After the social and political upheaval of 2017, only a fool would try to forecast what 2018 will bring, but we will foolishly forge ahead. Marketing has been in a cycle of disruption for most of this decade already and the results are becoming part of the infrastructure, so let’s look at what we can expect for branding, media and agencies next year.
Media: Back to the Future
The focus on mobile marketing and the surging popularity of podcasts is breathing new life on the oldest broadcast medium—radio, but the end looks nigh for print, as newspapers and magazines head to the elephant graveyard.
Meanwhile, the future of television will be at stake in 2018, as larger cord cutting and cord-never audiences disrupt how television is consumed and used in advertising and marketers focus more closely on measuring their audiences. This could be good news for TV, where audiences have been atomized by streaming and on-demand viewing.
“In 2018, TV will join the ranks of digital channels by finally introducing measurement capabilities that let brands attribute TV viewership to specific, valuable offline behaviors,” said Kevin Kohn, CEO of iQ Media. Better measurement will help TV expand its relevance all the way to in-store or digital purchase events, he said. “TV’s move into the digital age will ultimately lay the groundwork for unified measurement across all channels, acknowledging once and for all that advertisers, like their audiences, want to move freely between the many channels they’re active on.”
In digital channels, the one-two punch of Facebook and Google have duopolized the social media space, so other platforms are focusing on developing new ways to search and communicate in order to differentiate themselves in 2018.
“When it comes to connecting with modern, mobile first consumers in 2018, marketers’ starting point will be the digital super platforms that are Google and Facebook,” said James Connelly, CEO of mobile agency Fetch. Marketers will also supplement that media with integration with Amazon and Snapchat, but “with the efficacy of mobile banner ads continuing to decline, ad blocking on the rise and an oversupply of inventory, expect a mass consolidation in the digital media supply chain in 2018.”
Other platforms will focus on developing different digital experiences and engagement to compete in 2018, just like voice search powered new experiences in 2017. For example, Pinterest is leveraging its Pinterest Lens visual recognition tool to enable an alternative to text or voice searches. Computer vision technology and artificial intelligence have paved the way for visual search and discovery, said Yolanda Lam, Head of Agency Partnerships at Pinterest. After more than 20 years of traditional, text-based search, voice and visual search are a new way to bring online and offline behavior together, she explained.
Branding: Buy it Now, and I Mean Now
Consumers have become more skeptical and demanding than ever, and that behavior is only growing in 2018, said experts.
On-demand offerings are no longer the province of the big spender or insider. “We’ve had on demand for the right people all the time, now we have it for everyone else,” said Shelly Palmer, CEO of advisory firm The Palmer Group. Marketers will need to use more predictive analytics in 2018 just to avoid losing ground, as consumers want everything on demand and right away.
“Amazon Dash buttons have accustomed millions to the idea of one touch auto-ordering. The next natural step? AI-powered personal shopping assistants,” said Steve Stepanek, strategist at Latcha+Associates. “This technology will take away one of the value points of a retailer’s physical store. However, it will make it easier, more convenient, immediate and less intimidating for customers to engage, perhaps more frequently, with retail brands.”
Meanwhile, brick and mortar stores face a retail apocalypse, but e-tailers are ready to pick up the slack. “All those ‘For Rent’ signs in malls are a wonderful opportunity to do pop-ups at scale. Look for brands that never had their own stores to ‘pop up’ in unusual places,” said Jon Bond, co-chair & chief tomorroist at agency The Shipyard.
“2018 will be the year that even online-first brands will feel pressure to commit to the physical versions of their brands, …but they’ll do it the digital way, using tech to bridge their online origins with their newfound physical personas,” said Matthew Haber, Managing Director & Co-Founder of BeSide Digital. Those physical experiences will be designed to drive engagement and loyalty, rather than sales, by creating a consistent narrative between the digital and physical, he said.
But trust will remain a major hurdle to the digital experience in 2018, after the stories of data breaches, Russian bots and iPhone X face hacks in 2017. Ad fraud and brand safety will remain top-of-mind.
“In 2018, marketers will want to purchase ad inventory with more confidence and without the fear that their ads are being served to bots,” said David A. Yovanno, CEO of Impact Radius. “Fraud detection and verification services are de facto—they are no longer optional.”
YouTube was the source of a brand-safety reckoning in 2017, when Procter & Gamble ads were found running as preroll on videos posted by ISIS. CMO Marc Pritchard took the opportunity to put the company’s $100 million-plus spending on pause while reassessing marketing, and to improve the content and placement of messages.
“People in the industry have realized it was time for the digital media business to grow up,” he said. P&G’s effort has set the stage for another series of discussions next year.
“The industry deserves a lot of credit for stepping up to clean the media ecosystem,” said Pritchard. “The will is there and action is being taken.”
Agencies: #MeToo, how about you?
Even before the recent #metoo social media storm, diversity and sexism had been a hot internal topic at agencies, and external relationships remain tense, as agencies compete with all kinds of rivals now, even their own clients and vendors.
Everybody is in everybody’s business now, so partnering and competing at once has become difficult. Media companies now own agencies, marketers have built their own in-house shops, and consultants are acquiring and building agencies, as well. No surprise, the latest Advertising Age rankings of agencies included four consulting firms—Accenture, PwC, IBM and Deloitte—in the top ten for the first time.
“I think the relationships between brands, agencies and publishers, they’re all up for grabs at the moment,” said Sebastian Tomich, senior VP advertising and innovation at The New York Times.
Other relationships will feel the fallout from the gender wars. Sexual harrassment charges hit media hard in 2017, claiming everyone from NBC’s Matt Lauer to a night’s worth of PBS programming. Agencies—which already had their moment in 2016—are bound to feel the heat again. Many CMOs, such as HP’s Antonio Lucio and P&G’s Marc Pritchard, have responded by vowing to police their organizations and their agencies more closely on gender issues.
Diversity is only one facet of the continuing talent crisis in marketing. As the profession becomes more data-driven and dependent on technologies such as machine learning, the competition for talent is still pitched; Madison Avenue will keep competing with Silicon Valley for the same pool of talent in 2018.
“The pint half full of me says the market size for talent is bigger than ever before, so this is an opportunity for all of us,” said Marco Sconamiglio, Global CEO, of RAPP. But he added that agencies, “need to work harder to get the talent to keep their heads turned to us, and not have their heads turned by the consultants for example (who now claim creative environments).”