The Future Of Advertising Will Be...

“What will advertising look like in 2020?”

That was the question posed to me by Jerry Wind, professor of marketing at The Wharton School, and head of Wharton’s Future of Advertising, an academic and industry group formed to understand and improve the future of that industry. I’m on the program’s advisory board, and this advertising 2020 question is the focus of a compilation of essays from more than 100 industry thought leaders.

Here’s an abbreviated version of my response:

11 Big Trends That Will Reshape Advertising In 2020 And Beyond

1. Digital breadcrumbs will become the new research. Traditional market research — particularly representative sampling and self-reported survey techniques — will never go away. However, those methods will eventually become subservient to the gathering and interpretation of large universal data sets that don’t represent populations, but are actual populations. Some call this trend “big data” — as intelligence derived from digital breadcrumbs usually means working with very large data sets. If the wonk word “big data” goes away by 2020, all the better.

2. Social, CRM and advertising will collide. Facebook is demonstrating that it’s possible to integrate techniques of one-to-one CRM marketing with mass-media planning techniques like reach and frequency. And when you add social endorsement to the mix, you begin to achieve something unprecedented. In the future smart marketers will adopt a social-CRM-advertising model that embraces multiple social networks to create a master customer communications grid. In many cases, the social CRM database will become primary, while legacy internal databases become secondary.

3. “Digital marketing” will cease to exist. We’re all doing less “digital marketing.” Instead, we’re simply doing marketing in a digital world. This nuance will dictate your organization’s culture and marketing roadmap for the future.

4. Social-media marketing will cease to exist. Like digital marketing, we’ll soon all be doing less “social-media marketing.” Marketing and media are inherently social — to one degree or another. Social is simply an aspect of all the marketing we do. Social transcends everything.

5. Consolidation in ad tech will grow the ad-tech pie. We’re due for a large wave of consolidation among venture-backed ad-tech companies. That will be a good thing, because that sector is experiencing a tragedy of the commons: lots of noise, too many companies, not enough traction. Fewer companies will mean fewer choices and simpler decision-making for marketers, which will mean lower friction to spend more money in innovative ways on new platforms. Ad-tech consolidation will have the ironic outcome of creating a larger sector altogether.

6. That which can be commoditized will. One of the key lessons I’ve learned in building companies is that anything that could possibly become commoditized, will be commoditized. When a new technology or platform arrives, it’s easy to get carried away with its unique value and promise. Increasingly, fast followers will match you at alarming speed and one-up you. Success is determined not by who is first, but by those who arrive on time to execute and out-commoditize the rest. These become the advertising technologies and platforms that win.

7. Successful advertising will still be about service. The idea of “advertising as service” is nothing new. With unprecedented advertising clutter, there will be a growing premium on, and receptiveness to, marketers and messages that serve and deliver value.

8. Trusted intermediaries will rise to prominence. Until our intensive consumerism retreats, we can bet that a dizzying array of choice and noise will continue to rise. It’s a tax on our attention. Of course, this is why marketers argue for investing in their brands’ equity in the first place. However, to fight attention deficit and fatigue, consumers will increasingly look to trusted intermediaries to make better and faster choices.

9. Legal & privacy issues, as we debate them today, will go away. The speed and adoption of technological advancements prompts an interesting sequence of societal events: First, a life-changing technology arrives. Then, mass adoption comes over the next few years. Social norms gradually mutate. Laws trail new social norms by another few years. This creates a messy transition. We can be sure of one thing: Social norms and our notions of privacy are changing, and laws will eventually evolve to reflect them.

10. Trust will be everything. Social media and our real-time connections have prompted a new age of transparency and consciousness around values, motivations, behaviors and outcomes of institutions. Doing good marketing and advertising means embracing responsibility and accountability throughout your organization’s entire value chain.

11. We will contemplate more purpose & less strategy. What else matters if there’s not a decent world for our children? That’s why we could use less strategy and more purpose. If advertisers approached their business this way, our advertising industry — and our world — would become a far better place.

These big trends will most certainly reshape advertising.

However, one thing won’t change: our competitive spirit and mandate to win.

Check out the full version of this essay and other entries at the Wharton Future of Advertising Program’s Advertising 2020 Portal.



6 comments about "The Future Of Advertising Will Be...".
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  1. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, February 26, 2013 at 12:44 p.m.

    Excellent column. I agree with almost all of these points (love number 11). But, if you're in this business and you wait until 2020 for these, you'll be out of this business. You'd better be deep in this before 2015 I would predict (check back with me then to see if I'm right).

  2. Walter Sabo from SABO media, February 26, 2013 at 12:46 p.m.

    This is an outstanding article. It is logical and constructive. Thank you. All of these trends are moving toward reality this second and the evidence of their efficacy is abundant.

    The essential fact often eluded in meetings at ad agencies is that the goal is to SELL STUFF. Hopefully the future of advertising will be to SELL STUFF. Because if advertising drives the engine of our economy, the engine stalled in 2008 when ad agencies failed to fully recognize what customers love: The digital entertainment stage.

  3. Grant Bergman from •, February 26, 2013 at 1:41 p.m.

    MANY excellent points in this article, as well as a lot to be optimistic about. Right now we're in an era of "this changes everything" and "the old rules of marketing no longer apply." This is true in some ways, just as TV changed advertising radically. But to a greater extent we're just fascinated with all the new tools and mistaking them for a sea change in marketing. I look forward to the day we drop "digital" from "digital marketing" and acknowledge that marketing as a strategic discipline encompasses it all.

    Points 9 and 10, I have my doubts about. There will always be a range of businesses with a range of business practices: I expect an identifiable proportion will continue to challenge individual privacy and other legal concerns (point 9) and will not be worthy of organizational trust (point 10). But I appreciate the hope that there will be significant progress along both lines.

  4. Cece Forrester from tbd, February 26, 2013 at 5:19 p.m.

    When you say "Social norms and our notions of privacy are changing, and laws will eventually evolve to reflect them" do you mean that a) people will no longer have an interest in protecting their privacy, will implicitly make themselves available and give up any information they're told by anyone with an electronic face, so the laws will cease to support anyone who still wants to draw a line? Or do you mean the opposite, that b) the idea of privacy will take on new meaning in the face of the proliferation of ways to invade it and the publicity of unfortunate consequences, therefore the idea becomes more real and desirable to people and the laws will respond to that demand? Your idea of "trusted intermediaries" seems to allow for the possibility that people want to be able to set up intelligent and customized filters so that they can insulate themselves from unwanted and excessive contact while allowing wanted interactions to get through.

  5. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, February 26, 2013 at 8:23 p.m.

    Why doesn't there really seem to be much "new" here? Some clever re-naming of things we've always done (if you were smart) in advertising... Some old comments that haven't changes... some new fads (e.g. research) that merely haven't played themselves dry yet... and a bunch of renaming new media.

  6. Pete Austin from Fresh Relevance, February 27, 2013 at 10:07 a.m.

    Very brave. For example take point 4: marketing is the aspect of selling that scales, but social doesn't scale, so why would it would win out? My bets are on sponsorship, product placement and advertorial.

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