of what the ad should do.
It’s not that the delivery isn’t vital; it’s incredible that we can target people by location, demographic and time of day. It’s of huge value that we can retarget, based on social connections and recent search history -- but that’s not everything.
For too long, digital advertising has been dominated by engineering, it’s a world driven by data, logic, efficiencies, automation, cleverness. But it’s not working. Take the retargeted ads that stalk you online for jeans you’ve just bought, served at the moment in your life when you are least likely to buy that item. Take the cleverly served ads about France, intelligent enough to know I am in other country, not so smart as to know I don’t speak French.
And yet the future seems even more technology-centric, a world of the automated, led shortly by programmatic buying but soon to include automatically produced creative. If this trend line continues, we could have an entire channel of advertising made with no human involvement, other that writing the algorithms and setting the inputs and outputs into computers. I think we need the opposite.
We need to build on it with the art of making connections. On this platform of science, we need to add the art of empathy, to understand the context of consumption, how to relate and seduce people at the right moment in time. We also need to be more creative.
It’s remarkable how similar the digital ads of 2014 look to the ads in newspapers of the 1700s. It’s astonishing to me that pre-rolls are still identical to TV ads. The legacy of the past closed our minds to the incredible potential of what digital advertising can do.
I see a bifurcated future, a world where 90% of the cheapest digital advertising inventory becomes automated, a long-tail approach where nothing is valuable enough to make human involvement worthwhile and ads are tactical and transactional.
But for the prime digital spots, I see the opposite, a chance for science and art to come together to exploit the real potential for the best medium the world has ever seen.
The future of digital advertising is bright, and it will look quite different from today.