In 1300 BC, advertising was an ancient script of a slaveholder looking for his missing slave.
In 1700, advertising was print ads in local newspapers and gazettes
In 1900, advertising was all over radio and television
In 2000, advertising was funky and eye-catching pop-up internet ads
In 2022, advertising looks nothing like what it did in 1300 BC or even 2000. A missing person’s advert doesn’t need a manuscript, for a 15-seconder TikTok video should work out perfectly fine.
History of advertising in 60 seconds
But what next? In the next decade or century, what can we expect advertising to look like?
Will AI write better, funnier adverts than us humans?
Will ad-targeting become so precise and creepy that we start getting ads for things we simply think of?
Most importantly, will advertising even continue to exist?
With so many burning questions, we know for sure that the transformation we’ve seen so far, promises a future that will blend technology with creativity, data stacks with storytelling at its forefront. With the ecosystem changing faster than ever, the consumer behaviour is undergoing a sea of unpredictable change.
Whether you’re an advertiser or simply a consumer, the future of advertising affects all of us directly or indirectly. So, allow me to indulge you with some hypothetical yet plausible theories and scenarios of what this dynamic industry could look like in the next 20, 30 or even 100 years!
Factors That Decide the Future
When it comes to marketing and advertising, the trend in the past decade has been positively correlated with technological advancements. The growing relevance and importance of ad-tech dictates what form of content and how that content reaches the audiences. Yet, one cannot ignore the audience when making any forecast, because in the end, it's their ticks that dictate the success of the ad.
Before we get into the specifics, let’s look at the driving factors which we must consider when canvassing our future scenarios:
Video Advertising: The channel of communication will majorly be short-format, mobile-friendly videos. We’re already witnessing this transition, with more time spent on mobile screens, it is inevitable for ads to follow along where the audience spend most of their time.
Automation and AI: The nature of automation will enhance and (hopefully) not replace human labour. From a pure back-end functioning of advertising, brand experience will become seamless and on the forefront, data-driven media might snub agencies of their creativity.
Privacy: We’re all aware that advertising gets a bad rep for how it exploits our personal data to sell us things. As tech gets smarter and more effective, the ethical implications will be a huge factor in paving the future of ads.
Content Deluge: The number of ads we’re being exposed to is growing and growing. There are too many products and too many channels of distribution that are actively saturating the minds of the audience, some call this phenomenon infobesity or infoxication. In this condition, creativity will become the most important asset here.
Personalization: AI will elevate the level of personalization of ads – not just the kinds of ads that are shown, but also when, where and context of those ads.
Consumer Behaviour: The evolution of ads has occurred abiding by the changes in the preference of audiences. If the shortening attention spans weren’t a challenge enough, the content deluge is influencing consumer preferences a lot – increasing the pressure on advertisers. This unpredictability is something worth considering when forecasting the future of advertising.
Did You Know: It took TikTok just three years to reach 500 million active app users, which is half of what took Instagram. That’s how fast the internet and tech in general, are changing.
Let’s now leap forward to take a peek at what the future entails. The first scenario we’ll look at is less of a scenario and more of an inevitable transition.
Future of Data: Hyper-Personalization
We, humans, are interesting, complicated beings. Our likes, dislikes, ticks and tacks are a goldmine of data that multi-million, even billion-dollar companies are fighting over. We know that data is here to stay, but advertisers are striving to better satiate the wants and needs of their consumers.
In the future, impersonal advertising will be obsolete. From our medical history to our DNA, our data will be accessible to service providers with restrictions fairly controlled by users themselves, thanks to regulations. Interestingly, technologies such as the blockchain may help consumers share limited access to brands they prefer securely. Hyper-personalization will prevail, as our data will be the new currency.
Hyper-personalization is creating custom and targeted ads using data, analytics, AI, and automation. Here, companies can send highly contextualised communications to specific customers at the right place and time, and through the right channel.
The Social Dilemma, a Netflix documentary gives an amazing (and very dystopian) rundown of how big tech companies are using our data to influence our decisions. The documentary gives not only an insider’s perspective but also a glimpse of the future of social media.
Just to give you an example of how hyper-personalization is being used currently, let’s talk about Netflix.
From their homepage to the recommendations, Netflix nails its approach in using algorithms to create a system so unique and personalised to the customer that about 80% of what people choose to watch on Netflix comes from the recommendations rather than the search content.
