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One Word: Digital

Advertising spending is fast-shifting from traditional media to online—and particularly mobile. What does this mean for companies and their marketing strategies—and for careers in advertising?

More and more ads, more and more swiping!

Ah, sometimes the future can be captured in one word. Much like in the famous scene from the 1967 classic The Graduate when Dustin Hoffman's character, Ben Braddock, is famously given one word as mysterious advice for success in his career: "Plastics."

Twenty years ago, that one word of advice would likely have been the "internet." A decade or so ago, it likely would have been the "smartphone," or even more specifically, the "iPhone," seeing the revolutionary impact that mobility has created for all of us in so many aspects of our lives. (Yes, for good and for bad...)

Steve Jobs introduces the first iPhone in 2007.

Today, depending on what field you are working in or about to graduate into, that magical, fortune-building and career-changing word might be technical in nature, like "robotics," or "automation," or "wearables," or "genetics," or any other "hot field." The word might actually even be of the two word kind, like "virtual reality," "artificial intelligence, or "alternative energy." However, the word or words of work and wealth advice for today might have absolutely nothing to do with scientific advancements and hot new technologies. Rather, those word or words may be in areas encompassing changing norms and social trends, spanning everything from "diversity" to "wellness" to "minimalism" and so much more. Indeed, as the pace of change only continues to get faster and faster, more and more areas become possible "lands of opportunity"—for those with the energy, foresight, and abilities to take on the challenges of tomorrow, today!

Advertising: Not so elementary today...

In the world of marketing, however, there is one word that demands attention today more than any other. It is a singular word that represents a massive change in the way companies market their products and services. It is a broad word than encompasses the tectonic shift in the advertising world as agencies and media scramble to change as fast as the connections are changing between brands and their customers. It is a dynamic word that means that careers will be launched on its prospects, and yes, careers will be ended based on its impact. So, what is the most powerful word globally in the fields of marketing and advertising today? That word is digital.

Source: The Economist

You may ask why? The answer is simply in the numbers. Consider this startling fact: Sometime last year or this year, depending on how you "count" the overall spending numbers and who is crunching them, digital advertising has now overtaken "traditional" forms of advertising (all of it) combined! Not just in the United States. Not just in Asia. All over the globe, digital advertising is on the rise, and supplanting all traditional forms of advertising—quickly!

Now we have known for some time that the world of advertising was undergoing a seismic shift thank to the game changing "elephant in the conference room"—the internet. After all, experts and analysts have predicted for some time that web advertising would overtake traditional promotional vehicles and venues in time. However, the fact that the trend lines are now crossing means that we truly are at an inflection point—one that has significant implications for just about every company and organization that markets anything (yes, that's just about everyone in the private and even the non-profit sectors). And yes, the inflection point means that real changes—and real opportunities (and threats)—are fast coming to the world of advertising and those who work in it.

So, when precisely did online advertising overtake traditional analog advertising? The exact date is hard to say and in some dispute—and yes, it does differ if you are talking about the US advertising market domestically versus the global market. Internationally, online—and especially mobile—presence for companies is often more important than traditional advertising paths, especially in developing countries and across Asia, and so digital growth abroad often outpaces the American market. Thus, the "inflection point" globally, as the Economist predicted, could have occurred as early as sometime in 2017.

Source: Marketing Charts

In the United States market, however, the "crossing the lines" has just or is about to take place is quite significant. According to the market analyst firm MAGNA, the magical threshold was crossed sometime during calendar year 2018 in the US advertising market. As seen above in the graph prepared by the aptly-named Marketing Charts, based on MAGNA's analysis of the American advertising market, digital advertising now comprises 51.5 percent of the total US marketspace.

By way of comparison, the title of eMarketer's latest research report does indeed say it all: "US Digital Ad Spending Will Surpass Traditional in 2019." eMarketer's analysis forecasts that in 2019, there will be approximately $130 billion spent on digital advertising in the US. All told, out of the almost a quarter of a trillion dollars spent on advertising each year domestically (think of that folks!), that would mean that according to their firm's analysis, 54.2 percent of that amount would go toward online advertising.

In all, eMarketer predicts that digital advertising will experience a robust growth rate of 19 percent in this single year of 2019, and that by 2023, spending on digital advertising will account for over two-thirds of all media spending. The analyst firm further projects that fully two-thirds of the total outlay on digital advertising—amounting to an estimated $87 billion in 2019—will go towards advertising on mobile platforms! The world is indeed changing rapidly—very rapidly!

