2016: Back to the Future


By Norm Johnston, Mindshare

Globe

When it comes to digital marketing, predicting the future usually requires a reassessment and extrapolation of the past. Our industry seems to move in cycles, with the same topics resurrected and rebooted every few years. In fact, one could argue that there is really nothing new, just old ideas and issues recharged with new technology, new names, and new passion. So what could 2016 bring?

Third Life:
Remember Second Life, the industry’s initial foray into virtual reality that made the cover of Time Magazine back in 2007? Well, virtual is back with a vengeance. Facebook is readying its Oculus Rift for an official launch next year, and anyone who has experienced the virtual roller coaster ride will tell you it’s a seismic step from yesterday’s technology. With a rumored price tag of around $500, every kid on the block will want an Oculus. Of course virtual is not the only game in town. Augmented reality is finally crossing the chasm as well. According to the Digital Marketing Bureau, 30% of smartphone users in mature markets use AR at least once a week, and nearly a billion smartphones have an AR app embedded into them. Microsoft is heavily promoting its impressive HoloLens AR technology, and the world waits for Google to redeem itself with a new version of Goggles, which may or may not include some of its investment in Magic Leap, a Florida AR start-up labelled as a “game changer” by those who have seen it. And since October you can get a glimpse here

The Matching Luggage Lesson:
Marketers are also exploring new immersive content formats like Facebook’s new 360 video format. In fact, 2016 could mark a major shake-up within the creative industry as marketers realize that simply flogging TV spots online is no longer cutting it, particularly with Gen Z and millennials. Just consider Snapchat, which has somehow evolved from a dodgy sex photo swapping destination to over 100 million users, mostly millennials, viewing over 6 billion video views a day. More people in the US watch college football on Snapchat than TV, and the video ads that resonate the most are bespoke formats built for vertical mobile viewing; custom inverted Snapchat videos ads have a substantially better completion rate. Professional content creators like Tastemade Studios are now filming from an inverted mobile perspective rather than a traditional panoramic TV format. Whether interactive, immersive or inverted, creative agencies will need to re-imagine ideas through a very different lens for very different screens and spaces and audiences. Just as we learned in the early days of the Internet, matching luggage ads usually don’t cut it.

Content is King, Again:

Content will continue to be a significant challenge when it comes to programmatic media, which is hoovering up media inventory around the world. While most marketers have built or are in the process of establishing robust programmatic platforms full of viewable premium inventory and disparate data sets, most are still struggling to find content to feed the beast. In short, all the technology is there to hyper-target unique consumers across the purchase funnel, but there’s simply nothing to put in front of them. 2016 is the year clients will get serious about evolving their trade desks into Adaptive Marketing engines, hopefully enriched with a myriad of creative messages stored in asset libraries and dynamically served to customers based on data and marketing rules. It’s time for all that programmatic investments to start paying off, and content is the missing element for most.

Web 3.0:
A few years back there was a lot of buzz around the Semantic Web, or Web 3.0. The Semantic Web describes a more intelligent Internet that can seamlessly pass data between objects and do things for you. Basically Artificial Intelligence. As the Internet of Things gathers real momentum, AI will finally arrive. The Internet, perhaps voiced by Siri, Alexa, or Cortana, will predict your needs and enrich your life by measuring and monitoring everything from your body to your house to your neighborhood. Your bio-metric data, with your opt-in permission, will be shared with insurance companies to automatically drive down insurance premiums. Amazon Echo will automatically add packaged goods to your shopping basket and suggest recipes based on your monitored fitness levels and diet. And soon an ambulance, maybe even quicker an Uber car, will automatically be ordered when your Apple Watch detects an imminent medical emergency and the need for you to visit the hospital. Brands will also explore a role in this new ecosystem, whether rewarding  fitness fanatics for their discipline with discounted products to helping you to wake up after a monitored and measured sleepless night by automatically starting the coffee machine and doubling the normal volume of caffeine.

Fewer, Bigger Walled Gardens:
The industry is ripe for even more consolidation. Look for Yahoo to finally throw in the towel and get snapped up either horizontally by a publisher looking to extending its programmatic and display business OR vertically by another telco like Verizon building a deterministic multi-device advertising model. Twitter may also send its last independent tweet, perhaps bought by a surprise player like Alibaba or Tencent seeking to expand beyond Asia. All of these Internet titans will continue to ruthlessly battle with each other to own your smartphone, and in particular eliminate the pain of opening up multiple individual apps to read notifications. Anyone remember Pointcast, the push-based, aggregated desktop dashboard from the 1990s? Pointcast may be gone, but look for a Game of Thrones bloodbath to become your default mobile dashboard and notification aggregator in 2016. All of this will be played out against the increasing tactical moves by various companies to use ad blocking as a means to direct advertising spend into their respective walled gardens, particularly mobile app ecosystems.

So it’s back to the future in 2016. Jump on your Lexus hoverboard (yes, you really can now) and enjoy the ride.

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