The Advertising landscape is changing and marketing and marketers will also need to change with it. Here's why and what you should do about it.

Advertising has always relied on a morally shaky premise: capture your audience in a context they cannot easily escape from and bombard them with enough psychological trigger points for them to 'decide' to be your customers.

As such, it has always trod on a tightrope suspended between the twin perils of exploitation and manipulation. A tiny misstep at any point along the way always risked plunging the advertiser (and the brand that was being promoted) into one or the other of the corrosive-to-its-reputation perils laying waiting below.

That advertisers have, for so long, adroitly managed to successfully navigate this perilous path owes a lot to their ability to adapt and include additional elements in their arsenal: entertainment and storytelling.

The former has usually (but not always) employed some big name like Isaiah Mustafa whose on-screen Old Spice Man advert set the advertising industry (and the public) on fire for a while. 

Storytelling, on the other hand, has relied on its ability to tap into our fascination with the on-screen relationships we see developing. The Nescafe Gold Blend couple saga exemplifies this approach. 

It launched the international cinematic careers of “the Gold Blend Couple” saw the launch of a paperback and made Nescafe Gold Blend Coffee appeal way more than its quality should have ever made it to.  

As technology evolved to provide advertisers with an ever increasing number of eyeballs for ever longer periods of time, their ingress into the lives of their audience became ever more subtle and pervasive. 

Even as the internet age made it possible for the audience to cut the cord develop banner blindness and just click away, advertisers morphed into omnipresent entities hellbent on shadowing our every digital step.

But all good things come to an end. The pandemic lockdowns created a paradigm shift on the audience side. Faced with the perception of feeling captive people became proactive in defeating advertising. Ad-blocking, ad filtering and selective channel viewing, became de facto ad circumvention strategies from 2019 onwards according to figures released by the Global Web Index, a leading audience targeting company for the global marketing industry, and reported in New Digital Age.

Advertisers, sensing this, also adapted. But instinctively rather than by design. The influencer culture that rose in social network apps like Instagram and TikTok didn’t take long to produce its own backlash as cryptocurrency entered the mix and high-profile names like Kim Kardashian came into the crosshairs of regulators who issued hefty fines

What followed was predictable: Broad legislation, national crackdowns a lot of media coverage and consumer disaffection with the influencer culture which, in turn, affects brands and advertising.

Suddenly, the advent of an advertising-free internet does not seem impossible. YouTube has 80 million subscribers worldwide who pay a premium subscription to not see any ads. Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime are just behind that in numbers with their own ad-free subscription service. X (formerly known as Twitter) has also launched an ad-free subscription service as have Snapchat and TikTok. There is a further twist to all this difficulty: age restrictions. Snapchat's ad-targeting tools can no longer be used for under 18s. Meta, in Europe, is under pressure to follow suit and, increasingly, video games, which target all ages, and are powered by in-app advertising are now launched in ad-free, subscription-based or in-app purchases based models like those launched by Netflix and Apple.

All of which, neatly leads us to the here and now.

Everything Old Is New Again

Initially, advertising, was intended to draw attention to a product or service designed to solve a problem or satisfy a need. As we became adept at understanding purchasing behavior and consumer psychology, brands played an increasingly important role in consumer identity curation.

This, we felt, was all that was needed to open the door to more blatant manipulation and exploitation than ever before. In the digital domain however there is no ailment without a cure. Worldwide ad spending (excluding American political spots) will reach $889bn in 2023 and grow by 5-6% annually for the next five years, led by digital ads, forecasts GroupM, a company that places ads on behalf of many global brands. 

While the digital advertising industry grows its approach is becoming, once again, a little more traditional and a little more innovative. The fourth of the four ‘E’s a.k.a. Evangelism which has replaced the fourth of the 4Ps of the Marketing Mix (Promotion) is now key to gaining exposure.

A lot of effort and money will revolve around amplifying positive experiences, glowing reviews and emerging stories that convince a brand’s potential customers this is the solution. And, in the meantime, advertising in verticals like apps, social media platforms and streaming services will have, out of necessity, be more respectful of the audience and its needs and be less inclined to employ psy-triggers to persuade. Already ads are shorter, more to the point and make it clear they address a need instead of stoking a fear or triggering an emotion. 

One obvious side-effect of this return to basics is that advertising in places where there is a captive audience: Uber cars, public transport and public spaces has, once again, become premium and he messaging has, once again, become direct.  

Marketers’ New Rules

Every time there is such a seismic shift in consumer attitudes the advertising industry (and marketers) write a set of ‘new rules’. These, usually, hark back to the past because there really is no ‘new’ to speak of. Evolution in technology momentarily changes behavior but because technology is a layer we apply over everything we want to do and need to do, it only takes a few cycles for what is new to mature and the fundamentals of our behavior to emerge again as primary points of contact.

A focus on Value, Values, Tone and Knowledge are key to never having to worry about doing marketing wrong again. Or advertising. And if, on top of that, you can entertain then you needn’t ever worry about whether your advertising or marketing is hitting that sweet spot necessary to get you customers.  

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