Six Signs We're In The Postdigital Age Of Advertising

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, February 26, 2015
Postmodernism in architecture was a movement made possible by a generation of designers who had grown up with modern architecture — and who playfully, confidently and knowingly designed for a world that had moved past modernism.

They felt free, empowered and looked back on modern architecture with scorn: How could people have been so limited, so unimaginative and so constricted to act that way?

One day, advertising will enter a similar era. The “postdigital age” will herald a time when the concept and word "digital" will move into the background, where agencies and titles remove that moniker, where conversations switch from the pipes to the content. 

We no longer talk about computerization or electrification — it’s just how the world is. When a technology is really here, it blends into the background. For me this is the context of the postdigital age. We’re not there yet; we may be five years away. Here are five signs that we may have made it.



Video, Not TV

The differences between video ads and TV ads are remarkable: how they are bought, distributed, measured, who makes them, who approves them, are all of vital importance. We have endless industry debates about TV dying and digital taking over the world. But for the 10-year-olds today, it’s a separation that makes no sense and means nothing. If an ad involves moving images, if it’s a video, get over it. When the world notices that video ads can be sequentially served, have new calls to action, be personalized, or be bought programmatically, things get really interesting.

Retail, Not Ecommerce

For retailers, different channels have very different meanings and implications — but for consumers, it's just buying the stuff they want, when they want. Forget omnichannel — total retail is how journeys and considerations work between "online and offline," with no concept of such lines existing. One day, retailers will use shops more like showrooms, and the Internet as a fulfillment mechanism for most purchases. The notion of ecommerce, mcommerce or brick-and-mortar will seem farfetched.

User-Centric, Not Channel-Centric

Media buyers and planners have become exceptionally proficient at buying against demographics and people, but we still use content as a proxy to reach people who typically watch that content. As an industry, we are aligned around channels and agency types, and we ignore the one thing that matters: people. One day, all ads will be targeted not by show, but at an individual user level. It won’t be buying 25-34, urban — it will be targeting people who have bought an LED TV recently, who own an iPhone and are watching something that is making them happy.

New Ads

Every form of advertising ever made is based on ad units created over 50 years ago. For all the love of SnapChat ads, Spotify ads, Facebook units, it’s all just old units repurposed for the modern age. Ninety-nine percent of ad innovation is in targeting, not the ad itself. One day, someone will wake up and notice that TV ads don’t need to be 30 seconds long, that calls to action need not be "click here" to find out more — that here are masses of new kinds of advertising units. What does advertising look like on the App Store for the TV? What should an in-car promotion feel like? How can intimate data from our smartwatch create a new ad experience?

No More Social

The notion of social networks as a medium will face the notion of movement marketing and organic reach. Brands will shift from buying units or promoting silly competitions in public forums. Instead, they will get people talking by doing amazing things, making amazing products, getting people very happy and standing for something. Brands have the power to make us talk — but first, give us a reason to do so.

Four-Screen Media

In this era, the Internet is a pervasive connective layer in the background. The TV stops being the thing you watch TV shows and TV channels on, and it becomes the large screen that entertains you. The mobile becomes the screen you take everywhere. The wearable becomes the device that records data, makes payments and shows tiny snippets of key contextual data. Then there is the car screen. We need to stop thinking about mobile ads, TV ads, in-car radio and instead consider these new contexts, constraints and behaviors. These are the new media channels, but they are all just digital.

I can’t wait for the post-digital age: a chance to move the debate on from how, to what — a chance to banish misleading words like social and mobile; a chance to reinvent the future of advertising.

6 comments about "Six Signs We're In The Postdigital Age Of Advertising".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, February 26, 2015 at 9:05 a.m.

    Tom, I agree with much of what you say, however, I think that you are being rather kind when you say that we have become "exceptionally good" at buying against demographics and people. Frankly, the way TV time is bought, based on nonsensical "demos" like adults 18-49, is a far cry from astute targeting. Indeed, it borders on the ridiculous. I would also point out that if a branding advertiser was able to find a database that allowed him to single out only those viewers who bought his product or, in a more granular mode, his brand, this would pose a major problem for an advertiser trying to motivate people who a) don't now use the product category or b) those who do not now by his brand, as both groups would be ignored in the ad campaign's media targeting. My point is that many TV campaigns are not only targeting current users---however defined---but, more broadly, those who might be induced to become users. Anyway, I like your article and hope that most of what you long for comes to pass.

  2. Terry Heaton from Reinvent21, February 26, 2015 at 12:14 p.m.

    Truly an outstanding piece, Tom. Here's my view of changes in Western Culture over time. Each carries its own mantra. "New" doesn't supplant the old; it only modifies it:

    Premodernism: "I believe, therefore I understand."
    Modernism: "I think and reason, therefore I understand."
    Postmodernism: "I participate/experience, therefore I understand."

  3. David Mountain from Marketing and Advertising Direction, February 26, 2015 at 1:30 p.m.

    Anyone using Click Here on their CTA isn't thinking hard enough about their work. Learn More, Shop, Browse, More Info, or just a (>) button does more for the user and brand.

  4. Stephen Rappaport from SDR Consulting LLC, February 26, 2015 at 6:20 p.m.

    Ed makes an especially important point about buying against people and demos. Part of the post-digital age is recognizing that people who may look alike - as in the example of the LED tv-owning / iPhone using / happy TV watcher -- may not, and probably do not, all think alike, be interested in the same things, or value things in similar ways. Grouping people by the ideas they share will become more important for all brands. For the most part, the ideas a person holds towards a brand are far more personally motivating than the ways brands describe people.

    The notion that brands will "get people talking" by doing amazing things seems to be a minor variation on the one-way advertising idea that still dominates the industry's thinking. What if we thought about people doing amazing things in ways that are inspired by brands, but not necessarily caused by them?

    Regarding the ad itself, you are absolutely right. Over the last few years I started asking people, "We're 15 years into the digital world, why doesn't advertising look different? We haven't yet "tamed the wild horses of new media," in McLuhan's decade's old phrase, we keep riding the old trail horses, the ones that know how to get safely back to the barn. I hope that your post here encourages our colleagues to stop filling up time and space, and create a new, more humanistic way of communicating instead.

    And, you're right, it's all digital. The silos we've created map to the limitations of our thinking.

  5. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, February 26, 2015 at 7:23 p.m.

    Post Modernism: Cold, calculating, empty, void of emotion, lazy art compared to classical, lonely, fearful, detached, distant, snowstorm in a chalk factory. Does it sound like technology ? Discuss.

  6. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, March 1, 2015 at 3:57 p.m.

    So I can expect, soon, to completely avoid shrill campaigns of a guy in a bow tie screaming, ad nauseam, get your billions back America? That's what advertising means to me this afternoon in tax season. An uninvited guest in my home making me wish advertising did not exist.

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