Approaching the Future of Digital Advertising: Part 2 of 3

October 20, 2020

*This is the second part of a two part series. Access part one here.

How We Plan to Change Again

As I reset that simulation and attempt to envision the future two or three years from now, I see something different. To start, I expect us to start to do more marketing.

Luca Senatore of Genie Goals recently told me, rather profoundly, that “PPC Marketing” isn’t actual marketing—it’s sales. The industry has become so paralyzed by optimizing bottom-funnel traffic that almost nobody does any real marketing.94 I completely agree.

If you’ve walked into a furniture showroom recently, you’ve undoubtedly experienced one of my least favorite shopping environments. These showrooms are massive and usually pretty empty and quiet. There are generally three or four salespeople congregating toward the front, their mouths watering you enter. They offer help, to which you politely reply that you are just looking. The second you start to show interest in anything, one of them inevitably jumps out from behind a wall, surprising the living hell out of you, to offer assistance. No thanks! I’m just looking!

The digital equivalent of walking into a furniture showroom is conducting a search on Google. When that event takes place, the PPC campaigns chase you around the web like salespeople until you finally buy something or run out of the store screaming.

Have you ever just looked for anything online? It’s the same, terrible experience as the furniture store. A friend of mine recently bought a new wine refrigerator, and as he described the refrigerator to me, he sent me a link to the website he bought it from. I have no intention of buying such a product any time soon, but every time I open Instagram, or check the weather, or read an article on ESPN, I see ads for wine refrigerators.

We’ve convinced ourselves that this is modern marketing. It’s not. It is programmatic, bottom-funnel sales. To be clear, I am not saying that this is a bad thing. These are techniques that we’ve been using to help our clients profitably grow their businesses for years.

But, to Luca’s point, this isn’t real marketing. Our predecessors in the advertising industry have ruined the concept of brand marketing. Many agencies abused their right to conduct real marketing for clients, which led to a decade of egregious spend, backroom deals, and no results. Today, I dare not use the word brand awareness, as this would cause any of my clients to shudder; it has become synonymous with wasted spend that yields no results.

However, in the last two years, the majority of our clients have now embraced top-funnel initiatives that require traditional marketing strategy. This is partially due to the fact that automation is not only better at optimizing for and converting bottom-funnel traffic. As a result, our time has now been freed up to dive into broader marketing strategy and campaign execution. I expect this to continue to increase over the next few years, and much of our value will shift toward the development of long term, fleshed-out ad campaign concepts that will help our clients establish a stronger brand image.

My second theory is that we will also change the way in which we interact with our devices and, therefore, advertisements. We will remain dependent on our devices, but the dependency will be spread between many smart devices—as opposed to our current exclusive reliance on our smartphones.

Between 2015 and 2020, there was a massive shift toward mobile, to the point where our phones now mean much more to us than any other device we’ve ever owned. Our attention is currently centralized. Everything we do is channeled through this one device.

 I expect that reliance to shift outward over the next few years. We will no doubt continue to be enslaved by our mobile devices, but instead of living our whole lives through this one device, many aspects of our lives will be outsourced to other areas.

A few micro examples:

  • We will watch fewer YouTube videos on our phones and stream more of them from our Smart TVs.
  • We will read fewer recipes on our phones (Don’t get me started on how much I hate recipe websites). Instead, more of us will have Smart Displays mounted in our kitchens, where we will use Google Assistant or Alexa to show us an instructional video and read us the recipe instructions in real-time.
  • We will rarely use our phones to provide directions. More consumers will rely on smart navigation technology that is built into the cars they buy.
  • We will play fewer games on our mobile devices; more people will own VR headsets or other portable, interactive devices that have not yet had mass-market appeal.
  • More of us will rely on wearables such as Apple Watches or Fitbits (a company Google is attempting to acquire) for personal fitness and health. In fact, I would not be surprised if these devices were quickly updated to track real-time body temperature. Employers and schools may distribute such devices and require them to be worn at all times as part of a massive public health initiative.*

With a decentralization of attention, it will not suffice to simply optimize our advertising efforts around mobile; it will be necessary to take an omni-channel approach.

And with this comes my third theory: video and audio advertising will become much more prominent and replace much of the text-based advertising that we’ve relied on over the last decade.

Between the decentralization of attention and the rise of video and audio, the platforms that can leverage data across multiple environments, will become increasingly more valuable to advertisers. Google and Facebook stand to be big winners, again, in this future scenario. A handful of other platforms can also thrive, so long as they bring something new to the table and provide meaningful measurement and attribution tools.

Agencies like AdVenture Media will be known for their expertise in emerging tools and technologies. They will be called upon to find solutions to complex marketing challenges that affect entire enterprises. They will make decisions regarding advertising budgets in the same way that a quantitative portfolio manager currently allocates investment capital: by spending the majority of their time conducting research and analyzing data and spending a smaller amount of time actually conducting trades (or building campaigns). The agencies will be responsible for measurement and attribution across a complex range of media and for finding creative ways to convey this information back to the business decisions-makers.

So how do we get there? There are several questions that we need to ask ourselves, almost as if to use the Socratic method, to work backwards and determine our starting point:


1.  Which emerging platforms should we be aware of—particularly in regard to video and audio—and what will advertisements look like in these channels?

2.  How will existing platforms evolve over time, particularly Google and Facebook?

3.  How will we, as an agency, continue to provide value to our clients as these platforms continue to become more automated?

4.  How can we help our clients grow over time and properly leverage new technology and emerging advertising channels?

5.  How will we personally learn about these topics and develop relationships with our clients so that they trust us to make these decisions on their behalf?

6.  How will we set those expectations, particularly around goals?

7.  Do our clients need help determining their goals?

8.  Is there a universal understanding of the word profit?

Many questions in the middle require a change in culture, and we must continue to strive to improve our abilities over time. Of these questions, the only one that I can answer with confidence is the last. I do not think that there is a universal understanding of the word profit, as it currently means many things to many stakeholders.

So perhaps we start there. Then we can work backward to speculate as to how we can become the agency of the future.

**This was the second of three sections of this bonus chapter. Access part three here.

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