Four Predictions About The Future of Advertising

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Advertising has changed a great deal in recent years and there is no reason to believe the pace of change is going to, well, change.  So in the spirit of looking ahead to the New Year, here are a few bold, and a few not so bold, predictions about the future of advertising.

1.  There will be a bit of a backlash regarding digital advertising.

Digital is the golden boy (or girl) of the advertising world right now.  No surprise there.  It reflects a growing acceptance of consumer behavior about media consumption.  And compared to most forms of traditional advertising, it is perceived as more measurable and less expensive.

Fundamentally, I have no disagreement with these assessments.  But I also foresee growing dissatisfaction with the relevancy and quality of the messages consumers are being exposed to via digital media.  Maybe it is not so much dissatisfaction as it is apathy.  Let’s face it, most advertising through digital channels is less than compelling.  It’s hard to grab attention and say something profound in 336 x 280 pixels.  Often the best strategy is to tie the ad to an existing campaign or a video.  Interestingly, one study found that Millennials “were far more likely to ignore online ads, such as banners and those on social media and search engines, than they were on traditional TV, radio and newspaper ads.”

And these are Millennials we’re talking about.  The generation serving as the driving force behind the move by marketers to greater use of digital media.  And that brings me to my next point…

2. Traditional advertising may see a minor bounce back.

We’ll never see a return to the old days of traditional media dominance.  The world has changed too much.  There are too many options available today.  And, again, consumer behaviors are vastly different than they were before the digital media revolution.  On the flip side, however, traditional media outlets, and marketers to some degree, are getting more sophisticated in their approach to the integration of digital and traditional advertising. 

Many years ago I was with an agency that was heavily involved in the first wave of aggressive marketing by colleges and universities.  At the time, direct mail was the medium of choice for most educational institutions.  But we produced a powerful campaign for Loyola University of Chicago that married advertising on major commercial radio stations with direct mail.  The spike in results was exponentially higher than it had been with direct mail alone.

Times have changed.  Media options have changed.  Consumers have changed.  But going back to the research quoted above, even Millennials admit traditional advertising can be effective.  And there are still millions of boomers and gen-Xers with deep discretionary spending capacity who are very comfortable with marketing messages delivered through traditional media outlets.

3. Engagement trumps brevity.

I readily admit I am old school in many ways and I have ongoing discussions with my younger colleagues about the relative importance of brevity in contemporary society.  For sure, attention spans are shortening.  Microsoft issued a study that revealed the “human attention span shortened from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2013.”  While acknowledging the truth of this statement, I would submit that consumers still want to be entertained, engaged and informed about matters that are relevant to their interests.

Case in point: Vine.  Three years ago in this space I questioned the viability of a six second video social media channel.  Last week it was reported that Vine will close for good this month.

Another case in point: You.  If you have read this far, you are now about 600 words into it.  I’m not sure how that translates to time, but you have obviously invested a fair amount of it because you presumably found this article of interest.

4. The traditional advertising venues that embrace the new reality will be successful.

Of all the traditional advertising media, the one that seems to be weathering the new world of marketing the best is television.  The reasons are fairly obvious.  Television, especially live TV, delivers our news, entertainment and information through sight, sound, motion and emotion in ways no other media can offer.  But there are dark clouds on the horizon.  The obvious ones are on-line streaming and subscription-based services.  A less obvious one that I have mentioned in several previous articles is complacency.  Thanks to political advertising and the decline of other traditional advertising media options, TV stations are still doing well financially.  But the quality of advertising continues to decline, which I believe will continue to drive consumers to other less invasive options.

Radio and print, of course, are struggling to find their respective places in the new world order.  A few, however, have figured out how to be relevant.   One example is Traverse, a regional magazine in northern Michigan.  For years, they published one of the highest quality magazines I have ever encountered.  As I understand it, they also struggled with declining revenues due to evolving consumption patterns.  So Traverse quickly evolved into a beautifully integrated media model that combines a powerful online version ( with other consumer services such as ticket sales for regional attractions and online shopping.

I suppose there are two underlying themes to this article: integration and relevance.  I believe that advertising success in 2017 and beyond will depend on these two attributes.  Check back with me at this time next year and we’ll see if my crystal ball is functioning properly.

Thom Villing is chief executive officer of Villing and Co.

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