Wednesday 3 January 2018 3:00 pm

What the advertising industry should watch out for in 2018

We ask advertising bosses what’s in store for the year ahead.

Alex Hesz, chief strategy officer, Adam&eveDDB

In the era of fake news, advertising has emerged as an unlikely standard-bearer for scrutiny.

We have long embraced the necessity of third-party regulation to verify what is fact and what is fantasy. Our job is to tell the truth in the most compelling way possible, but if we fall at that first hurdle, there exists a firing squad of regulatory bodies to admonish us.

In 2018, the debate over whether the likes of Facebook are “platforms” (which cannot be held accountable for false content) or “media” (which can be) will be a pitched battle between defenders of a deregulated internet and those wanting to protect us from widespread misinformation.

Advertising has shown that creativity of expression isn’t discordant with accountability, and that regulatory bodies need not create delays or excessive cost. Our example should reassure both net neutrality campaigners and platforms that a post-truth anarchy is avoidable.

Matt Charlton, chief executive, Brothers and Sisters

This year looks like it could be a watershed year. It’s likely we will see a dramatic reduction in the amount spent on non-transparent digital advertising. It’s a business that has run totally out of control and we are regularly told that half of digital ads are not seen by humans. That’s banking crisis levels of nonsense.

Non-transparent digital spend has provided unusual levels of trading profits, and is even used by network companies to subsidise huge discounts in order to win new business. One bottom line, one network discount. Companies like WPP have been masters of promising enormous discounts to land new business.

All of the networks are more vulnerable this year than ever before, as digital media and its true value comes under the microscope. We could see some interesting times – maybe a network falling over or breaking up.

Phil Stelter, managing director, SYZYGY

The barrage of negative press in 2017 prompted a decline in trust and ultimately threatened brand safety. As a result, we will see more brands in-housing their programmatic buying this year.

Agencies need to offer hybrid services and flip the traditional trade desk model on its head to provide real value and innovation to advertisers.

It’s also the year of video, again – but this time it’s official.

We’ve already seen video inventory overtake standard display. The real challenge will be for advertisers, creatives and media agencies to create truly powerful digital video campaigns – and not just TV campaigns cut down to six seconds.

In the face of GDPR, walled gardens like Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple will continue to dominate and offer the best products.

There are now talks of companies like AppNexus and MediaMath trying to offer a comprehensive view of customers.

However, very few are positioned to truly offer this insight in balance with the scale of regulations, which are yet to be properly defined.

Sairah Ashman, global chief executive, Wolff Olins

2018 will be the year that artificial intelligence-enabled services go fully mainstream in everything – from healthcare to hospitality.

Brand marketing and advertising will be focused on what it means to deliver a distinctly human customer experience in a primarily technological setting.

The divide between offline, online, voice, visual, and surface design will dissolve. The issues and ethics around the use of personal data will intensify, as will the need for new establishment tech businesses to move beyond a traditional advertising business model.

It will be a breakout year for the rise of the machines.

This will require us, as an industry, to be even more creative and radical in order to create new value.

Jess Burley, global chief executive, m/SIX

We all understand that the digital era has caused a fragmentation of access to information.

What still seems to elude much of the agency community is how firmly this puts the customer in control of what information they access, when, and where.

Much of media planning still talks about fixed laydowns and rigid purchase journeys, assuming the use of data will somehow improve effectiveness. Data’s true value lies in following the signals emitted by people as they flow across different devices, platforms, and apps. Media planning’s future lies in reacting to this flow, testing assets and adapting investment as we rapidly learn what works.

Lucie Greene, director, J. Walter Thompson’s Innovation Group

The combination of augmented reality, 5G, the Internet of Things, and voice-activated devices is transforming the way we interact with the internet.

New internet is like the air around you, a constantly available connected atmosphere. 5G means the connected car will become a moving computer and entertainment consol. Augmented reality will add a virtual layer of information, visualisation, or marketing to any environment or streetscape when we want it. Meanwhile, devices like the Amazon Echo and Apple Homepod mean that, rather than tapping into a laptop, we are already moving beyond buttons to talking with the internet, asking it verbally to add things to our shopping list, getting recipes, and more. We’re interacting with the internet like it’s a living, conversational, sentient, friend.

Josh Bullmore, chief strategy officer, Leo Burnett

Increasing automation of the high street will create winners and losers. Most retailers are embedding tech in their retail experiences to improve efficiency, but this creates an increasingly impersonal experience. Some people prefer not to look another human in the eye, but even they will inevitably feel a detachment from those brands over time.

The smart brands will be the ones that don’t simply use this tech to create efficiency. Rather, they will use it to free up their staff to welcome, greet, help and smile. If done well, it will be more rewarding for customers and staff alike – and more rewarding for those businesses as a result.

Johnny Hornby, founder, The&Partnership

This year will see clients demand a different kind of relationship with their agencies. The traditional set-up, with multiple specialist agencies working together on a brand, is just too unwieldy to meet modern marketing challenges.

Whether it’s making sense of the vast array of data now available, reaching ad-avoiding digital audiences effectively, or meeting demands of influential procurement teams, the old way is too siloed, too slow, too expensive.

This is bad news for the established holding companies – their complex multi-agency, multi-office, multi-market model looks increasingly anachronistic. Once a barrier to entry, it’s now an invitation to challenger brands with a different solution.

Martin Woolley, chief executive, The Specialist Works

2018 will see the continued rise of the independents in the media industry. Network media agencies are under fire from all sides as clients demand transparency, neutral planning, and agility. Many brands are saying enough is enough and bringing digital disciplines in-house.

Meanwhile, the independent media agency sector is capitalising on this by putting an emphasis on client service, and openness – living the “spend it as if it’s your own” mantra. No surprise that £150m more in billings has migrated from network agencies to independents in 2017.

If the reputation of the media planning and buying industry is to turn around in 2019, it’s the specialist knowledge and client-first attitude of the independents that will be the driver.

Jonas Twitchen, lead strategist, Rufus Leonard

In terms of trends within our industry, it will be interesting to see how the acquisition of many smaller agencies by larger multinationals plays out.

Karmarama, Fjord, Idea Couture, Fahrenheit 212, Market Gravity, and many others have been snapped up in the past year or two by big players.

It takes time for a good integration to deliver fruit, and for a bad one to drive everyone running from the building. This is significant because we expect upstart agencies to deliver fresh-thinking into our industry.

If the acquisitions prove effective then we can expect the combined entities to wield awesome power and deliver powerful new marketing solutions. If they prove ineffective, the big players will still be trotting out the same old stuff, and the brightest refugees from “consultancy culture” will look for new places to contribute to our industry.