Technology has already dramatically changed the communications industry and the agencies that work in it. Yet an even bigger evolution in the way communications is planned appears to be just around the corner, with technologists and software designers.
By 2016, the advertising industry will largely be considered as much a technology industry as it is considered a creative industry. The communications agency of 2016 will be increasingly considered to be a digital-based agency first and foremost. And in many of the developed markets, communications agencies will also consider themselves as data agencies. Audience data purchased through data suppliers such as BlueKai will be largely accepted as a commodity – and the bid price will find a market price at which point it offers little value, as per brand terms in Search Engine Maketing (SEM).
AMPs offer night-time vision.However, agencies will take client data and combine it with their pools of existing data and social data to create high propensity segments – therefore increasing the bespoke nature of audiences and increasing the potential scale. This will present an increasing challenge for advertisers and for auditors in terms of assessment. As they do today, teams will bid for data and then bid again for impressions to reach them – they will carry this out within a more evolved form of the Audience Management Platforms (AMPs) that are rolling out now. AMPs are complete ad-management software platforms that merge real-time bidding software with data management dashboards. Incorporated into this will be sophisticated creative versioning technology – so that various combinations of creative can be served and optimised in real-time.
With so many channels incorporated into AMPs, agencies and their clients will begin to have an unprecedented level of visibility and control. As an increasing amount of creative optimisation will be carried out within the system, communications agencies will be at the frontline on creative. Creative agencies will still produce the core advertising ideas – but the execution management will begin to be shaped by the communications agencies. They will control the software that optimises which combinations of assets (headlines, copy-lines, images) run against which audience, at what time of day and where. In some cases, the communications agencies will actually employ copywriters to write copy – in a similar way to how they control the content within SEM. And these AMPs will finally repel the threat of the algorithm-based agencies that will emerge over the next five years.
The emergence of algorithm planning agencies. This new breed of algorithm-based planning agencies that will spring up will steal social ad targeting in a similar way to the SEM agencies that stole SEM work in the last decade. Their core products will be software not people – and they will also offer it direct to advertisers. They will automate the targeting and creative management for social sites – linking directly into their Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). These algorithm planning agencies will be an entirely new breed. They will have come from a software background and will therefore have different paradigms. According to a UK media futurologist, Jean Paul Edwards of MG OMD, algorithmic planning offers the potential to massively reduce friction in all kinds of marketing functions.
Those companies that can integrate these new models of thinking will be very successful over the next decade. Many communications agencies will initially use their software but over time, and as a larger share of spend is invested into social ads, there will be a movement to bring the resource in-house, either through purchasing the companies or through building the capability. It will be the integration of social ads with all of the other activity, within an AMP, that will allow the major communications agencies of 2016 to take back responsibility for social ads.
By YouTube will have an increasing amount of quality video content as it continues to sign up more partnerships with production studios and will have close to 40% of total video views worldwide. They will also have further developed their partnership with Vevo, the music video distribution channel, to sell in-video ads across more than 50% of their total video views. This, combined with other video suppliers, will mean that close to 50% of all video views worldwide will be ad-inventory – which will mostly be bought via an exchange.
This dramatic increase in biddable video inventory, combined with enhanced real-time trading systems, will lead to a media futures exchange – where agencies and/or ancillary groups use algorithms to either ‘long’ or ‘short’ on the future cost of audience data and inventory. If this happens, it may begin to change the role of the media agency to one where it is an active player in the market and not just a middle-man. Forrester Research said that media planners of the future will be like portfolio managers focused on managing risk for their clients.
The beating heart of the communications agency will be algorithm-shaped. There will be a continual movement to get everything into a real-time exchange. The focus will be to automate everything that can be automated and then to upscale their offerings – the maxim of the day will be A&U (Automate and Upscale). There will still be many media channels that will require a manual media buy – media such as traditional TV buying and Outdoor will benefit from some improvements in booking systems, but they will be waiting largely for the real-time bidding wave to engulf them.
More content than ever. Content creation will continue to be a growing up-scaled offering for communications agencies. By 2016, most media agencies will be considered to be ‘full service content agencies’ – carrying out content strategies that, in many instances, carry through to advertising. Also, an increasing amount of innovation is expected in this area – not just with the formats, but also with the business models.
Some agencies and/or production companies may produce content with a clickable layer to more information behind all of the products and services featured – with the sole purpose of gleaning intent-data that can then be used for targeting, or even on-sold to data management companies such as BlueKai. They are also likely to develop ecommerce platforms attached to the clickable layer – so that, for example, the viewer can click on a handbag that a character is holding to find out more, ‘Like’ it and then buy it there and then. Clickable content is a whole new strand of content development which will be incredibly rich and diverse. Innovation will be managed by both creative agency and communications agency, with occasions when they will be pitching against each other. The new role of creative technologist will be to work with creative teams and/or with channel planners. Their role will be to bring creative thinking to life in a new digital eco-system that includes the consumer.
By 2016, campaign thinking will have universally been replaced by always-on thinking. The launch of new campaigns will result in teams working through the night for several days to monitor and moderate the ‘earned effect’. Social experts will be trained to understand data as well the new emergent forms of group psychology – they will use expressions such as ‘confirmation bias’, ‘herd’, ‘contagion’, ‘gamification’ and ‘catharsis’. They will be equipped and empowered to deal with a negative contagion and to shape a wave of interest into a positive outcome in the moment. These social planners will be an essential part of the strategy team for the conception of ideas – paid investments will be seen as catalysts of earnings. Good social marketing planners will add unprecedented value with their in-the-moment judgements. Some will be the super-stars of the industry.
Leading up to 2016, we will see an increasing amount of interest in agent- based modelling (ABM). ABM allows advertisers to build a virtual network of their entire market. From this, advertisers can try different strategies to see their effect on business performance. Pioneering clients of 2016 will have ABMs and these will give them an advantage over their competitors. Communications agencies will eventually adopt them and feed all of their data into them. Some agencies will partner with external companies and some will take them in-house.
Some things never change. The greatest influence on advertiser performance will continue to be the idea. This will mean that, almost as an antidote to automation, we will begin to see a resurgence in creativity. After the inventory is optimised, the creative component can start to receive an uninterrupted focus. But the focus will be wider than it is today – it will include New Product Development, because by 2016, the canvas upon which creativity can happen will be incredibly rich and diverse. Innovation will be managed by both creative agency and communications agency, with occasions when they will be pitching against each other. The new role of creative technologist will work with creative teams and/or with channel planners. Their role will be to bring creative thinking to life in a new digital eco-system that includes consumers.
Some communications agencies may divide themselves into two halves with one side focusing on upscale services and account management and the automation half being centrally ‘pooled’ within the holding companies. The upscale half will be ultimately on a road to compete with existing creative agencies, whilst the automation half will compete with the algorithm-based software/investment houses. What we will see is an increase in the value that communications agencies add.
Advertisers will spend more time selecting their communications agencies than they do today and than they do with any other agency as the complexity in assessing one against the other will increase. But get the decision correct and the effect on the advertisers’ business will be as, if not more, significant than it has hitherto been with the selection of the creative agency.