Achieving Relevance in the Face of Chaos

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By Lucy Hinton, SVP, Client Success, EMEA at Flashtalking by Mediaocean

When Disney+ announced in May, read here on The Drum, that it plans to supplement its existing subscription model with an ad-supported tier, the streaming service added a lot of additional weight to a trend in the market which already encompasses businesses including Discovery+, Peacock and HBO Max. Reacting to the news, one commentator opined that ‘introducing ads on streaming services represents a huge change in how audiences experience TV and film’.

Now, we would hardly need to reach out to the older generation to recall a time when ad-free TV and film was very much the exception to the rule. It’s true, that the subscription-based, on-demand model pioneered by Netflix has had a dramatic and disruptive impact on both the competitive landscape and the viewer experience in the entertainment industry over the last decade. Nonetheless, it’s hard to see this latest reaction to an increasingly competitive and fragmented on-demand landscape as anything other than a reversion to baseline for streaming.

Nonetheless, one could be forgiven for reacting to this latest trend as an upheaval: the fact is that modern advertisers operate in a chaotic context and with channels and opportunities constantly in flux it can be difficult to disentangle short-term shifts from broader trends that have real staying power.

Chaos Reigns

This is just one example of the slight sense of chaos which seems to be gathering in the digital paid space, as moving targets threaten to obsolete activation strategies before they even go into the field. It’s worth taking stock of just some of the broader picture to get a feel for the challenges advertisers are facing.

As ad-supported streaming services gather pace – and Netflix itself looks highly likely to follow suit – they will quickly constitute a new centre of gravity for online spend. Decisions about how whole-heartedly to migrate towards that centre of gravity will be difficult as analysts work to understand the similarities and differences between these channels and previous ad-supported (on-demand and over-the-air) channels.

Some of this may be cushioned if those budgets themselves continue to rise, through both a post-pandemic bounce and the long-term trend towards digital-first strategies – though this may, as ever, be imperilled by global political and economic factors. These budgets will also be pulled in more novel directions, as podcasts continue to become a more formalised channel for outreach and tools enabling in-game advertising become a real focus for a number of tech firms.

All of these new channels offer significant potential for digitally-integrated strategies which more powerfully track and empower the journey from impression to purchase, with social selling continuing to ramp up on platforms like TikTok and Instagram. Further afield, some thought leaders see the logical endpoint of these efforts in fully-fledged social metaverses – though when or whether these will see mass adoption is certainly an open question.

Hyper-personalisation and social selling also put a spotlight on the cultural consequences of such strategies and the public conversation around hot-button issues like advertising to children or promoting gambling will only be accentuated by developments like advertising inside video games.

And these are just the relatively predictable elements of our collective near-future obstacle course. As Elon Musk’s much vaunted and highly uncertain acquisition of Twitter demonstrates, the potential for left-field disruptions to how and where marketers operate can never be discounted.

Building Relevance Into the Workflow

That’s a huge amount of change and, in this context, figuring out what the future of advertising might look like and building the ability to remain relevant in it is a very pragmatic, even an existential exercise – not just a theoretical one.

One approach is to attempt to read the runes and make a good bet on which of these technological futures will dominate and which trends will fade away. This is, perhaps, a tactic we might often see modelled in opinion columns from industry thought leaders, where making some sense of the uncertainty can provide a valuable service to busy professionals.

Needless to say, however, getting it wrong in an article ultimately costs the writer very little; making a bad bet in the often constrained financial environment of an actual business is a different proposition. For me, the smarter approach is to accept and work with the fact that the future is uncertain by building business infrastructure and marketing workflows which are primed to respond to change with agility.

Of course, if this requires moving steps like creative ideation, asset production and activation strategy closer to the go-live date, then something has to give by coming the other way – and modern, data-led workflows now offer really pragmatic ways of achieving that.

The rule here should be to automate the automatable. For instance, working across many digital channels quickly multiplies the number of formats that collateral needs to be presented in and the studio time that that creative production entails adds a non-negotiable speed limit to going live. As a routine process with clearly defined requirements, this is precisely the kind of rote work that an automated workflow can take on, giving time back to creatives to be creative.

Likewise, activating, managing and measuring a campaign often entails a significant amount of translating data and insights between the many platforms that marketers must engage with; establishing the infrastructure to bring that data into a single view and up-skilling staff to work with that platform can create opportunities to automatically populate data where it is needed.

This even extends to audience identification and marketing landscape analysis, where the sheer volume of data available often means that teams can only act on a relatively shallow dive into the potential insights it offers. Refining tools to segment that data ahead of campaign work will mean that teams can move more quickly when the context changes.

Another way of looking at all of this might be that, while there is a huge amount of uncertainty in store for the advertising industry, what unites these potential futures is that they are underpinned by data. Investing in the infrastructure to meet that reality today will deliver resilient relevance tomorrow.