Real (Contrarian) Marketing Trends to Watch For in 2018

I'm not going to talk to you about 5G, AR, VR, self-driving cars, voice automation, and blockchain. You'll find those in just about any other trends report out there from 2015 - 2020. Let's get to some real marketing trends to watch for in 2018. I'm calling my shots.


Cracks will show in influencer marketing, and we'll be ready to double down on "microinfluencers" by 2019. Even then, we'll already be fatigued by content overload. Mattering will be the new Instagram.

My argument isn’t really about a potential successor to social media (I just really like saying "Mattering will be the new Instagram"; it feels weighty), but I’m anticipating a shift in how people engage social media and content. Influencer marketing is set to stall out, both in financial viability and cultural relevance.

That stall out is driven in part by the limit of available attention and time. There are simply far more people pumping out more niche content than there is attention or people available to consume it. Either find more eyeballs or more time in the day, or there's a cap to influencer marketing's influence. Incentives (follower counts, likes, or payouts from brands) will wane, which in turn will eat into established influencers' earnings, and disincentivize lesser influencers from grinding out that influencer game. 

But beyond that, I think it'll be a sign of the times. In a social and political climate like we have heading into the rest of 2018 and beyond, where people feel that stakes are high, hawking products on Instagram is going to feel increasingly out of touch and unimportant. Original thinking, creation, and action will be held in higher regard. That’s what’s going to get audiences. People are going to want to see real people do real things. The influencer watering hole will be drying up heading into 2019.

Gen Z will be more politicized than you realize. They actually might just hate you.

I don’t have a lot to add here. Get off your phone or computer and talk to the youths. On second thought, you could also get on your computer and talk to the youths. They're pretty hungry, they're pretty angry, they're pretty woke, and they may want your corporate ass on a pike. Not all of them, of course, but those aren’t the ones you should be talking to. There’s a lot of optimism among this cohort that they'll be able move the needle on social, political, and environmental justice, and it stems from their belief that they can tear some of it down from the inside. They’ll be disappointed. But when they believe that they can tear it all down from the outside instead, everyone watch out. That's for a trends report down the road, though.

Hating on Facebook's and other platforms' pervasive privacy invasions will be en vogue, but nothing will be done about it in the U.S.

You can hear the drums beating in the distance. Handwringing articles about the Google/Facebook duopoly are starting to pop up like mushrooms on a damp day. I don't mean to make light of it; these platforms have enormously invaded our privacy and altered our actions online and IRL. But I'd be shocked if much of anything beyond pearl clutching and maybe a little legislative saber rattling occurs in the U.S. this year. The EU's 'cookie law' that goes into effect in May requires explicit permission from platforms like Google and Facebook to collect users' information and behavioral data. That's cool and all, but we certainly won't see comparable legislation gain any real traction this year in the U.S. 

By the way, Amazon comin'.

The world might blow up, and deep down I think we're just a little bit ready for it.

Moving right along...

I still won't trust programmatic media buying.

I could make this a long diatribe about digital content and context, and how we’ve ridden the interruptive traditional ad model to the point that it’s undermined digital advertising as we know it. Instead, I’ll include these screenshots that I took yesterday from a Business Insider piece on the Keystone pipeline: 

I’m sure that Infiniti, Coke, and Dodge would be tickled pink to see these placements. Nevermind that these banner ads are shitty. 

Giving up control of context is both frightening and pretty opposed to what we know about how people willingly consume messaging. So it's potentially damaging and ineffective! Those ads were viewable, at least, and the 0-2% engagement rate they’ll receive will at least be industry standard. I just vomited.

Adblocker adoption will continue to rise, and most of the digital advertising world will continue to pretend that things are fine.

This one might be the most important. More than 75 million Americans used ad blocking software in 2017. In other words, more than a quarter of the internet-going U.S. population actively sought to avoid digital ads. Read those two sentences again. And again. If you don’t bake that into your communication strategy, you are screwing up.

It's no secret that digital ads are pretty terrible, and even the heavy hitters acknowledge it: Apple is set to introduce adblocking into Safari, and Google’s doing it in Chrome (kinda) for desktop and mobile. If that doesn’t say, “Hey, advertisers, you’re really fucking up,” I don’t know what does. Google, which depends on advertising for revenue, is prepared to cut off a finger or two to save the body. That’s how bad digital advertising is. This is still just the start.

Disclaimer: I’ve used Adblocker Plus religiously for more than ten years. It might be ironic that I work in advertising, but I continue to use it because I want to remain ignorant to how godawful most digital advertising is so that I may hold myself and my peers to a high standard, rather than the industry standard.

I understand the downsides of adblocking. If you block ads, content producers and publishers don’t get paid. And in that case, simple economics suggest that they eventually stop producing and publishing content unless the payment model changes.

But here's the thing: I don’t care. Without thinking about it, in downloading and deploying ad blockers, we implicitly affirm, “To be honest, I don’t really care if you get paid or stop producing content.” Personally, I love to watch content from ‘First We Feast’ on YouTube. But in the end, it doesn’t consequentially affect my life if it goes away. I can’t watch rappers and fringe comedians suffer through interviews while eating extremely hot chicken wings anymore? Fine, so be it. The proliferation of niche content and the horrific advertising revenue model means that something has to give, and it will ultimately be felt painfully in both corners.

There’s an inordinate amount of online content, and almost all of it I’d rather never see again than endure ads. That’s how bad ads are. It’s kinda broken. The herd - bad content and bad ads - will be culled, and only the strong will survive.

Most advertising will still be pretty terrible, which is great news if you're committed to making advertising that isn't terrible.

Hand me my soapbox, please. Thank you.

We’re still a little ways away from digital advertising as we know it really shaking up, but it's coming. It'll be good for us.  Digital advertising's current model, heavy on volume of placements and content without real consideration for its value, is a false premise built on a false understanding of humanity. It just doesn’t really work all that well. I'd hate to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but if the model is broken, and if the entire premise is flawed, maybe we should give it some real thought. What if...brands selling things didn’t make the selling part such a wholly intrusive experience? What if agencies doing the selling didn’t just think outside the box, they threw the box in the garbage where it’s belonged for the last 10-15 years? Signs point to the shake up coming. There will be losers; those who don't adapt will perish. But it's exciting! I’m a contrarian, to be sure, but I’m a contrarian only insofar as what I know or deeply believe to be true. 

Start fresh from a firm, clear understanding of culture and what people want. The reality is that people are anxious, underemployed, underpaid, unhappy, lonely, seeking validation, seeking meaning, full of regret, full of hope, and full of uncertainty. Start from there, meaningfully fill some gaps in people’s lives, and you might find that you have an audience of people interested in what you have to say and sell. For fuck’s sake, it’s gotta be better than a pre-roll ad, right? 

Great advertising is like being a regular at a handful of different bars

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