A Look at Key Emerging Media Trends

I got in to advertising because I’m a geek (the good kind, really) and I love art — or perhaps more accurately — creative expression. A high school art teacher demonstrated a Mac II fx and built a simple print ad in minutes. The desktop publishing revolution was underway, and it hit me: advertising could perhaps be a way to combine my affection for technology with my fondness of art in such a way that might actually be commercially viable.

So I studied advertising in college. This was during the early days of interactive — back when it was mostly about CD-ROMs and things like CompuServe were all the rage. No one was teaching these digital technologies at the time, but they were schooling us in the advertising philosophies of luminaries like David Ogilvy and Howard Gossage. I was taught (among other things) that getting the consumer to interact with your ad in some way was one of the best ways to ensure that they’d remember your message. I remember distinctly sitting in class and having a revelation that must have been obvious to my professors and everyone around me: advertisers used to have to rely on gimmicks and tricks to get people to interact with their ads. But the coming digital revolution would finally allow us to be trulyinteractive. Gossage said, “An ad should ideally be like one end of an interesting conversation.” That’s great for a print or TV ad, but suddenly, here with digital, why can’t an ad be both ends of an interesting conversation? I knew then and there that I wanted to be in interactive advertising.

So a couple of years out of college, I found myself working for an interactive agency startup that eventually was acquired by Avenue A (then merged with Razorfish to create Avenue A | Razorfish and ultimately became part of Microsoft). For the last 11-plus years, my advertising career has revolved around the Internet, and it’s been a fun ride, to say the least.

But then something funny happened over the last couple of years: the Internet has become bigger than the PC. We’re squarely in the age of the digital lifestyle, and the Web has become so ubiquitous that it’s nearly invisible.

All of the learning we’ve done with regards to marketing via the Web is suddenly bigger than the Internet. And, just as importantly, the challenges we’ve yet to solve on the Web are now challenges that exist beyond the PC. This is all relevant anywhere that digital technologies and experiences exist, and these days, that’s just about everywhere.

So with that as a backdrop, I thought it’d be interesting to explore four key emerging media trends that are showing the tremendous impact of interactive media — both on the PC and beyond. It’s too much for a single column, so we’ll explore two trends this time and look at the next two during an upcoming column.

Trend: The Web is Everywhere

Mobile phones are leading this charge, bringing Web connectivity to your pocket. Smartphones in general and the iPhone more specifically have radically accelerated Web usage on mobile devices, and the newly announced 3G version of the iPhone will undoubtedly bring another leap forward. According to Nielsen, there were 87 million mobile subscribers who use the mobile Web at the end of 2007, up nearly 20 percent year over year. That growth will accelerate as carriers push flat-rate data plans, and begin to break down the walled gardens. Those moves by the industry are already leading content producers to accelerate investments in building robust mobile offerings.

What that means is that the transparency that the PC Web brings to decision factors like price and product quality are suddenly free from the desktop or even laptop. Whether or not that means people will go to the Web to make “informed impulse” buys remains to be seen. But one thing is certain: continued advancements in device capabilities are making consumers more informed (and better connected to friends and family) as they shop.

The phone is just the beginning, too. Everything is getting connected: in-store kiosks, interactive storefront windows, shopping carts, refrigerators, cars and so on. The march toward ubiquitous computing is in full swing, and we’re only just beginning to see the massive implications of the changing realities of how we interact with digital technologies and vice versa.

Trend: Out of Home Has Gone Digital

Not long ago, Times Square was the epicenter of digital signage in the U.S. It may still represent the highest concentration, but digital out of home (DOOH) is exploding and you see it just about everywhere now. Digital signage is officially “the next big thing” for a lot of marketers. In a mobile survey fielded via text messaging at our Client Summit, it was ranked second to mobile as the most important emerging media channel in the coming year. Roughly 51 percent of respondents ranked mobile as the most important, followed by DOOH with nearly 32 percent. Other channels trailed by a wide margin.

The growth in this space is tremendous, driven by falling technology costs, fragmentation of media, a steady increase in the amount of time the average American spends outside of the home, and so on. It’s a powerful channel for marketers, bringing a lot of what we love about Web advertising to the OOH advertising world. Suddenly we can centrally manage an OOH campaign just like we do on the Web, allowing for rapid changes and optimization. Interactivity doesn’t exist yet on all flavors of digital signage, but where it does, it’s being embraced by marketers who recognize the power of an experience as opposed to a message. Advances in measurement technology also promise to bring a keen focus on return on investment and accountability to this nascent channel, meaning again that the analytical rigor we’ve applied to brand and direct response campaigns alike on the Web will quickly become important in the signage space.

More to come next time…

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