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12 Industry Leaders’ Insights on Advertising in 2016

12 Industry Leaders' Insights on Advertising in 2016

Molly Soat

Agencies will continue to move away from the ‘hard sell’ approach to advertising. Consumers bring an emotional perspective to brand preference, meaning that they buy what they relate to, like and trust.

Advertising will become more and more about content, with a focus on storytelling. Campaigns and messages will be made with a more journalistic approach. That’s our strategy at HZ, and we’ll share it in whatever medium makes sense. Millennials, in particular, love to explore and discover, so our job is to create content and tell brand stories that they’ll connect with and truly like. Social platforms, by the way—like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat—will be considered part of the media mix, alongside traditional TV, print and out-of-home advertising. … Video is becoming increasingly important and powerful because of the ways it can be integrated into social platforms, from 15-second clips on Vine or Facebook to longer pre-roll in digital banner ads.


I also think consumers’ appreciation for design, as a discipline, will grow. That’s because millions of us are acting like amateur creative directors for our own personal brands. For example, when you snap a photo, crop it, choose a filter and post it to your Instagram feed, you’re cultivating a persona or an image to share with the world, so it’s no wonder that good design has become a more significant, more important part of our daily lives. 

Today, when we look at a product with great packaging—the type, the imagery—it tells us whether what we’re buying is luxurious, healthy, good for the planet, or 1,000 other things that extend beyond what is communicated with words. Websites do the same with their structure and [user experience]. The simple, clean and image-centric designs that are so popular today can be finessed to evoke many different moods or sentiments. Good design starts conversations, sparks ideas and triggers emotion.”

E-commerce will become a brand-building platform. Nov. 11th, 2015, [saw one of] the world’s biggest single-day sales through e-commerce: $14.3 billion USD in 24 hours. The majority of the sales were within mainland China. E-commerce is already part of people’s life in China. The development is getting deeper into people’s lives. For example, in the low-tier cities where people are not tech-savvy, Alibaba … sends people city by city to teach people how to use the e-commerce platform. 

The e-commerce platform is extending its reach to more than just one-dimensional online shopping, but also bridging the service from online to offline. Home delivery services are expanding quickly, from ordering food to cleaning clothes. … When e-commerce first started, people were just looking for a deal. Now, that deal is still important, but people expect more. When people spend more and more time on an e-commerce platform, the platform isn’t just about a deal or a transaction; it also [serves] as entertainment itself. Just like shopping in the mall, it is critical for brands to offer not just a competitive price, but also offer unique experiences related to the brand’s [identity]. …

Thanks to all of this change, brand strategy is more important than ever. Marketers are always trying to catch up and adjust their internal team and agency partners, but no matter how the world changes, brand strategy should be the core of the offensive. As the media consumption habits of consumers are getting more and more fragmented, it becomes more and more important for a brand to communicate with a unified brand idea. Getting on the new media bandwagon is easy, but building a long-term powerful brand is more of a challenge. Those who can harness the brand power will win the battle in 2016.”

“It is the emerging art director, the young guns, the new breed entering the industry that must be well-versed in motion graphics, interaction design, graphic design—more specifically, branding—coupled with a 360-degree approach to advertising that will inevitably change the creative course of the industry. This aforementioned knowledge of diverse disciplines coupled with the expanding media avenues of the Internet will dictate the creative direction.

For the older generations, the verdict has been etched into their brains: no change. Yet for the younger generations—or people in general who think and act young—given the way consumers now consume, attitudes will only change in proportion to the infusion of honesty, humor and humane dialogue coupled with meaningful storytelling.”

“A lot has changed in our industry, and the pace of that change is only accelerating. I’d even argue that our industry has experienced more transformation in the past 10 years since I became CEO, compared to the previous 70 since Leo Burnett was founded. 

One significant change that I believe will carry over in 2016 is the undeniable rise in CRM and data-driven marketing that will lead the change in creative direction. While we’re excited on how Big Data helps drive better consumer insight, we believe many have been blinded by the technology itself. In doing so, they’ve missed one of the most powerful opportunities: creativity. The way we think about it is to infuse creativity with Big Data, not the other way around. 

This creative reimagination of CRM means that we’re now able to go from ‘people’ to ‘person.’ Big Data isn’t simply a collection of a giant group of generalizations, it’s a colossal combination of unique human beings. Its true potential is realized when you put a human face to it, and develop creative solutions to solve human needs. This opens up remarkably creative opportunities and fresh angles for us to execute against. We live in a screen age. The proliferation of screens in our daily environment demands more quality content from marketers. Consumers are hungry for fascinating stories, beautifully told. 

At the heart of good content is a good story. Stories that intrigue, captivate and charm are also the stories that people love, tell and share. On the other hand, the way that social platforms are laid out, it only takes a few seconds for a viewer scrolling down to decide if a silent, rolling video ad is worth clicking through. 

To capture eyeballs and the initial curiosity that leads to that ‘click,’ art direction and design come into play. The bar is set impeccably high for standards in film craft. One only has a few seconds to hook a viewer in with visually arresting content.

