This is the second post in a series based upon our submission to Wharton’s Advertising 2020 initiative. The first, introductory post in the series was published yesterday, here. The structure we’re loosely following: 8 years, 8 potential future opportunities, 8 things to do now.

Subsequent instalments to follow over the next day or so.


#2 Everything is Connected: The Rise of the Networked Brand

“The dynamic of our society, and our new economy, will increasingly obey the logic of networks..We are connecting everything to everything.”
~ Kevin Kelly, New Rules for the New Economy

A little context as we imagine it: by 2020 the media environment will be fueled by speed-of-light broadband and unparalleled connection. The Internet of Things already exceeds in size our planet’s human population and will number 50 billion by 2020, as Cisco has it: devices, buildings, clothing, even people – all machine-readable, perpetually transmitting and receiving data, universally authenticated. Very few people will care about distinctions like ‘online’ versus ‘offline’; we won’t fetishise IRL. Forget QR codes, if your product could have an interactive communication layer added seamlessly to it, what would it do or say?

The once clearly defined physical experiences of TV, Internet and gaming will continue to blur. By 2020, we will still want to use large screens for shared viewing, MMO gaming and epic, time-sensitive broadcast events, but that’s about it. We won’t bother talking about ‘connected’ TV or Internet TV, that particular war will be over: all devices will be Internet-enabled and capable of showing HD content. We’ll care about context and content (the relevance, cost and quality of the experience), not which cable or cloud it’s streaming from.

In 2012, mainstream TV struggles to integrate web content seamlessly.

In this context, a couple of things seem inevitable in terms of how the advertising model might be disrupted:

i. We’re a screen-based society in 2012, but by 2020 multiple screens – or rather connected ‘things’ – will be a way of life. The closed borders of traditional media will have dissolved. We will take for granted the fact brands share a story across screens and objects, using them as a “trellis for ideas”, as Forrester’s Chris Stutzman describes it.

ii.  With universal authentication comes near perfect, universal, behavioural targeting. Close to zero wastage for the advertiser. Hyper-personalized. For users, spam can be all but eradicated: anything our personal behavioural data god decides is irrelevant will be blocked from view. Advertisers will still pay to appear in “Super Bowl”-style broadcast events and expect to be charged a premium for the privilege, but ad breaks as we know them now probably won’t exist. Instead, the right message is served directly to the right person, in the right place, at the right time, probably in the knowledge they’re in the right mood too. As Tom Uglow put it when we asked him, the best advertising will be “integrated, edgeless and enjoyable.” In theory at least, everyone will win.

It’ll start with the demise of the “untargeted ad”. As Eric Schmidt put it a year ago (Cannes, 2011):

“..the traditional television doesn’t know whether there’s a baby at home, whether you need diapers or not, so why does it show diapers ads? It doesn’t make any sense, the television should know. And in fact, the next generations of televisions, including Google TV, have the ability to say something about the information and so forth that people really want to consume.”

Blessed with the ability to target communication with laser-like accuracy, will advertisers in 2020 look back with bemusement on the days they spent dollars buying access to eyeballs they didn’t need? Marketers speak of the power of the overheard conversation and of serendipity (perhaps the guy watching the diaper ad may remember that brand when he stands in a virtual supermarket aisle as a new Dad in years to come), but granted access to perfect targeting it seems unlikely brands will choose this approach as a default setting.

One thing to do now: dissolve the silos

“Design for circulation, not distribution” Matt Locke, Storythings

Let’s stop thinking of ‘ATL’ and ‘digital’ as separate touch points and ‘consideration’ and ‘conversion’ as separate marketing tasks. The web should make it frictionless and easy for purchase to happen at any point. Witness Burberry and ASOS and the like, where purchase opportunities are baked into the experience.

And if you still have a separate ‘digital team’, perhaps reconsider. Networked brands have strategies for a digital world, not separate digital strategies. Of course we can expect there will be new opportunities which pop up and don’t fit with the existing infrastructure of an organisation: let’s embrace them as ‘new’ test bed silos and get used to cycling those new activities into the core once they’re proven growth drivers. Put feedback loops in place to know when. And we’ll need to stay patient: we know it will be as much about organisational comfort and capabilities as it will be about user demand.

