A Blast from the Past from the Future

The final essay from the book, comes from Gavin Gordon-Rogers, now Interactive Creative Director at Wieden & Kennedy and Gemma Butler, Creative Director of Agency Republic (now freelance), who were able to send us their closing chapter from the future. Hope you enjoy it:

We missed the deadline for this book. Way too much pitching, and clients always comes first. Luckily, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, it’s now possible to send data back in time (for an exorbitant fee). Of course, all messages are strictly monitored and censored so as to avoid the very fabric of the space–time continuum unraveling. So much as we’d like to, we can’t tell you when to bet on Arsenal winning the Premiership. Well, we can, but you won’t get to see it. It’s in —-, and —-, and —.

Anyway, we thought it would be worth submitting a little piece for consideration even though we’re several decades late. But what should we write about? Naturally, the other essays in the book have already covered a wide territory. And let us tell you, Digital Advertising: Past, Present, and Future has for years been one of the cornerstones of marketing practice for students, marketeers, and brand leaders. What more can we add, other than to give you a brief snapshot of how it all turned out….

So what’s changed here in 2030? It’s difficult to know where to begin. What is marketing? Do agencies still exist? Do consumers care? Is the Semantic Web working? Has digital made the world a better place?

Let’s start with what’s closest to our hearts: our own necks. What does the agency of the future look like? The situation can be summed up in one word: diversification. Fortunately, agencies still exist but they now take far more diverse forms and include the following: creative technologists, who are the new artists; intelligent personality-profiling companies that also deal in data privacy; games developers who create brand experiences; professional brand evangelists; parallel world builders, designers, actors, and traders; the new form of ———- based on the principles of ———-. The list goes on.

The point is that, as asserted elsewhere in this book, the “traditional” model of brand communication is totally dead. That doesn’t mean that traditional media is dead. Agencies still produce TV ads (IPTV, contextual bumpers, and so on), newspaper ads (digital readers), and billboards (digital billboards). The agencies from 2010 that have succeeded are the ones that have consistently been most open to evolution.

It’s claimed that Charles Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but rather the one most adaptable to change.” Whether or not Darwin said it, that was and still is something for all agencies to live by.

What about the concept of all our data forming a living, growing brain, and what Flo Heiss refers to in his essay as the “Filter”? Thirty-one years ago (1999) Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, foresaw the evolution of our use of and access to data: “I have a dream for the Web in which computers become capable of analyzing all the data on the Web – the content, links, and transactions between people and computers. A ‘Semantic Web,’ which should make this possible, has yet to emerge, but when it does, the day-to-day mechanisms of trade, bureaucracy, and our daily lives will be handled by machines talking to machines. The ‘intelligent agents’ people have touted for ages will finally materialize.”

Between fifteen to twenty years ago, people started to become overwhelmed by data and all the different possibilities data offered. The first iterations of data filtering – RSS feeds, personalisable home pages such as iGoogle, Twitter groups, and so on – were simply not intelligent or advanced enough to cope. New services were developed hand over fist, many of them by brands. Only a few of the very best ones won out.

Today, most people use ——— from Google. Acting as a filter is just the start of its capabilities. It categorises, associates, contextualises, and summarises all our data. Wherever, whenever. Best of all, it learns to know you. It even prompts you: to buy things; to get in touch with people; to take a break, have a kip; to take a vitamin pill; to go on holiday or change careers. Depending upon how you react, it learns and changes its behaviour; a virtuous circle is created. Ultimately, it doesn’t just know you – it is you. Your alter ego, alive and well, skiffing the data oceans. Happy sailing.

One of the most crucially significant (and most enjoyable, both for marketeers as creators and for end users as consumers) areas of development over the past twenty years has been gaming. Where once consumers might have watched a TV ad or visited a campaign microsite, now they can fully immerse themselves in a playable parallel world where the brand controls every tiny detail.

Advergaming (or brandgaming) properly began in the early years of the millennium. It was starting to take off around the time that this book was published: branded console games, interactive cinema trailers, the sharp rise of 3D in cinema accompanied by the launch of the first 3D home cinema screens. Webcams built into screens as interaction controllers became the norm quickly. Fully interactive movies where you play the lead role and can affect the plot with every decision you make – these are now ubiquitous. Augmented reality contact lenses (ARCs) have become a genuine consumer proposition rather than being readily accessible only to the military. MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) swiftly morphed into MMARRPGs (massively multiplayer augmented reality role-playing game).

We learnt how to play the advergame the hard way when we created our own MMARRPG Monster Munch Mayhem back in 2022. The concept was simple, in theory. Put on the free ARCs that came with every twelve-pack of Monster Munch and watch, in stupefied amazement, as the Pickled Onion Monster bursts forth from your packet of Pickled Onion flavour, reshaped baked corn snacks. Your adventure begins…

The aim was to befriend as many monsters as possible – which was, of course, easier when you used unique codes on the packs – in order to build a personal army, compete with others, and ultimately defeat the synthbots and their evil overlord. The always-on, 4D nature meant that, in essence: you snooze, you lose.

Before long, perfectly well-adjusted eight-year-olds could be seen in playgrounds, embroiled in epic unseen battles, wildly gesticulating at thin air, screaming gobbledegook spells at one another, and collapsing in shell-shocked, eye-bagged exhaustion as the end-of-playtime bell rang out. It was quite wonderful. The nation was hooked. And not just kids – nerds too. Even a few real people. Monster Munch Mayhem was in full effect. Sadly, the industry didn’t quite take the same shine to it. The media were outraged. One rag wheezed that it was “cynical, corrosive, and morally bankrupt.” PepsiCo (owners of Monster Munch) were losing a lot of money too, what with all the ARCs they were giving out. The servers were switched off at the height of Monster Munch Mayhem’s popularity (which only fuelled its subsequent cult status). Game over.

Insert coin.

With the advent of new types of sensory tech came the opportunity to make immersive brand experiences ever more realistic. Taste, smell, touch – including temperature, pain, and so on – all delivered via data streams. Every visceral detail conjured into life by nanobots and chemical arrays and nervous system stimulators and mind-control interfaces.

These parallel worlds are currently massively popular, not least because they afford the user real escape into an aspirational, beautiful, safe fantasy land where almost anything is possible. It’s like Second Life to the power of all your senses. Some of the most popular, like Pringles Pop Till You Drop Party Island (by glue London) and the Official Ferrari Gigolo Experience (by AKQA) have years-long waiting lists. Others operate on invite-only policies.

But there is one thing common to all the successful branded worlds, and in fact, one thing common to all successful brands in 2030: Accountability. Honesty. “Being good,” as Johnny Vulkan puts it in his essay.

Has digital made the world a better place? Undoubtedly.

Has digital marketing made the world a better place?

What we have learnt is that brands are alive, like people are alive. They need to behave well – to be not just accepted by society but befriended. The brands that didn’t grasp this failed. Those brands that were style over substance. The brands that undertook morally questionable activities or dealt with unethical partners and financiers.

Now, because all information is open, brands must choose their principles wisely and stick to them. Consistency of character is as important in a brand as consistency of value or quality of product.

So. We didn’t promise some kind of special recipe for success from the future. Even if we had it would have been censored. All right, let’s have one more go. The winning numbers for the world’s biggest ever lottery jackpot, an eighth rollover week in the Euro Millions draw on Friday 25 January 2019, are: 05, -, -, -, -, — and -.

There is no secret formula.

It’s really as simple as it ever was. The brands that people really care about are the ones that stand for something. They invite their customers in. They are open. And they tell a damn good story about their beliefs.

Be good, and good luck.

Extract from Digital Advertising: Past, Present, and Future

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