I’ve never believed that we have a divine right to people’s attention, especially when advertising is no longer competing within its own world; we’re competing with the rest of popular culture. The only way to appeal and remain relevant is by being interesting, engaging and rewarding. Consumers today are also demanding more transparency, more authenticity and more purpose-driven work from brands. Responsible creativity isn’t just the right thing to do–it’s a way by which brands must engage consumers in order to build brand trust and long-term brand loyalty. … 

One thing that’s remained a constant in our industry is the power of creativity. We have seen time and time again that high creativity equates to great marketplace success. Quite simply, creativity is the most valuable asset in business–and it’s never been more valuable than it is today.”

Creative is not enough, and today, being creative is so obvious to everyone. Tons of videos, images and content are uploaded every day by people, but also by brands. Since all creative tools have been democratized, creative leadership is needed more than ever. Leadership by vision and exploring new approaches will have the power to become a game changer. The role of a creative director is more important, and there is room—much-needed room—for the role of content director and even chief content officer since brands today create more advertising and more content.

Consumers will be more suspicious and more aggressive against advertising, especially against annoying digital ads. As marketers are using more power to reach consumers, consumers will use more blocking power in return. I can’t see any good news in the near future. Consumers’ behavior is a mix of disappointment and lack of trust. On the other hand, they have more power than ever to ignore advertising or even to attack back using social networks and their own creativity. Sadly, the number of marketers who are trying to earn their trust again is small—too small. Generally speaking, most marketers are trying to target their messages with more money, but not with better storytelling. In order to fix attitudes, we need more brilliant ‘handmade’ thinking, and less automatic actions. You can’t fix attitude with an algorithm. … 

I believe outdoor will be stronger [in 2016]. As we have more technologies and options to block advertising or to consume content without ads, nothing can really stop outdoor advertising. We cannot zap it. We might ignore it when it’s not interesting, but outdoor at its best—bold, smart, great copy, wonderful images, with the element of surprise—can win.”

“In 2016, we will see brands relinquish even more control than they supposedly ever had with their ‘followers’ before. Smart brands will go from having followers to fueling fandoms. … Advertising in 2016 will open more doors for fandoms to activate and spread their own narratives, inspired but not controlled by the brands they enjoy. Smart brands will bring original and shareable content that inspire the fandoms to be more creative, egging them on to make their own spin. Our fans are becoming the spin doctors. They saw past advertising’s spin a long time ago. It’s our turn to put them in the driver’s seat.

Paradoxically, to my previous points about building fandom, in 2016 we will see an almost strangely out-of-fashion resurgence of the most powerful medium we’ve had in the last 50 years: TV. The latest body of evidence suggests that TV, though it has been declining as a percentage of advertising spending amongst marketers, continues to be the medium of choice, even for millennials around the globe. 

Professor Byron Sharp, in his book How Brands Grow, uses empirical data to show that targeting ‘light’ users with emotional, memorable, consistent mass advertising is the way to reach light buyers, and light buyers are the way to build a brand. It’s very difficult to increase purchase frequency in any category regardless of whether it’s a market leader. People don’t think about brands nearly as much as marketers do, so an important job of mass advertising is to maintain top-of-mind awareness for that moment when they want to make a purchase decision.”

“Advertising is in a constant state of flux, but it is proving increasingly harder to break through on traditional channels. In 2016, we’re going to see an acceleration of brands trying to create their own brand platforms, which act as a destination for their consumers to gather around a shared point of interest. Red Bull and GoPro have been incredibly successful in developing this type of ‘pull’ communications, where consumers choose to come into a branded space as it shares their interests or values.

As millennials continue to dictate mass market taste, we will see a return to

‘recent nostalgia’ as an awareness-driving mechanism. Millennials are the first group to have been able to share collective experiences in real time ‘memes’ and, as such, are extremely susceptible to nostalgia from the recent past. (‘Double rainbow,’ anyone?) Smart brands can tap into this and recycle ideas from the recent past to create a sense of connection with younger consumers.

From a design perspective, brands are having to rapidly create branded motion graphics to supplement their existing identities. With digital being the primary consumer interface, having a well-branded piece of animation becomes crucial in much the same way a jingle became a key branded element in the age of radio. Design will start to take on the language of motion graphics, even in static imagery.”

“As George Bernard Shaw once said: ‘The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.’ I’m confident that our industry will change in the coming year, but it’s the prospect of ‘unreasonable’ change that excites me most.

The beauty of our industry now is that the possibilities for the work that we create are virtually endless. Technological innovation has freed us from the set menu of fixed-time lengths and standard formats. That means that if the best answer to a client’s business problem is an exquisite 11-minute short film, or a series of interactive portraits of lovingly worn sneakers, that’s what we will create. The universe of potential creative solutions is virtually endless. It’s our responsibility to adapt, to understand and expand the possible ways a brand can interact with its audience, in order to push things forward and create work that really works. 

