Evolution of Modern Advertising

It’s Monday afternoon. After lunch. There’s a discussion in the marketing half of the office, which ends with the youngest (millennial) member of Starship asking, “Who still watches TV anyway?” Making my afternoon cuppa tea in the kitchen, I thought back. When was the last time I watched TV? That’s right. Masterchef Australia’s 2017 finals, and I muted the ads.

Yes, I mute ads, especially during Masterchef season. I love Masterchef: at its best it’s feel-good TV where you can pick up some cooking tips. Masterchef was how I learned how to joint and quarter a chicken. I watch the whole season once they get to the top 24, but I can only handle seeing the same repeat involving Curtis Stone’s smarmy face for so long. Remember their shonky “Feed a family of 4 for $10” campaign? Urgh. I mute ads for all my online browsing as well, using three add-ons on my Chrome browser. I take public transport, which means the only billboard I see is the one at Richmond Station–if I’m even looking up from my phone at that point. The only ads I see are the occasional sponsored post on social media, which I usually scroll past without reading (Why does Twitter keep serving me South African ads?). I don’t subscribe to any print newspapers or magazines, nor do I know anyone my age who does. I don’t even remember the last time I even touched a print newspaper: I read my news online.

I’m in my 30s, which places me in the oldest “millennial” tier. Anyone younger might not be adblocking, though they probably are: nearly half of millennials use ad blockers on their desktops, a smaller percentage use it on their phones, and some use it for every device they have. They aren’t watching as much television, or listening to as much radio. 47% of millennials and GenXers don’t watch TV at all, and one in three don’t listen to traditional radio. With the rise of Netflix, Spotify, and other streaming services that are just growing more and more accessible, it’s possible that traditional media’s share of market attention will soon drop further. Hell, my senior citizen parents watch Netflix. They only watch traditional TV for soccer and golf.

Advertising often changes along with the changing media landscape. With every new generation it’s quite likely that the trend towards engaging with less and less traditional media will continue. What’s next?

Advertise Without Advertising

In the modern cult of celebrity, some people can sell out flamethrowers with a tweet (true story) or get elected President and possibly declare nuclear war with a tweet. It’s a brave new world. Social media has been used by brands to varying effects, but it’s definitely best at engaging millennials–most of whom use social media in some form or other. The efforts of certain social media teams have been so on point that they have revived sales for flagging products:

This quick troll tweet by MoonPie was one of several in an impressive run, which raised demand for its chocolate cookie and marshmallow product so much that its Chattanooga Bakery factory ran out of supplies and had to stop churning them out. The social media strategy and personality was the brainchild of a Knoxville agency, The Tombras Group, which stated that demand for MoonPie rose 17% from social media alone.

It’s not all good news, of course: it’s easy for brands to misstep online, either by ignoring review sites or worse, responding badly to reviews. Tinder famously went on a social media rant after a Vanity Fair article claimed that Tinder was only for hookups, which they then had to apologise for.

Some key takeaways:

  • Yes You Need A Strategy: In the modern media ‘verse, social media is an important face of your brand that needs thought and professional attention.
  • Have an Outside Team If You Can: In-house teams can work, but they can also make mistakes by being too “close” to the brand.
  • Be Genuine: Have an actual personality.
  • Don’t be an ass: This sentiment is key to modern advertising and marketing.

People Will Watch Your Ads If they’re Good

Ads do get shared by people if they resonate with their audience: even if the audience in question might not watch TV and/or block ads. Even for that most-hated of formats, the pre-roll. The Geico pre-roll ad campaigns were hugely successful, effectively reinventing pre-roll advertising. They tied into a core truth in pre-roll ads: that people don’t really like seeing them. Pre-rolls mess with instant gratification. There’s something inherently annoying at clicking on a video of a cute kitten and having to spend 15, 20 seconds watching an ad about something unrelated.

As such, Geico tries to make their pre-roll ads highly entertaining. By acknowledging the truth of pre-roll ads, their ads try to provide compacted information while being funny enough to make watching them feel like you’re not wasting your time. Their “Unskippable” campaign gained a lot of attention, even getting featured in news media like USA Today. If it’s possible for pre-roll ads from an insurance company to get shared around, there’s hope for everyone, in our opinion. You just need to get to the right truth. And you have to respect the fact that the audience is giving you some of their time: especially if they have no choice about it.

Some key takeaways:

  • Whose Time are You Wasting and Why: Know your audience and respect their time.
  • Know What You Want To Get Out of It: Have a strategy.
  • Set Out ROI and Targets: Know where you want to be.

Ad Bombing

In the first episode of the Netflix series Altered Carbon, the main character, Takeshi Kovacs, is briefly overwhelmed by an unfiltered ad bomb: tons of ads all at once, floating everywhere.

altered carbon

Anyone travelling through Melbourne in the last few weeks probably also realized that Masterchef’s latest season is on or coming up: the ads are everywhere in public spaces. This sort of full-court press approach to advertising can risk alienating your target audience if it gets too intrusive, but we’ve seen some ad installations work well, even within Melbourne itself, particularly when driven by social consciousness. During the leadup to the equal marriage plebisite, in Melbourne the “Yes” posters were everywhere, plastered across seemingly every friendly business and venue. Even the niche boardgames/Magic the Gathering venue where my group plays D&D had multicoloured buntings up. The mass visibility of the vote worked not only to show support for the issue but also to make everyone aware of the vote. Victoria ended up having the overall highest “Yes” vote in the country.

Ad bombing is, however, extremely costly, even if traditional advertising still provides a degree of credibility that modern forms of advertising might not. As such, we often suggest (where clients have the budget for it) an integrated strategy involving both traditional and newer touchpoints, tailored towards the audience in mind. You do in many ways get what you pay for, but we do work with clients to get the best ROI out of what they have available.

Brave New World

Recent forms of advertising are all tech-driven. Brands have had activations in VR and AR, with varying success. Google debuted its first VR-capable, 360º Google Doodle only a few weeks ago. Brands have also had success using immersive AR to tell the stories: Red Cross used a great AR game to highlight the experience of children in war. Brands have even dipped into blockchain and bitcoin tech: Burger King famously debuted a Burger King bitcoin. There are even industry awards now that celebrate the use of tech in advertising.

There’s even a word for the conglomeration of advertising and technology: ad tech. Designed to help agencies make better use of budgets, ad tech is the umbrella term for tech that allows agencies to better target and analyse their digital efforts. You can read more about it here and about some of its controversies here. There’s even marketing tech: a buzzphrase for advanced CRM and SEO technologies. Less about new platforms, these forms of technology are about targeting, a whole different can of fish.

So what’s next? Is the future the giant holograms of Bladerunner: 2049? The ad bombs in Altered Carbon? Advertising will probably never die. The touchpoints will evolve, but the core challenges will remain: creating ads that capture and retain audience interest in a meaningful way (without wasting their time), and converting that interest into a valuable return. For everything else, well, in the future of Altered Carbon, there’s always the ad blocker.

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