The new shape of advertising

Lawrence Zammit's article on The Times of Malta

Looking back thirty years, no one denies that the world of advertising has changed dramatically. Obviously technology has played a part since it has become an indispensable communication tool. However I do not believe that developments in technology explain fully what has happened. We need to add changes in demographics, changes in consumer behaviour and attitudes, more creative approaches, the increased importance that is being attached to branding, and other factors. This applies both to Malta and to other countries.

So what shape will advertising take in the future? Yoram “Jerry” Wind, a recognised thought leader in the world of marketing, has just published a book called “Beyond Advertising”. In it he gathered views from practitioners around the world about what advertising could be like in 2020. Maybe his most significant statement is that the old world of advertising is dead, or at the very least a very good way to waste a lot of money.

This immediately sends the message that companies seeking to make small gradual changes to their current advertising strategy could be in for a very nasty surprise. They may find themselves overtaken by events in a manner that would put them at a serious disadvantage against their competitors. One fact that has surprised me is that more than eight out of every ten businesses that dominated the world fifty years ago have disappeared. The expected seismic shift in advertising could well lead to a similar result over the coming years.

Technology may very well be driving this change. Users of smartphones and social media know that there is now information about what they are doing, where they are, who they are with. Nowadays some social media even ask you to describe the mood you are in. This may all be a bit scary from a social point of view. However this information is being transformed into essential knowledge for the business world, to ensure that its messages are targeted at specific individuals.

On the other hand, although branding is increasingly becoming an important element in a company’s marketing activities, people are also becoming increasingly sceptical of claims made in advertising. Another dimension to consider is the increasing income inequality around the world. As these and other elements interact with each other, it becomes crucial for businesses to first understand and then offer value to consumers.

In his book “Beyond Advertising”, Jerry Wind writes about two interconnected advertising strategies. The first relates to content. Wind claims that the communication content of companies through all the points of contact with consumers should be “RAVES”. By this he means that it should be relevant to them, be respectful towards them, be actionable, be valuable, provide an exceptional experience and tell a surprising story. This is quite a tall order. However we also know to what extent current advertising is not so.

His second strategy is that the context in which advertising takes place, must be “MADES”. This means that any form of interaction with consumers needs to appeal to our different senses; needs to be targeted at specific audiences in terns of their emotions and not in terms demographic factors; needs to take account of the mode of delivery (considering the various channels business have available today); needs to take account of the environment in which it is received; and needs to take account of the synergies with other customer points of contact.

Advertising and all forms of marketing communications absorb a significant amount of resources for companies selling to consumers. Over the years there has been a great emphasis on the return on investment of such expenditure, and the answers have not always been so clear cut. I believe that it will continue to be so, as we navigate across uncharted waters with no compass and possibly not even certain of our destination.

Maybe we should also consider the fact that although the Maltese culture is different to other cultures, globalisation of the economy has also brought about a globalisation and commonality of consumer expectations.

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