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Nicky Jepson

Marketing Director

During the 1960s and through to the late 1980s, the “Golden Age of Advertising” was a time of big ideas and schmoozing over boozy lunches and where fictional personalities were built around products to connect them directly to their audience.  Cue Marlborough Man and Tony the Tiger et al. Billboards, TV, print ads, ‘Ad life’ was a little simpler back then….

Fast forward to 2020 and things are somewhat…..different. This year will not go unnoticed on this rollercoaster that is advertising for obvious reasons. At time of writing, according to the New York Times, ‘overall spending on digital ads for March and April is down 38 percent from what companies had expected to lay out, and ad spending has fallen 41 percent on TV, 45 percent on radio, 43 percent in print publications, and 51 percent on billboards and other outdoor platforms, according to the trade group IAB’. All the big brand groups, and the small ones for that matter, are literally holding their breath, and their budgets. But long before we were all put on a global pause, brand advertising as our post-war predecessors knew it, was already going through its own metamorphosis.

Technology, the obvious facilitator of the changes over the last few decades, has, in many ways, ironically, become the debilitator. Yes, for marketers it has undoubtedly and irreversibly changed the way and the speed at which we target, speak and interact with our customers. But as consumers, technology, and its partner in crime, data, has afforded us more instant choice than we’ve ever had in our lifetimes. This level of access therefore has also reduced our patience and tolerance. In our desire to navigate the options, we have little time for clutter, interruptions, noise and distraction.

The anti-advertising movement

The reality is that we now live in a world where advertising has become a dirty word, where consumers respond to the relentless waves of unnecessary, unwanted, irrelevant messages with ad blocking, ad skipping, incognito browsing and subscribing to ad-free streaming services. According to GlobalWebIndex, 47% of global web users are actively using an ad blocker. Even Google has got in on the act, launching its very own ad-blocking solution. The point is, we can no longer rely on brute force, using what we know about a consumer and driving a message across every possible channel. Brands must now be creatively and strategically braver to cut through noise, and base communications on a deep and thorough understanding of customer behaviours and preferences. Message relevancy has never been more … relevant.

It’s complicated….

It’s rare that we get asked for a pure play brand ‘advert’ these days. Back in the day an advert was the pinnacle of the brand’s communications. Everyone had to have an advert. Channels were limited, needs were simpler, messages were conceptual. Today, a brand is increasingly built over a series of steady, cumulative and complex communication layers, each designed with precision to appeal to both your conscious and subconscious preferences, all driven by the data that allows us to really dig deeper and hit the right notes. In short, this is where advertising’s future lies, in content, configuring a way to weave the brand’s values into a compelling piece of content that simultaneously serves customers needs.

Trust, authenticity and transparency are the new darlings of advertising. Admittedly overused (and occasionally abused), the sentiment is correct but only with an equal dose of relevance and therefore resonance. Last year, a research project between the Advertising Association, the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (Isba) and think tank Credos revealed that consumer trust in advertising had dropped from 48% in 1992 to 25% in 2018, largely due to the “bombardment” and “irrelevance” of ads.

This highlights that the real trick is to integrate your message into your customer’s world seamlessly. To have contextual and emotional relevance. To appear in relevant searches, to be there at just the right time, to anticipate behaviour and respond appropriately with the right message. This requires a combination of an intimate knowledge of your customers needs and behaviours, on-point brand values, timely and customised communications, channel relevancy and a decent amount of creativity (the effective kind) to even begin to break through. Anything else is just output. At a time when purchases are already increasingly omni-channel, taking place across 3, 4, 5 platforms, both online and offline, consistent and rounded brand ‘experiences’ have never been more important.

“So there is now an ironic dichotomy at play; using data, science and technology to strategise and engineer a complex plan to deliver a seemingly genuine, human, authentic brand truth, personally to your customers.”

But, if the research still stands, if 75% of consumers no longer trust advertising, how is the industry responding? Here are a few things that we think are already shaping the future of content and advertising:

Super personalisation

Consumers are all too aware how much data brands are collecting from them. Which is why they fully expect their experiences and interactions with their favourite brands to be customised, intuitive and personal. Technology can largely facilitate and automate some of this customisation with headless CMS and dynamic content delivery that adapts based on the behavior, preferences, and interests of the user. How sustainable this will be in a world where the collection and storage of personal data is actively discouraged through increasingly stringent regulatory red tape, remains to be seen.

Customer-first content

In the spirit of personalisation, prioritising the customer’s informational needs above product features and brand credentials is one of the overriding content trends in the last few years. Successful brands and businesses understand that trust-building with audiences begins with offering guidance, help, information, or entertainment without a catch. We’ve seen some of the best examples of ‘useful’ content during the Coronavirus crisis and it’s a trend that will continue for some time to come. In fact it’s a given if you’re to be within a fighting chance of ranking with Google. And as with all things marketing, it starts with research.

Interactive Content

As we continue to gather data, and learn about our customers, content will continue to expand and develop. In sharp contrast to the Golden Era of Advertising, now literally anyone can create and share content so you will have to have something pretty special to cut through. The creative delivery of your content needs to be nothing less than a visual ‘experience’. Developments in  AR and VR, have pushed the interactivity boundaries again, adding another compelling dimension to your brand experience. Graham & Brown’s AR interiors app lets you visualise their range of wallpaper and coordinating paints in your room without even leaving your sofa. All in the spirit of their brand drive to make decorating an enjoyable and creative experience.

Video Content & Storytelling.

Celebrate moments. Intimacy. Human Conditions. Real Folk. COVID has further amplified our natural disposition towards celebrating being human and there’s no better way of doing this authentically than through video. Video is already a big deal. According to Hubspot, 56% of 25-34-year-olds and 54% of 35-44-year-olds want to see more video content from brands they support. The skill will be in using video to build the trust that brands so crave. Using real people, real situations, real stories and real experiences. PG Tips have pivoted perfectly using footage from Zoom, FaceTime, WhatsApp etc as a campaign to celebrate the many ways you can still share #cuppastogether, even in isolation.

Micro Influencers

Authenticity is a recurring theme and the use of influencers is evolving. Consumers have had enough years of exposure to ‘superstar’ influencers to see through the vast sums of ad revenue that are piled into this lucrative (for some) industry of product ‘reviews’ and recommendations. Trust has taken a hit where it was intended as the outcome and a move to a more credible, niche and authentic breed of influencer is most certainly on the cards. With smaller followings and cause-related motivations, micro influencers will steal the march on swaying opinions on brands. Think of the nurse who single-handedly changed supermarket policy during the coronavirus crisis with her heart-wrenching video of her despair at empty shelves following a long and exhausting shift at work. Or the incredible efforts of Captain Tom who has raised nigh on £30M for the NHS by capturing the hearts of the nation. This doesn’t belong in the world of brand but certainly a poignant lesson on the power of true authenticity.

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