Claire Beale on Advertising

Make no mistake, 2008's going to be tough but you can always pray
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The Independent Online

Ahhh, can you smell it? Breathe deep. That sweet optimism and rancid doubt carried on the dawn of the New Year. It's a giddy posy. Part exciting challenge, part bowel-churning dread. For adland's workers have more reason than many to meet the coming year with mixed emotions. The business is changing, structures are crumbling, traditions are being blown apart. Our world in 12 months' time will be dramatically altered. The agent of destruction and rebirth is technology, of course, and its pace is swift. Even as I write, the futurologists are surely forecasting their own demise: the future is no longer the next five years, it's next month, next week, and by the time you've predicted it, it's been and gone. So bear that in mind as you consider the following 10 pronouncements.

THE DEATH OF ADVERTISING, NOT

We've got to start with this one, really. Students of advertising will have seen this foretold plenty of places over the past year or two. It's bollocks, of course. Advertising is the lubricant for a successful economy, rich consumer choice and business success, as well as being at its best greatly entertaining.

Advertising is alive and selling. OK, some bits might be on their last legs: the old classified ads in newspapers or directories, say. And the old mass market advertising that hits a relatively indiscriminate audience all at the same time is looking peaky. Digital delivery means increasingly personal, tightly targeted and optimally timed ads are the new, coveted, reality.

But the big-campaign stuff will still survive, though it will have to get even better at the entertainment bit. Key for the year ahead is for the ad industry to get a better understanding of how traditional, offline campaigns work alongside new, on-line forms of advertising and brand advocacy. But the big bold branding messages will thrive, supplemented with layers of targeted information specific to each of our needs.

GIVING SOMETHING BACK

Talking of needs, have you noticed how brands are increasingly offering us stuff designed to make our lives easier? This sort of brand beneficence might be anything from a neat widget to help us track our parcel deliveries around the world, to a healthy recipe book from a food manufacturer. It's called brand utility and it's beginning to eat into traditional ad budgets as brands look for ways to be more useful to their customers rather than simply serving them more pretty ad campaigns.

BRAND BUDDIES

And brands aren't just trying to be nicer to their customers, they're also fast realising the benefits of being nicer to each other. The power of two like-minded brands forming a cosy marketing alliance is best illustrated by the phenomenally successful (and industry-acclaimed) Nike+, which uses the iPod to provide runners with feedback via their headphones on pace, distance, calories burnt as well as downloads of suitable running songs.

The emergence of these brand buddies and even brand communities allows marketers new ways to cross-pollinate their products with those marketed to similar groups of consumers or along similar ethical (or green) lines. Add to the mix the social networking groups that act as brand advocates, recommending such like-minded brands to their own like-minded friends, and beautiful, virtuous marketing circles begin to form.

A WORLD OF WIDGETS

Ah, widgets: balm for the internet fanatic and a new revenue source for the web. Widgets are all the clever buttons and icons that make using the internet a smarter and smoother experience, as well as adding some fun. They can be embedded in web pages or downloaded on to the desk top and marketers are fast working out how to make the most of the technology to use widgets to enhance their customers' web experience or extract more cash from them (or, ideally, both). Check out widgipedia.com for more.

THE RISE OF MOBILE MARKETING

Yeah, yeah, this is something else that we've all been predicting for the past few years. But the arrival of a cross-model mobile platform called Android, spearheaded by Google, and the launch of the iPhone are finally making mobile internet palatable and practical.

So search-on-the-go will drive new opportunities for search marketers and more media owners will deliver more mobile content with more embedded advertising. And the idea of paying cheaper phone tariffs in exchange for receiving ads on your mobile (in the manner of the recently launched Blyk) will also take off

If Google goes the whole hog and launches its own Gphone, expect ad servers such as AdSense and the YouTube ticker tape ads to become regular features on your mobile. And if the Gphone comes complete with fully realised GPS, then location-based marketing should become commonplace. Which leads me nicely on to...

THE NEW POINT OF SALE

The new mobile technologies allow brands to reach out to potential customers at times when they're most likely to buy: in shops. Mobile couponing and barcode delivery will mean that brands can send you tempting discount offers or entry tickets that can not only be targeted at your personal tastes but also your specific location. How many times have you cut a coupon out of a paper and lost it or forgotten to use it? No more. Of course, there's little room for fancy advertising creativity here, but the size of the discount and the skills of the copywriter will become paramount.

THE REBIRTH OF COPYWRITING

Hmm, not so much a prediction this one as a hope. Think back to the best and biggest ads of 2007: Cadbury's Gorilla, Sony Bravia's Play-Doh, Smirnoff's Sea, Skoda's Baking of Fabia, Guinness. Where's the dialogue, where's the great writing. Nowhere's where.

UK advertising (unlike that in the US) has become visually led and the art of great writing seems to be on the wane. It's been that way for a while now, but as advertising moves into the age of digitally delivered information, writing becomes a very necessary skill. Perhaps that's why some direct marketing agencies seem to be making the transition to digital more smoothly than their traditional advertising counterparts.

DIY ADVERTISING

Unfortunately, it seems that user-generated content and advertising is here for a while longer yet. In 2007 it was the talk of the big advertising showcase in the US, the Superbowl screening, and all the signs are that it will be a similar story for the 2008 game.

And did you see the Pringles UGC ad on TV here on Christmas night? It's called "Jinglin Pringlin" and it won a competition to create a Christmas campaign for the snack. It cost 300 and you'd know it. Not a good ad for the "art". And the Pringles website was still inviting entries for the 29 November deadline when I checked several days after the Christmas Day debut of the winning entry; so much for the instantaneous nature of the web. But at least it should reassure all legit creatives that their jobs are safe for a while yet.

CHINA'S VIRTUAL MALL

This one is really important, though in ways not many people quite understand yet. It's not about advertising, as such, but it's about how we buy products and it has the potential to affect the global economy.

The Beijing municipality is developing an enormous virtual shopping world to supply online the sort of cheap Chinese products that currently flood our stores. A 100sq km site is currently being prepared in China to house the technology to support virtual worlds that can accommodate billions of avatars. It's all about stripping out the middle man (or country) so that the world's consumers can buy direct from Chinese manufacturers. Watch this (virtual) space.

AND IF ALL ELSE FAILS, PRAY

Yes, 2008's going to be a rocky ride. If things get bad for your brand, log on to christvertising.com: "We believe nothing is possible without the Lord's blessing and consent. And your product is no exception... Christvertising helps you access the power of brand-targeted prayer (BTP, trademarked) using our unique, isosceles approach to marketing: Reach-Connect-Pray." Good luck and a happy New Year.

Claire Beale is editor of Campaign magazine

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