How has advertising evolved in the last 20 years?

I was asked to answer this question on Quora recently by an Italian student.

Another offered an outstanding answer about how advertising was 20 years ago vs today; explaining consumer behavior then and now. I offered this answer which I’ve reproduced below with a little more context than I did on Quora.

20 odd years ago, I was personally beginning in this industry. I read every trade publication I could get my hands on; from cover to cover (there were no blogs or even industry specific websites then). I recall quite clearly that advertisers and ad agency marketers all had one particular goal in mind: better targeting / pinpointing of the consumer to achieve better ROI on their marketing campaigns and ultimately avoid media wastage. Back then, advertisers were already squeezing their agencies for all they could and agencies were seeking efficiencies wherever they could find them.  We still hear this particular desire today.

20 odd years ago, we’d started seeing the proliferation of specialty TV and magazines. 30+ years ago there were only a handful of conventional and cable television stations and then specialty TV evolved: regulatory instances (FTC, CRTC…) permitted more licences and satellite & cable offered more and more channels. The same occurred with magazines. This started fragmenting audiences into smaller clusters or niches (ideal for targeting the right audience at the right time with the right product). However although marketers pounced on this trend, which evolved at a pace they could comprehend, they rapidly understood that they also always did need the media wastage of large untargeted audiences to build awareness among people who are not yet interested in buying your product or don’t even know who you are.

15 odd years ago the web came about. It was a trend at first: at that time, few studies showed results but it was a shiny new toy with a niche audience. As the web evolved, became more robust, developed more quality, proved performance for marketers on both the direct response and branding objectives they have, it also fragmented – like no media platform ever could have thought possible before. Portals were (still are) the online comparison of TV’s big conventional stations. More and more niche sites evolved (still do) to service every nook and cranny of interest people have (like magazines and specialty TV). New evolving technology enables the web to target 50+ year old women with red hair who play guitar and are looking to buy a car – if need be (talk about niche targeting and eliminating media wastage).

10 year ago (or there about) Internet, cable and satellite radio evolved, fragmenting that medium like never before as well – though traditional radio still dominates, its domination is shrinking.

What we’re seeing now is the slow transfer of people’s media consumption from (predominantly) print media to online. We also see people multiplying media time spent in front of the TV or while listening to the radio with online or mobile usage: people are spending more time with television now than they were 20 years ago – not so with radio.

Fragmentation happened, the web really took care of this more than any other platform – mobile and tablets are now following suite and will probably go even further, merging with radio and TV, as the web did with print.

On the “creative” side of things, I would add that the “old world” (20 years ago) where an ad agency creative director would create an ad for print or broadcast, he/she would only create a static or linear message (simultaneous reveal of the entire message, or 30sec start to finish story revealing the message) – that’s all that existed and all that was possible to achieve with the media platforms at that time. They are still all that’s possible to do with “traditional” media today.

However, the web brought with it interaction, opening the door for control, choice and selection by the user of what where and when they want to consume which type of content and be exposed to what kind of ad. This means users can in a way “talk / dialogue / interact” with an ad’ creative message. Few creative types understood what this meant early on, but quite a few do now. Interactive ads, or an ad that has a starting point but where the user goes from there is up to them, perform tremendously better than linear and static ads because they can maintain a user’s attention to deliver a richer brand experience, to those willing to spend time with it.

When a user is faced with either a static, linear or interactive ad, which will he/she pay attention to? They chose the interactive one most of the time; because it’s more fun, it creates a unique experience customized for you – giving you a positive brand experience. This was not possible 20 years ago – and we still see too few of this type of creative today – but that is continuing to evolve, both online and on the mobile web.

The problem that remains with this type of creative (interactive) is twofold: 1- it’s a lot more expensive to build, track, optimise and report on (even if the returns are very much worth the effort) and 2- one thing will never change: users are not constantly and always looking to advertising for things to buy – more often than not they just want to be informed or entertained.

Where do we go from here? QR codes allow traditional media, mostly print and out of home, to become interactive – using a QR code to encourage the user to “clickthrough” (so-to-speak) to get an interactive brand experience out of a historically traditional brand experience.

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