Plus Ca Change...
Five predictions for a digital tomorrow that won't be that different from digital today… or why online media may not change as much as some people (read consultants and start-ups) would have you believe.
1) The banner ad is here to stay
The obituary for the humble banner as a weak substitute for a magazine or a newspaper ad has been written many times. Start thinking about banner ads as a proxy for outdoor media however, in an unmapped digital world where people don’t know where to go, and their future is assured.
In time, digital media will drive a massive change in how advertisers spend their budgets, spending less on campaigns and more on rich branded environments and storefronts (both online and on digital TV), embodying many of the messages conveyed in advertising today.
Marketers will spend heavily on these properties, as they must be so compelling that consumers voluntarily engage with them. However, marketers also need to signpost the way first, which is why banner ads, especially in premium locations (ie high traffic), will always be in demand.
2) Mobile’s moment may never come
Or, to be more precise: mobile’s media and advertising moment may never come. The number of smartphone applications created by brands in the US this year shows how the mobile phone is already poised to become a powerful tool in the marketer’s arsenal: as a provider of branded utility and services, as well as a direct marketing and transactional medium to drive preference, trial and ultimately loyalty.
Smartphones have yet to reveal how they will become a serious medium for advertising however – and with no common standards, ongoing turf-wars over consumer relationships and screens where effective advertising has next to no room to co-exist with attractive content, there seems to be little incentive for marketers to spend time and money trying.
3) (A little) Waste comes back into favor
If true, good news for media owners, who have long relied on advertisers buying more than they need, to bankroll the sort of publications and TV programs people want (and thus making them a desirable ad buy in the first place).
Digital media promised to end to all that, with pinpoint targeting enabling brands to buy only the impressions they want, and not one more. The pendulum seems to be swinging back the other way however, and where an ad is seen, as well as who sees it, is gaining weight in digital negotiations.
In a twist, the price some online media owners charge for tightly-targeted ads is already proving too much for some advertisers, already opting for a looser cheaper buy, more akin to targeting in offline media and, maybe, more cost effective after all.
4) Professionally-produced news survives
Bloggers are undoubtedly giving traditional outlets a run for their money, simply by providing the kind of information or entertainment people want, in a format they like. Scale still counts however, only in a digital world publishers will need to apply it in areas where it is harder for alternative sources to compete: in crunching massive databases and finding stories in numbers as well as words; and in how information is presented and delivered (and can be manipulated) by readers.
Professionally-produced news may have a future, but the definition of professionally-produced will change. Numeracy has always been an important but neglected part of a journalist’s craft, but spreadsheet skills and technological know-how, as well as an eye for on-screen design, will become an important differentiator in a digital world where anyone can play.
One reason why ailing newspapers and magazines will fail? Because they continue to hire people without these skills.
5) Mass media survives
Media companies still face massive challenges, not least of all in working out how to attract and keep a loyal audience in a mobile, social and on-demand world. Nevertheless a small number of media brands should still provide brands access to, and charge accordingly for, large audiences (even though some new players may well replace some old-world incumbents in the line-up).
The number of niche interests that can be commercially supported, even with the low-entry costs of the web, has a limit, setting a cap on media fragmentation. Consumers will still be spoilt for choice compared with the analog world, but as many TV veterans already know, an abundance of choice can’t compete with the comfort and familiarity of the couch. Mass media may not be disappearing just yet.
Human truths like this one should give marketers and media owners a bit of extra time to navigate some of the very real challenges that digital media offers, which will still be prevalent tomorrow, just as much as they are here today.
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