The infinite fragmentation, a perspective on the evolution of the digital advertising industry | Articles

1960 to 2054 - A century of evolution for the advertising industry

Feature films and TV series often try to project the viewer into the future (what could it look like), often high on action and adrenaline. These can also be storifications of the past (what was it like), often with an extra dose of drama. Such fiction often challenge the viewer's routine.

AMC’s TV series “Mad Men”, which covers Madison Avenue’s Ad Men from 1960 until 1970, is often used to illustrate the past of advertising and account management. Set in the post-war decades, Mad Men illustrates the rise of consumerism, the arrival of television and, naturally, the advertising boom.  On the other end of the timeline, the movie Minority Report (released in 2002) did a great job predicting elements of the current century, advertising included. Taking place in 2054, the movie presents a strangely accurate future world where advanced Artificial Intelligence (AI) can predict crime and where self driving cars reign supreme. It envisioned augmented reality (AR) and widespread touch and motion controlled screens and interfaces (the Wii, mass market touch screens, Microsoft Kinect all came out years after the movie) voice controlled homes (think of Alexa, Google Home and the hundreds of voice enabled home applications), and last but not least: ultra personalised advertising. 

Are we there yet? In a sense, yes. But much remains to be done for a seamless integration of technologies, and user (customer) experience. A paradigm shift will also have to occur between ‘how we used to do things’ and ‘how we should do things’. Ad men still remain crucial elements of the equation, but gut feelings and simplistic correlations will have to be set aside.

Did you say Digital Advertising?

Digital advertising is not an entirely new discipline that emerged out of the blue. It is simply the evolution of traditional marketing practices alongside an evolving society and new technological capabilities. Digital advertising is a subset of marketing. Today’s basics are the same as before:

  • Addressing the right message to the right person at the right time 
  • Mass media campaigns for brand awareness
  • Targeted campaigns and actions to stimulate a purchase

But then what has changed?

Modern technology has created entirely new media channels. Ad campaigns still run on TV, in newspapers, at the movies and on street billboards, but billions of ad impressions are now taking place online, on websites, in our emails, in our online videos, on social media. 

Technology is also impacting the traditional media. Our newspapers are becoming online news sites and social media posts, our street billboards are becoming digital and interactive. TV content is consumed over the top, and ads are served based on your device type, location and socio demographic persona.

The result of the encounter of the world of advertising and modern technology has one major consequence: infinite fragmentation. 

The infinite fragmentation

Throughout history, technology (think about the invention of print) has had an impact on the way that we communicate and do commerce. In the last decade technology has created infinite marketing fragmentation. To pretend to be efficient, advertisers now have to handle as many messages and touchpoints as there are individuals in their target audience. 

At the beginning it was easy. Media became digital, so media buying digitised as well. Media planners would buy an ad campaign in the offline press, on TV and on the radio, and digital inventory would be added to the mix. Soon enough, media owners started segmenting their inventory in order to offer advertisers with more qualitative access to their audience. Advertisers could then buy ad space that was ‘most likely’ to be read by parents, business affictionatos, car lovers, etc.

Digital media buying has since then become programmatic. This means that advertisers no longer negotiate the price for specific inventory for a specific duration. Nowadays, most media impressions are bought programmatically, as a real time auction, within open or tailored inventory.

Since then, technology has added the capacity to identify individuals within the mass. This is done with first and/or third party data. Advertiser’s business and website data can be layered on top of each of those real time auctions, allowing for a different message or different auction based on the targeted individual’s history and business potential. One of the market’s most advanced project (as of Q4 2019) reflecting this complexity is the recent collaboration between AdSomeNoise, Semetis and technology & media partners to launch a Video Dynamic Creative Optimisation campaign

As pointed out above, technology is not only creating new online media avenues. Traditional media is being transformed. Radio and television are becoming digital, so are the street billboards. This new form factor alone is revolutionary. Street billboards can be updated with the new ad from a distance, and customised based on who’s walking by. Radio ads can be bought programmatically. This is a paradigm change from the old ways of buying media, from “one campaign fits all” to “my message can adapt automatically and can touch anyone, anywhere, anytime”. As offline media can become digital, ‘online’ no longer means digital, and the lines between those concepts are blurring.

All of those elements are creating today’s infinite fragmentation, the biggest challenge in marketing today:

  • Immeasurable touch points per customer, available programmatically or not.
  • Countless media types (online, offline, digital, print, social, native, influencers, …).
  • A prodigious variety within the digital spectrum (online content, apps, social networks, open inventory, tailored inventory, …).
  • Vast targeting possibilities (socio-demographic, geographic, behavior, device, time, weather, …).
  • Multiple marketing objectives (awareness, consideration, action, retention, buzz, word of mouth, …).
  • A huge Data management challenge.

How can brands and agencies make sense of this ultra-segmentation? Data.

One of the biggest opportunities in marketing today is automation. The biggest challenge is the attribution of your business results to your initiatives and investments.

Both begin with measuring the right things, and both require a change in mindset. Automation does not mean working less and replacing your specialists with machines. Automation is leveraging technology to work at scale. On the other hand, attribution is not a magical one-push button, it’s a data-driven business mindset around your marketing initiatives.

Data as a means to consolidation ?

Big Data, Small Data, Smart Data, Personal Data, Open Data, we have heard every variation of it in the last decade. The good news is that most organisations are currently sitting on tons of collected data. The bad news is that such collection has not always been orchestrated with a long term vision, and data as well as measurement evolves continuously. The result? Data silos between departments and business units. The infinite fragmentation is also impacting the way organisations measure, collect and use data.

From a marketing perspective, the trend is to embed data and measurement in every media initiative, starting from digital. Of course we have been measuring our campaigns’ impact for years with polls, sampling, market research and uplift studies. The difference is that the digitisation of the industry allows for the measurement to be built in, and not handled by a third party a posteriori. Some organisations created in the digital age are managing to do this. Older organisations are having a harder time with this change.

By change I am referring to the way that the advertising job has changed over the last 10 years, and that it will keep on changing for the 10 years to come. This means that the job will require new skills. Media is more than ever a means to an end. It cannot be separated from the data and the business. Automation and data driven marketing does not mean that creativity and human interactions are no longer relevant. But gut feeling marketing will evidently come to an end. We need to start training our data scientists to become business minded, and our marketeers to be data minded. This will impact recruitment as well.

In principle, all of this data and intelligence is great news for advertisers and agencies. Budgets are better allocated, waste is limited and consumers are seeing more relevant ads. But there is a major pitfall. Don’t expect 100% data accuracy. Realistic incremental improvements are better that unrealistic ideal case scenarios. We’ve already taken position on this from a web analytics angle several months ago in our article: “My Web Analytics Data is not perfect and I’m OK with it”. Our advice is to start small, incremental and keep things manageable. Measurement is not an end in itself. Data should allow you to make incrementally better decisions for your business.

Final thoughts - Adopt a perennial data mindset

This fast evolving industry is keeping us on our toes, and we are loving it. So many things could be done, we could work indefinitely. We must learn to keep the focus on what matters, anticipate market and technology trends, and accommodate the emergence of new challenges - such as Data Privacy - and other unintended consequences of our industry. 

publication author julien cornet
Julien Cornet

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