Dieter Rams once said: ‘Indifference towards people and the reality in which they live is the one and only cardinal sin in design.’ While he 

may have said that over five decades ago, I hope it’s a lesson that we will continue to remember and learn from in 2016 and beyond, and in video and beyond. If you haven’t read Pixar’s brilliant rules of storytelling, do. They remind us to keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. The two can be very different. No matter what medium we’re creating in, we overlook our audience and their interests at our peril.”

“Consumers will expect even more from advertising. The content will need to be increasingly honest, relatable and contextually relevant in order to help shift perceptions. With the continual evolution of in-stream ad products, the need for strong content will only increase. Brands producing content that feels taxing will fail, while others who understand the platforms for which they’re creating content will thrive, gain consumer trust and achieve social currency. The key here will be the shift away from the mindset of content as a window-to-window strategy and more as a perpetual way of speaking to the consumer through different lenses.

Art and design will continue to be a strong part of every aspect of advertising, but there will be an increased emphasis on data to help drive creative decisions. The combination of science, art and design will be used to test and learn to see what resonates. This methodology will increasingly become the primary way ‘big bet’ creative decisions are made, specifically in the form of video advertising. … Creative direction will be less focused on driving traffic back to a single destination, but rather on a holistic but distributed approach where many pieces of content are adapted to reach people where they are, specific to the devices that they’re using.

The big shift will be thinking about the future and the new technology that allows marketers to tell their story in unique ways. Through this, there may be older forms of ad models that are reinvented, but the focus will be on the new mediums and how they can best be utilized. There will be an increased awareness that there needs to be an adaption of the insight for the platform, which means that marketers will increasingly rely on creatives to be experts in all aspects of the evolving social space.”

“The only constant is change. As more marketers realize they are living in a world where almost no one has to watch ads, you will see ‘ads’ that try harder to be more engaging and entertaining—not creating engagement. Smart marketers are going to turn increasingly away from using advertising to disseminate information about their goods and services because the most valuable consumers no longer look to advertising for information, if they look at all. 

The role of advertising now, more than ever, is to create a relevant connection between a brand and what people really care about. More often than not, in the ad context, they do not care about your brand or products. They care about themselves: their lives, hopes, dreams and aspirations. The trick for marketers will be to forge compelling, emotional connections so that when a consumer is ready to buy a refrigerator, a car, a can of paint or a new flat-panel TV, their brand will be tucked warmly in the consumer’s synapses and rise to consideration at the right time. A recent article by Ian Leslie of The Financial Times summed this up very well: ‘The most effective ads don’t sell, but they do make people buy.’ Let’s hope so.”

“Advertising creative has to exist in ever-conflicting paradigms. First, the creative needs to be easily fragmented into an increasing array of media and content formats. Instead of working on a $3 million broadcast campaign, creative directors now need to work on 10 $300,000 projects or 30 $100,000 assignments. Creativity, therefore, needs to be malleable, ever-moving and multidisciplinary: Like water, to paraphrase Bruce Lee.

At the same time, people expect brands to stand for something more than just their creativity. Great creative work is rarely superseded by people’s desire to see brands walk the walk and not just talk the talk. All of those fragmented pieces of creative need to coalesce into a unified raison d’etre for the brand: What does it stand for and how authentically does it back it up? Creative direction, therefore, will be predicated on inventing novel ways to tell the brand story in dozens, hundreds or even thousands of different ways. 

Fundamentally, people’s attitudes toward traditional advertising will continue to be relatively negative. Unless it’s the Super Bowl, folks will still fast-forward through commercials. Ad blocking technology will keep pace with the proliferation of digital advertising. For the most part, old ways of advertising will carry with them the burden of disapproval, yet people love great storytelling. And, more importantly, they seek out new experiences. Newer forms of advertising, like experiential campaigns, are more likely to be appropriated and approbated by people. If people participate in the advertising experience, they are much more likely to share that experience and remember it. Same with a great story: If the authenticity is there, and the ability to authentically engage with the advertising, then there is the distinct possibility that people’s negative attitudes could become reversed.

Out-of-home and print have real potential for resurgence. Out-of-home can be more experiential than ever, and it’s an incredible platform for creativity. And if Instagram has taught us anything, the power of the image is as prevalent as ever. If print advertising can incorporate new ways to actually engage with the work, it can be a revitalizing force in not only advertising but content and publishing, as well.”

“[This year] is about reimagining advertising. Premium content and data will only become more important for advertisers. Whether that is through rethinking the viewer experience within commercial pods, better storytelling within branded content, or having the right tools and data to support stronger campaign decisions, our world has gotten more complex, but the opportunities have only gotten richer for marketers. What will need to happen, and has already started, is that marketers will need to evaluate the playing field to see who is currently set up with those capabilities, both in production and storytelling, and possibly more importantly in data-driven ad products. When you combine both of these parts, you have a powerful vehicle to drive your message home. With the right mix, you have great impact.”