The marketing communications landscape globally, has undergone radical change in the last few years, driven by digital marketing, global agency network consolidation and expansion into Africa and other developing regions; as well as the emergence of sci-fi technologies that will challenge the very fabric of communications in the future, such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality.
Keeping ahead of the trends is a current job description as the speed of change has never been more frenetic, nor more critical for brands to take advantage of the next big opportunity, rather than be swallowed by the next big thing.
These are the current advertising communications trends that brands need to take note of:
- Business consultants:
Probably the biggest trend for South African agencies is the fact that they have to become business consultants in addition to creative consultants. Agencies also need to help marketers find the opportunities for their brands and reengineer their businesses to meet the future head on. This is what leading agency leadership in South Africa has spent the past few years doing – transforming their business structure to include business strategy. Business strategy and future proofing brands is very much part of the agency domain now.
Omni-channel marketing: Total integration of marketing communications. Because the consumer can interact with brands and services 24/7, wherever they are and wherever you are – bricks and mortar or online – brands need to provide a seamless experience for their customers, from social media to advertising, to experience in store and afterwards, with the product and after sales service. According to AdWeek, 62 per cent of companies have, or plan to have, an omnichannel marketing strategy. Additionally, 70 per cent of businesses say that omnichannel strategies are important, very important, or critical to their success (Source: Ted Vrountas Marketing Trends).
- Programmatic advertising:
Much of online advertising inventory has now been outsourced to specialist digital buying shops to maximise unsold inventory for media clients. While automated buying tools are chasing users around the world wide web, wherever they may go. This of course has led to the growth of ad blockers and opt-in advertising services which reward users for watching or accepting advertising. This is a huge trend – having to reward consumers for watching your ads in return for discounts or free services in the future.
- Messenger apps:
This is still relatively unchartered waters in South Africa and part of the ‘dark web’ as chats can’t be tracked like on Instagram or Facebook. But chatbots can aid brands in reaching the billions of users globally using services such as WeChat, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp. It’s a matter of time before messenger apps relax their rules on advertising to users.
- Paid entertainment:
Like Netflix is leading the charge away from television to paid-for streamed content, thereby displacing traditional broadcast and pay TV channels; so radio is now being threatened by streaming audio programming, according to Forbes: “With Apple, Amazon and Google all entering the market, streaming audio is rapidly displacing real-time radio.”
Artificial intelligence: The currency de jour is data. Everything needs to be measurable and transparent. Artificial intelligence and the internet of things is driving a deeper understanding of consumer behaviour and marketers have never had it so good – provided they have the right data analysis tools to interpret all the data available to them. But with everything connecting to everyone, the lines are blurring between content and advertising as we know and content marketing gains in popularity as other advertising channels available start narrowing.
- Brand activism:
Consumers are looking for brands that will stand up for their rights in a world where basic human rights are being challenged. We expect more of our brands than our politicians because brands have integrated themselves into our lives over the years with promises of friendship, lifestyle aspirations and reward. So brands increasingly need to take a stand on issues their consumers care about. After the American Presidential election, the gold standard of advertising – the Superbowl – saw a host of brands standing up for various human rights after a slew of Trump executive orders challenged those rights. Nando’s is a classic and effective example in South Africa. While not all brands will be comfortable taking a stand on political issues, there are many others such as the environment, poverty and education that need attention in South Africa.
- Fake news:
There’s always a downside and the dark side of the rise of the internet and the freedom of information, has been the rise in fake news and clickbait. We now know the power of fake news to swing elections and influence violence – and it has spawned the rise of dubious and clickbait advertising links too. Authentic advertisers can capitalise on this by upping their game and delivering exceptional advertising and storytelling and services to customers. Much like the ‘real’ media has had to promote journalism excellence to stand head and should above sites peddling fake news.
Along with authenticity for brands and real storytelling, so too are agencies and media buying shops being urged to be transparent about commissions and where spend is going. This was a major theme in local and international trend pieces this year. As marketer, Chris Hering, of NetSuite explains: “Those transparency demands, as well as pricing pressures, will take the biggest toll on traditional firms that don’t have a differentiated offering. Niche talent will still demand premiums but commoditised work will move to competitive bidding. Holding companies will buy those assets that are delivering unique from the independent agencies. Agencies will likely have to choose whether to transition to more specialised work or prepare to compete on price and volume.”
- Death of traditional media:
Print has all but been laid to rest in the developed world and other traditional channels, like television and radio, are under threat globally from paid entertainment channels. Africa is not immune to these trends if you consider that mobile phone penetration is at 80per cent. The implications for advertisers are huge as advertisers will have to rely more on digital advertising, particularly on social media platforms, to push product. Brands will become content providers, sponsoring original content in these new channels, as well as continuing the content marketing trend of creating unique content to reach and keep loyal consumers.