The Next 25 Years of Digital Advertising

In the age of anxiety, global challenges like trade, politics, inequality, and the state of the natural environment have captured much of the public’s consciousness. What’s not getting enough attention are timely examples of human innovation — the kind that will help drive a more sustainable future. There are two such milestones this year from which to draw inspiration.At Adobe Summit last March, Adobe kicked off its celebration of the 25th anniversary of digital advertising and took it on the road to Adobe Symposia around the world before culminating last month at Advertising Week, where Adobe shared insightful research that compared the digital experiences of people across generations.

While digital advertising has its rewards, there’s another milestone that is twice as old and immeasurably more important: This year’s 50th anniversary of humanity’s first landing on the moon.

Wonders of civilization like that typically do not happen overnight. It takes years of toil to create a moment that grabs the world’s attention. Digital advertising has been on a similar path, and the industry is finally coming together to move the system forward to support all participants, address privacy issues, bolster trust and relevance, and fuel a renaissance in creativity.

Inspired Advertising

The creative flair in modern digital marketing is unparalleled and it’s where marketers need to focus. Moments of advertising genius are not hard to find. Take Burger King’s 2004 “Subservient Chicken” interactive video featuring live webcam footage of a person dressed up in a chicken costume. The chicken acted out any command users typed in. Burger King brought back the early viral sensation 10 years later for another dose.

Old Spice similarly created an advertising phenomenon in 2010, when the brand released “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign and won massive acclaim. Search volume skyrocketed to levels that no other tactic could have done even with the world’s best search marketers.

The major takeaway: If marketers want more performance out of search, they need to focus their efforts on high-funnel channels like TV and the web, and measure outcomes based on cross-channel performance.

To reinforce the general consensus throughout the ad industry, banner advertising is not what performance advertisers typically refer to as dynamic creative. Cramming as much as possible into a box makes ads look commoditized. Marketers have A/B tested themselves into the ground and moved their ad dollars out of high‑impact channels.

As the Burger King and Old Spice ad campaigns demonstrate, brands must think bigger if they want to stay viable in the years ahead. While 78 percent of consumers want personalized ads, only 28 percent think they are being tailored correctly, according to Adobe Digital Insights.

Indeed, consumers want personalized content that is helpful and unobtrusive, and they will will bypass ad content they deem superfluous. According to eMarketer, one in four Americans have an ad blocker installed. If companies lack a brand identity it is harder for consumers to be loyal when they’re looking at just a few products in boxes. Those ad formats have a time and place, such as for shopping cart abandoners, but if that’s the sole mechanism for how marketers are trying to build their brand, it is a mistake.

Another major consideration in moving marketing and advertising forward is diversity. A recent Adobe study found that almost one-third of all consumers were more likely to purchase from companies with more diversity in their marketing materials, with that figure rising to more than 50 percent among underrepresented groups such as African-Americans and people in the LGBTQ+ community.

Despite more than half of African-American consumers opting out of sharing their data with advertisers, roughly the same percentage reported that they would be willing to share data if brands gave them a reason to, by demonstrating trustworthiness and transparency.

Data and Targeting Not the Complete Story

Data is the fuel that has powered the expansion of online marketing, and will play a key role in the development of digital advertising. As technology has advanced, advertisers have gained the ability to track more and more information about who their customers are, as well as their online behavior, including which pages they viewed the ads on, how long they looked at the ads, and what pages they navigated to afterward. It’s crucial that marketers merge creativity with data to put more numbers behind their activities and demonstrate the value of marketing.

A study by Nielsen Catalina Solutions looked at 500 different advertising campaigns, the various creative elements applied, and the impact of each. Just 16 percent of the respondents said data targeting — which the market obsesses over constantly — had the biggest impact. The creative message, on the other hand, accounted for 47 percent. That’s almost three times that of just the data and targeting aspect. Creative is the most challenging part in any campaign, but it needs to be put back in the limelight, given its significance.

Throughout the past several years, the marketing industry has gone from pop‑up ads and static banners to brands that have used the same advertising tools to create real emotional connections with consumers. Expect the market to continue to head in this direction. More specifically, marketers are already able to pair a linear television spot with other devices in the viewer’s household and understand if anyone who saw a TV ad then searched moments later for the brand in question. Such insights could have immense impact on media buying and channel planning.

The next 25 years will unleash the amazing power of the internet, along with technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR). Combined with better consumer privacy and smart data regulations, marketers can add in the important lessons that the past few decades have taught them to carry a sustainable industry model for how they connect with consumers through advertising.

Advertising pioneer John Wanamaker once famously said, “Over half of the money I spend on advertising is wasted. The trouble is I don’t know which half.” If Wanamaker was still around today, he’d marvel at how digitalization, data, and AI are all helping to solve his dilemma.

Ryan Fleisch is head of product marketing, advertising cloud at Adobe, a partner in the ANA Thought Leadership Program.

The following is republished with the permission of the Association of National Advertisers. Find this and similar articles on ANA Newsstand.


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