#3 Mobile Ubiquity

In May 2012, mobile already accounted for 10% of global Internet traffic and 3G as a segment experienced 37% growth (source: Informa WCIS+). Forrester data suggests mobile Internet usage will exceed desktop by 2016 at the latest. No-one is betting on the global growth of mobile slowing any time soon, yet advertising spend currently lags usage:

Why? Largely because the quality of the mobile advertising ‘real estate’, even on smartphones, has been limited and brands’ forays into apps has been too often ineffective. However, as our media consumption becomes increasingly ‘mobile’ and mobile ARPU correspondingly rises – not least given the pace of innovation in the mobile industry – it seems only likely that advertising will have followed by 2020. As Mary Meeker reminds us here, “ad dollars follow eyeballs.”

Of course mobile devices and formats will have changed. When we’re out and about, we may have collapsed today’s rucksack-load of kit to a single, light piece of augmentation like a pair of heads up glasses, cf Google’s Project Glass or these. The extra layers of information at our fingertips will feel less like floating, awkward bits of “augmentation” and more intuitive and dynamic, just there when and where we need them (if you want the technical term for this: “markerless image recognition that triggers instant content delivery in any format whatsoever” as Blippar’s Jessica Butcher describes it).

If that’s not enough for you, the famed advent of driverless cars will switch mega-city dwellers up from mere ‘hands-free’ to ‘mind-free’ and, with any luck, by 2020 we’ll be able to add wifi electricity to the mix and be good to go. . .

However far down those particular roads we’ve gone by 2020, we can be certain that advertising will be wholly, effortlessly location-aware and hence considerably more sensitive and tailored to what a user may be looking for. Greg has arrived in Stockholm and loves Swedish meatballs? With his permission, the local outlet pings him to let him know there’s a special with his name on it.

One thing to do now: Design Responsively

Before building that branded experience for desktop by default, we need to think about how, where and when our audience will encounter it. It’s quite possible they won’t be sitting in front of a single 15” non-touch screen PC for hours on end, it’s more likely they’ll be flipping between screens and often on the move. Using voice, gesture, touch. One option is to design responsively. Sometimes it does make more sense to create bespoke solutions, but if we can design in ways that don’t require us to reinvent the wheel for different operating systems and devices, why wouldn’t we consider it? And, assuming we’ve developed something genuinely useful or entertaining, let’s not forget to promote the activity – Deloitte reported in 2011 confirmed this as one of three major reasons 80% of branded apps are failing currently.

#4 Everyone’s a Producer

By 2020, a generation who can read and write code will just be hitting their stride. It may be too early to say this will have started to redefine what we mean by literacy, but certainly we’ll look at building web pages and apps as we view cooking or DIY today: there will be the digital equivalent of restaurant meals or high end professional architecture to buy or commission, sure, but mainstream users will be comfortable making everyday stuff for themselves too.

In part, this will be because it’ll just be a whole lot easier: we’ll be aided and abetted by tools that ensure that everything we need isn’t just electronically ubiquitous, but also manipulatable like clay, editable and yes, probably 3-D printable – everywhere, in real time, anytime you want it (music, news, fiction, sound, video, design). And we’ll be doing it together.

In that context, ‘advertising’ can be reimagined – less linear messaging and more ‘bread crumbs’ to get involved with a brand: utility, service or entertainment-based building blocks unlocked in return for NPD & testing, trial or loyalty. Jargon like ‘co-creation’ disappears as we simply take for granted the fact that the people who buy our products are producers too. In this context, it’ll be even more important for a brand to have purpose and stand for something, not to be jack of all trades, master of none. And the genuine expertise required for super complex tasks will be just as necessary, valuable and respected as it is today.

One thing to do now: learn a little about code

We wouldn’t expect someone to write a great TV spot if they had no concept of how one was made, would we? If you can’t already write code yet, don’t worry, but it’s worth finding out what different programming languages are for, at a minimum.

Next instalments to follow:

Part 3

#4 Everyone’s a Producer
#5 Content Marketing: brands as content owners & partners
#6 Win-win-win Platforms

Part 4

#7 Big Data, Big Patterns
#8 Expect a Creative Renaissance