Put “banner ads” on a media plan, and a clued-up consumer will get a whiff of the 1990s – annoying GIFs that yelled “Look at me” so hard, an entire software sector sprang up to block them.
And some people think things haven’t progressed much since then, but they’re wrong. Of course, huge strides have been made in graphics, animation, the visual technologies by advertising agencies that let consumers interact with advertising without the paradigm shift to a different website – all creating positive effects for awareness and branding (far from the “transaction only” mentality some advertisers still seem to have).
The real action is behind the scenes: the business intelligence and deep learning algorithms that teach advertisers who’s watching and what they’re thinking.
Let’s take a look at some trends emerging from the skunkworks of Silicon Valleys and Roundabouts for the inside track on where online display advertising is going.
1. The mobile mania merger
For the last five years the advertising buzz has been fiercest around mobile. And rightly so – a personally-owned, location-enabled, handheld device is like having a private communications channel for every consumer. UK mobile adspend already makes up one-quarter of all media spending.
With even the cheapest smartphones gaining HD displays, phones and tablets merging into phablets, and desktops becoming a high-end rarity for gamers and artists, the mobile experience is happening on a bigger canvas with each passing quarter. This means that these different ways of consuming the web may start to blur.
Responsive user interfaces (UIs) are increasingly letting users switch between phone and laptop form factors with barely a whisper, and web agencies are merging their desktop and mobile strategies into one.
This is an approach used by Scorch client Mr Green – winner of a 2016 award for best mobile casino. The user experience is what counts – so look for your devices to start delivering the same seamless experience, whether you’re using a handset or the family TV.
2. Business intelligence as a professional service
Amazon’s core business, AWS, expends huge computing power working out what people are buying . . . and selling that information on to marketers. The Google Display Network (millions of subscribing sites that make space for Google’s ads on their pages) learns and draws insights from countless clicks every day.
To date, it’s mostly big retailers who’ve profited from that information – including Amazon itself. But the methods and approaches are applicable to many business sectors. So as a second forecast, look for display advertising to get better at targeting sectors beyond software downloads and must-have buys.
3. An improvement in persistent advertising
We’ve all had ads for hotel rooms in Cancun that seem to follow us around the web weeks after we booked our holiday. This is rear-view mirror advertising at its worst – it’s taking a great piece of information (this individual looked at hotels in Mexico) but drawing a clunky conclusion (we will show him ads for other hotels in Mexico).
At Scorch, we create ad strategies that are more useful to the consumer, and feel less like you’re being watched. For that hotel in Mexico – you’ll be taking time off work, right? Do you need suntan lotion, the number of a hire car firm, a link to a guidebook? Watch out for ads that cross-sell and up-sell rather than try to sell what’s already been sold.
It’s likely that as advertisers learn to use information beyond their own sector, we’ll see campaigns using data points more effectively.
4. The first VR display ads – here, there, in your hair
With headsets from Microsoft, Facebook, and Sony hitting the market – and getting less clunky all the time – virtual reality (and its cousin, augmented reality) is starting to move out of the gaming sector. Some advertising technologies have been demonstrated, but the audience isn’t there yet. When it arrives, we’ll start seeing some changes pretty soon.
Imagine a tourist walking around London with a VR headset wrapped around his face. It’s giving him a tour of the sights – labelling the real world with tips and popups to guide him around our great city. This would create a huge and ever-changing advertising space, and not just for visual displays.
What if our hero passes a bar, and hears the Fsssh of a cold can being opened? Or a sizzling steak in his ear when it’s time for lunch? In augmented reality, ads can appeal to more than two of our senses. They’d even allow – here’s an evil thought – changing reality itself, by editing out the ads of competitors from the tourist’s field of view.
Sounds like sci-fi? All of this has already been done. For instance, vending machines in Japan were doing sonic advertising years ago, whereas ads on the signs within a sports field are routinely changed for different broadcast markets by TV companies. The first award-winning virtual reality campaign isn’t far off.
5. Complete customer journeys, not one-off clicks
Every marketer knows selling is a process, not an event. Yet, today’s display advertising is largely a one-click wonder, addressing a single step in the sales funnel. The business intelligence already exists to plan multi-stage customer journeys, providing touchpoints to the consumer at just the right moment – a soft-sell approach that works far better than hard-sell over a customer’s lifetime.
You’re in the market for a car. What are you searching for? Information. Will it fit in your garage; will you have to change the kids’ booster seats; what’s the insurance quote going to be? The customer journey is about leaving the right information lying in wait as the consumer progresses.
As every marketer knows, this is classic content marketing. But we think it’s about time display advertising upped its game. There’s no reason an ad campaign can’t be planned as a series of executions answering the consumer’s different needs as she travels down the sales funnel. It’s something we at Scorch are already thinking about.
6. Banner ads where you don’t expect them
Not far from Scorch London’s headquarters, London’s Piccadilly Circus recently switched off its famous giant panels. When it comes back to life later in 2017, the London landmark will be wrapped in a single LED screen. And you can bet they’ll be using some of the same technologies – audience psychographics, interactive potential – seen today on networks like Google’s GDN.
Imagine an event, protest march or marathon was to take place near Picadilly Circus. Piecing together information from various sources, the display network would know the likely profile of the people passing the landmark, and can subsequently serve up ads tailored to them – let’s call it a “custom mass audience”. And if such campaigns can work in tandem with their phones – merging personalised display advertising on the handset with mass-market messaging on the big screen – the potential for storytelling is massively magnified.
That’s where display advertising is going. As Mr Green knows – Scorch produced a 20 second spot for the online casino recently – advertising is far less of a gamble when you know where your audience is. Expect the major online advertising networks to start linking together sources of information more effectively, adding up to a more effective experience. If the possibilities intrigue and delight you, why not book a chat with Scorch?