26th July 2016

I’ve got a feeling about the future of advertising

Technology is having more and more of an impact on every aspect of our daily lives. It’s hard to hide from its relentless march of progress, so I am really interested to understand what effect I think it is going to have on the world of advertising. The industry has always been seen as one of the original disruptors, as well as an early adopter of new technology advances. However, time and time again we have seen that progress, regardless of how clever, needs human buy-in to happen and become the future.

One vision for the future that is already starting to emerge is the ability to make every single advertising message relevant to the receiver. This is important because the internet has opened up an infinite number of channels to communicate advertising through, but as an industry we have almost been accused of jading the consumer with the volume of messages and the poor quality of many display and popup ads. One growing trend has been the increased use of advertising blockers on smartphones and desktops. We know that the consumer is hard to impress, and the next decade in advertising relies completely on getting them to buy into a tech-driven environment which provides relevant and personal messages that are not intrusive or uninspiring.

To achieve this, advertising will need to undergo a seismic shift and move from communicating to predicting as well as emoting.

Interestingly, a study in 2014 found that three in eight people now love brands more than their spouses.

Neuroscientist Dr. Paul Zak came to this conclusion by testing the amount of oxytocin, the chemical released when you’re hugged by a loved one. It is also released in an individual’s brain when they’re asked about brands they love. He also observed other emotional response factors such as heart rate and nerve twitches. When Dr. Zak asked questions about the brands, and then followed up with questions about a loved one, an interesting pattern emerged: When a person’s relationship with a brand was tied to a story, that respondent showed more love for a brand than a loved one.

The tests Dr. Zak performed showed that brands outperformed people where a person’s relationship to a product was tied to a story. An example of this is where a subject loved his watch, which was handed down from his father, more than his girlfriend. When these results were discussed at the SXSW festival, Zak said it was very telling that when the product beat the person there was always a sense of connection that was driven by story. "We’ve known for a long time there is no ‘buy’ button in the brain," he said. "But these results show there’s a ‘story’ button." In order to leverage this greater knowledge, it is important that we change our focus from what advertising looks like to what it feels like.

As I mentioned earlier, digital disruption is affecting every aspect of our lives today, and some people are skeptical, even fearful of this. I however believe there are huge advantages; some of these being that our lives will become more automated, smoother and quicker. Technology will be more predictive - serve content that we find more interesting and tailor it to who we are. This can only be beneficial as the advertising we see as consumers will be of more relevance, more timely and more personal. It is the responsibility of brands, creatives and agencies to make sure we make the most of this new emotional journey.

So how can we make the most of it?

The big shift we are already starting to observe is that content and advertising will be so interlinked we will find it hard to differentiate which is which. A prime example of this is the branded content undertaken by Red Bull, a soft drinks company that could be said to actually be a publishing empire that also happens to sell a beverage. Mashable, the online news and content platform, had this to say: “Lately, every conference PowerPoint on the future of advertising or PR seems to mention Red Bull as a — if not the — shining example of a brand-turned-publisher, what every future-leaning agency encourages its clients to emulate.” This is just the start of a marketing experience which will see people “step into” brand experiences.

This immersive creativity is already rising rapidly. It has been reported that Virtual Reality (VR) will be worth £4bn globally by 2018, and that over the next few years this will become an important channel for brands and marketers, simply because the experience is unparalleled, taking the user into another dimension.

Another really exciting area for advertisers and agencies is the ability to actually measure the physical and emotional impact of a creative on the audience. So, as agencies and advertisers, we will know how much people like our adverts, because our pulses (via our smartwatches) will tell them. As I outlined in a previous article, “The effect of advertising on the brain,” we can now be measure outside of the laboratory the emotional, chemical and physiological effects by integrating technology such as smartwatches, eye tracking, facial recognition and biometrics. This will allow us as agencies and advertisers to create better content and move advertising to a more “feeling” based agenda. Already, consumers expect retail experiences in particular to be personalised, and this will spread to all areas of advertising as data from your smart devices becomes more relevant.

All of this is to say that we are finally in a position where we can put people, with all the depth and subtlety of their human emotions, back at the centre of advertising. We are no longer bound simply by theory and so-called ‘best practice’, but by intuitive personal truth, backed up by hard data. Advertising has come a long way in recent years, and we’re now at one of the most exciting points on the journey that I can remember. Let’s take these new developments in technology and make incredible advertising with people at its heart.

So how do you feel about this future? I’d be interested to know your thoughts.



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