Remember that Talking Heads song “Once in a Lifetime”? It could be the anthem for marketers today struggling to figure out what to do in this techy, techy world. Is the ad biz having the equivalent of a midlife crisis as it searches for ways to reach, retool and redefine a jaded consumer base that eats the latest technology for breakfast, lunch and dinner? Just like the song says, “You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?”
We’ve entered the post-PC world, and advertisers and marketers are trying hard to keep up with the ever-changing way in which we receive and communicate messages. The question “Mac or PC?” is still relevant, but today it’s more “iPhone or BlackBerry?” or “iPad or (fill in latest competitor tablet here)?” In early June, market researcher IDC slashed its PC growth forecast for 2011 from 7.1 percent to 4.2 percent. Yet Apple iPad sales continue to soar, with a whopping 183 percent growth compared with a year ago.
If you think about the way we did advertising back in the day, we had clearly defined parameters: There was print, broadcast, radio, a billboard on an interstate, all informed by a brand strategy with all dots connected. Now, we’ve entered a more tactical marketing frontier. As in, do we have a presence on Facebook? Twitter? Is there an app for that? It’s not that all this digital marketing is not strategic; it’s just that much messaging has become more multilayered, more tech-focused than ever. The strategy might not always come from consumer insights; it might indeed come from what is happening in Silicon Valley or some startup in Austin.
New McKinsey data shows a huge increase in the use of digital devices and platforms: 50 percent of the population, up from 32 percent in 2008. McKinsey calls today’s smartphone a digital “Swiss Army knife,” as it’s what people use for, well, everything. (Who makes voice calls anymore, anyway?) The good news for marketers is that, according to McKinsey, the “possibilities for making money from mobile platforms will continue to improve.… smartphone users already are more accustomed to paying for digital content and services than traditional online users are.” See, technology isn’t all bad, now, is it?
Look for these same users to be watching TV in new ways, most likely on their phones. How will that change the way we make commercials? As far as I can tell, there’s no DVR for mobile yet. It’s a great opportunity for video geeks out there to make some real noise in that space.
Ever since Cannes, I can’t help but get totally pumped when I think about the opportunities in the vast, wide-open playing field called “other.” I’m thinking today about CP+B’s quite cool “Pudding Face” billboard for Jell-O. The Twitter-operated board has a face that responds to emoticons posted in tweets worldwide—in real time. Smiley faces get the billboard smiling and sad faces are mimicked, they way the brand thinks someone would look in a house that’s out of pudding. When the smiles dip below 50 percent, coupons are given to make us all smile again.
Whether this sells pudding is yet to be determined, but it sure is a long way from the old Bill Cosby commercials (though some would argue he is the original pudding face) and a step toward a future in which technology in ads is as important as the concepts themselves. This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our industry to rise to the challenge and make work that matters.