Here’s a video of the team at Netflix who work on the recommendation engine:
While impersonal ads might not be as effective, even in the case of predictive ad targeting, a clear value must come forth. As of 2021, research states that we’re exposed to an average of 10,000 ads every day. Unknowingly, the relentless bombardment of ads has made us less patient and less tolerable of advertising. As a future advertiser or marketer, one must prioritise customers’ entertainment and the value of their time as a forthright goal, failure to satisfy this can make the customer skip or avoid the ad completely.
Given the fast-paced lives, short attention spans and availability of a wide variety of content, the challenges faced by advertisers give them the task of keeping up and adapting successfully. One such challenge is navigating how much of advertising will be data-driven and how much will bank on creativity.
Future of Advertising Content: Tech vs. Creativity
Perhaps what we all really want to know is whether the future of advertising is going to be tech-oriented or if the content overload going to emphasise the importance of creativity more than ever.
The right way to understand what the future of advertising entails, is by accepting that the picture isn’t so black and white, but still let’s look at the two possibilities:
If tech prevails: In the scenario where technology and algorithms and AI steer advertising, we’re looking at ads that leverage the astounding pool of our data and explicitly use it against us. We spend so much of our lives online, whether recreationally or for work, that we have made it easier for companies to pinpoint what we want to see and where.
Curious about how targeting of ads really came about?
The mechanism of web tracking comes down to third-party cookies. In an interesting video, Vox interviews the Lou Montulli, the inventor of cookies:
more sales for the company,
less waste of time for customers;
that’s the future of advertising we might be looking at.
In the current scenario, since AI is not as advanced, companies are still reliant on creativity to capture and retain the audience’s attention. But 30 years down the line, when the ad targeting becomes eerily accurate, companies will easily place their ads at the right place and right time. Imagine this, it’s the weekend and you want takeout. Your past patterns of buying, ordering in, and choice of restaurant/cuisine will already have been fed into the AI system which will enable companies like Zomato to easily predict and suggest meal options to you. Whatever you want, wherever and whenever, now made easier.
In this case, how great the storytelling or production value of a commercial is won’t really matter as compared to how accurate the delivery of those perfectly curated ads is.
Did You Know: According to a report by the research firm, Forrester, automation and machine learning will ‘transform’ about 80% of agency jobs by 2030.
How does this aversion to advertising then shape its future? And how can advertisers get behind this? The answer is simple: Creativity.
Creativity becomes the unique selling point. An impactful, interactive, and immersive experience of advertising for the customers will become sustainable in the long run. Our changing tastes force advertisers to improve the quality of the ads they’re delivering.
That being said, experts deem it highly unlikely that consumer’s will completely opt out of advertising. However, more subtle, less on-the-face kind of ads will gain more importance. Product placement or even sponsorships when done well and seamlessly, will takeover the traditional way of advertising.
Don’t annoy, amuse.
Winner of Cannes Lions for the interactive experience category, Tinder’s ‘Swipe Night’ experience, a choose-your-own-adventure series is a perfect example of how advertising can go beyond branded content.
In this unconventional campaign, users swipe and make their own choices to help decide where the journey goes. Not just this, the choices also impact whom the users match with and the prompts to chat about in the end. You can check out the interesting case study here:
In the noise of irrelevant ads, creativity becomes crucial in ensuring an enhanced consumer experience. ‘Consumer is king’, and in the future of advertising, this consumer is bound to get picky and a lot harder to entertain, but yet, it shows a hopeful future.
The realistic narrative: We’ve looked at both the possible scenarios – one led by data, the other by creativity, but a more realistic future seems to be the one where both, work together. Instead of being pitted against each other, tech and creativity find a common ground.
We can understand their convergence with the example of Netflix. Netflix’s model leverages AI with the EQ (Emotional Quotient) of their audiences to match them with the perfect show to binge. Similarly, brands will begin to correspond more to the needs and preferences of their audience, making advertising more consumer-friendly.
Empathy and efficiency,
will be at the core of this future of advertising.
To be honest, when we talk about something as volatile and ever-changing as advertising, predicting its future is wishful thinking. The role of technology and the importance of creativity are now relevant to how we sell and consume ads. At its heart, advertising will keep changing and evolving for the better.
Perhaps, only way we know what might happen next is wait for it to happen.