So what does all of this rapid change in the advertising marketplace mean? Well, for all of us, it means that we will continue to see more and more digital ads—for good, and for bad! Why? Well, the answer is simple: It is because they work! Google and Facebook have mastered the algorithms and the methods to magically and mysteriously match their ads with what we are interested in. And they will only get creepily better! However, as the eMarketer report cited earlier in this article  points out, Amazon is the fast-mover in this area, as it is projected to see its ad revenue grow by 50 percent in 2019! And with the emphasis on mobile ads, the ability of companies and their advertising partners to better and more precisely target users on a demographic, psychographic, geographic, and time-sensitive basis only means that the precision of such ads will increase. By becoming more "laser-guided," this will only elevate the worth of mobile ads to advertisers. This will serve to further accelerate the momentum behind the growth of mobile advertising platforms—and the opportunities therein for both companies in the field and individuals wanting to enter into it.

Now, as with every disruptive technology, there are winners and there are losers. As the master business philosopher John Mellencamp famously put it in "Pink Houses:"

"And there's winners, and there's losers
But they ain't no big deal
'Cause the simple man baby pays the thrills,
The bills and the pills that kill
Oh but ain't that America, for you and me
Ain't that America, we're something to see baby
Ain't that America, home of the free, yeah
Little pink houses for you and me, ooo, ooo yeah..."

The simple man—or woman—in this case is anyone employed in some of the dying areas of the advertising industry. Are you in sales for a newspaper? You're dead, even if you don't know it. Are you in sales for a magazine? You're dead, even if you don't know it. Are you in sales for a directory, like the Yellow Pages? You're really dead, even if you don't know it.

Source: eMarketer

The truth of the matter is quite simple: Ad dollars are migrating where attention and eyeballs are—and that is online, and yes, increasingly on our mobile devices. As Gary Vaynerchuk, the founder and CEO of VaynerMedia, famously put it, today: "The currency of business is attention." And today, that attention is not on print magazines, or thick Yellow Pages, or on print editions of newspapers. Today, our attention is focused on our screens. And increasingly, that means multiple screens and multiple devices at the same time. That is why the word of the day—and perhaps of the decade—is indeed digital!

And so today, the world of advertising seems like a world being disrupted. It is a world in a blur, fast-changing and evolving.

The days of Don Draper and the advertising world of Mad Men are long gone, and in its place, a new reality is taking form. We popularly think of advertising as clever commercials, glossy photo shoots, and quirky ads. However, the fast pace of change has made the things that were valued relics of the past and the skills of marketers obsolete. Storytelling? No, clicks! Style? No, clicks! Cleverness? No, clicks! Designing award-winning ads? No, clicks! The bottom-line of digital advertising is simple, converting eyeballs into customers is the key metric—and the key equation!

And so we are all residing in a new, new reality. The world has changed; Now we need to adapt. Advertising is a big enabler of the new digital world in which we live and work, and the better we understand that, the more likely it is our company, our brand, and yes, ourselves will succeed. The "things" that were valued and important in the past—creativity, artistry, prowess—may be far less important today in an era of acronyms and metrics. But in the end, "good" (i.e. effective) advertising does work, and it is perhaps more valuable than ever before. And so for those seeking to build a business and/or build a career int he advertising space today, it is crucial to dispense with the notions of what generated or connoted success in the past. Those are gone, dead, and buried!

The stage has changed to a digital platform, and like it or not, the standard for success won't be how artful your ad may be, but how effective it is at turning views into clicks and turning visitors into buyers—and then, of course, turning one-time buyers into loyal customers. There will also be vast opportunities for developing, refining and analyzing better metrics for how digital advertising "works" than those that we have today. We can count views, clicks and conversions, but we are missing out on opportunities to better assess and understand—and yes, report on for advertisers and for digital platforms—how all these digital ads impact not just the immediate actions of consumers, but their longer-term consuming behaviors and patterns, as well as their relationships with companies and brands.

And so far from the world of "plastics" in the 1960s or even the internet in the 2000's, the world of 2019-2020 and beyond will be far more difficult to navigate. However, the megatrend of advertising moving online in unmistakable. And thus for both companies in and individuals seeking to enter the advertising field, it is incumbent on them to realize that the game has indeed changed—markedly. As a result, future prospects will be increasingly based on how well, how fast, how accurately advertising people can help companies and their brands transition to the digital future. Print ads may still win awards. Radio ads may still win prizes, TV ads may still be judged "best." However, in the end, digital is the future. And if you are in the world of marketing and advertising, you'd best be attuned to that reality. If not, you yourself are likely to go the way of the Yellow Pages and print magazines and newspapers.

About David Wyld

David Wyld ([email protected]) is a Professor of Strategic Management at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana. He is a management consultant, researcher/writer, publisher, executive educator, and experienced expert witness. He is the founder and publisher of both The IDEA Publishing [The Best in News, Information, and Content Marketing] and Modern Business Press [The Best in Academic Journals].

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