Looking Back on My 2018 Trends Predictions
Alrighty, y’all. We’re rounding third towards home this year, and 2019 is right around the corner. I thought I’d take a little time to revisit my Trends of 2018 piece to see how I’ve fared so far in my prognostications. They haven’t all gone my way.
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.
This was my biggest, clearest loss of the list. I’m still out on influencer marketing - I staunchly believe in the undying power of Word of Mouth marketing, but I think influencers are just hackneyed celebrity endorsers sans actual celebrity. Perhaps I just bought early on this hot take, and the payoff will come in another few years. But influencers as a marketing channel are still heating up and marketers are hungry to buy in. Efficacy TBD. But I’ll chalk this up as an L.
I still think “Mattering will be the new Instagram” is a great line that will pay off by 2021.
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.
The kids are displeased. It only took significant social strife and a lot of school shootings for people to notice. We’re just seeing the beginning of it, as ongoing disenfranchisement from power politics will only piss them off further. The gap between the kids and the vanguard seems wide now…but it will seem - and be - ever wider the longer the establishment clings to power. They’re coming for us all, and I am ready.
Oh yeah, brand stuff. Yeah, the kids would probably prefer that you aren’t soulless corporate entities, but they’re also worried about getting shot and living in a country whose power structures aren’t built for them. Listen to them; talk to them. Soon they’ll be creating the challenger brands that will unseat you, so you’d be wise to get a jump on understanding how they’re going to unseat you. Or putting your head on a pike.
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.
Mark Zuckerberg got called into Congress and looked weird in front of a panel of old people for a few hours, and we’ve roughly acknowledged that social media has ruined everything. GDPR compliance is a thing. Millions of users have reduced engagement with Facebook in the last few months but that’s…kind of it. Major social media platforms all still exist, and even Apple has gotten into the mix, reminding us that we’re addicted to our phones with a FitBit-like tracker of our use habits.
Maybe we’ll decide social media is a public mental health threat at some point. For now, we’ll keep on posting and liking, and senators will still wonder how these platforms make money.
The world might blow up, and deep down I think we're just a little bit ready for it.
I still won't trust programmatic media buying.
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.
I still don’t trust programmatic media buying. To clarify: I don’t trust programmatic digital display. Research has shown that even baseline data used by data platforms for targeting is wildly inaccurate and ineffective. Reaching the wrong people with a weak form of communication is no bueno. And that’s my sterile argument. What I really don’t trust is brands giving up control of messaging context like they must with programmatic. Context matters. Do not forget that. Giving up control of context to get in front of somebody is self-defeating. Smart context is half the battle in smart communication
Case in point: today I came upon this touching obituary for someone who passed due to opiate usage. Read it. It’s beautiful. What ads do you get? Here are the ones I was served:
Granted, these ads are garbage and presumably specific to this local newspaper’s web publication. But this is indicative of the sterility, if not callousness, that programmatic digital media can leave you and your brand open to. We continue to need to be better.
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.
Ad blocker penetration continues to rise - from 27.5% of internet-going Americans in 2017 to a projected 30.1% by the end of this year, to be exactish. Remember the kids that I said hate you? 46% of Americans 15-25 use an adblocker plugin as of Q2 2018. Maybe they don’t hate you. They may just not care about you at all.
There would seem to be three options in the near future. The first option is to bone up on traditional advertising and reduce dependency on blockable digital ads. Don’t worry: most people still watch a lot of TV (regular, unconnected TV), see billboards, and listen to the radio. I promise. Your second option is to get so good at digital - outside of shitty banner ads and whatnot - that folks seek you out as a form of entertainment. Moonpie’s Twitter account remains the exemplar as far as I’m concerned, although now it has to deal with Pop Tarts, Steak Ums, and other brands trying to elbow into conversations in the Weird Brand Twitter space. Your third option is to, IDK, pull out of advertising altogether and focus on experience design or something.
There are certainly some, maybe many agencies and brands that are adapting to reflect this changing tide in the digital advertising ecosystem. On the whole, though, we as an industry will need to think more deeply about what consumers’ efforts to avoid what we make mean - ambivalence? apathy? dislike - for how we go forward.
Most advertising will still be pretty terrible, which is great news if you're committed to making advertising that isn't terrible.
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?
2018 has given us plenty of stupid ad campaigns, digital or otherwise. There have certainly been some gems. More than anything though, 2018 has given us mediocrity. And it’s given us an ever greater proliferation of adtech and its data-drivenness, personalization, and ‘one-to-one conversations’ with brands. Setting aside that the very purpose of ‘brand’ is to render those one-to-one conversations entirely unnecessary (because they’re inherently undesirable), this focus on technology and data and zeroing-in has led many to lose sight of the fact that we’re in an industry where creativity and creative ideas drive results. When technology becomes a mask and we substitute data for good ideas, we’ve lost the thread ourselves. Creativity and Ideas still rule the day in 2018, as they will in 2019 and beyond.