This is a landmark year in the evolution of digital marketing.
In a nutshell
- We’ve now had a long enough history of digital marketing to take lessons from the past and ensure that we move forward into a time where digital spend equates to brand success.
- Digital advertising has progressed from 'mindshare branding' to 'emotional branding' and now 'purpose branding'. 'Cultural branding' is the next evolution.
- Brands should use more of their digital investment to understand online crowd cultures as well as the opportunity for their brand to champion their ideology.
Various reports have shown that digital budgets are at last achieving parity with TV, and the latest ad-spend forecast by eMarketer even suggested that in the US, digital will soon overtake TV ad spending for the first time.
We are certainly deep in the digital pool. It would be prudent then to consider whether we are swimming and transforming our brands through this pursuit, or merely trying to stay afloat and expending significant energy for little movement forward.
By now we’ve had a long enough history of digital marketing to look back at what has ultimately been a huge experiment and ensure that we move forward from a time of trial and error into one where digital spend equates to brand success.
In the beginning there were banner ads
When you consider the history of marketing you will quickly realise that what has taken place in the digital space over the last 15 years almost exactly mirrors what took place in branding more broadly over the last 50.
At first, digital advertising mostly consisted of banner ads which provided marketers with another (potentially much cheaper) channel to perform their most relied on ‘safe’ strategy: ‘mindshare branding’. The only problem was that while people once found this form of advertising permissible when it was paying for their favourite TV show, as soon as it was disrupting and slowing down their free internet surfing, they weren’t having it – and certainly wouldn’t watch it.
Let’s get emotional
The second stage of the evolution involved the advertising agencies’ favoured model of branding: ‘emotional branding’. This was at the point about a decade ago when most companies were heralding the arrival of a new age of branding. They hired creative agencies and armies of technologists to insert brands throughout the digital universe. Viral, buzz, memes, stickiness and form factor became the lingua franca of branding. Essentially, for a time, creatives got a free pass to indulge their wildest dreams – they were in the entertainment industry, tasked to use their Hollywood-like budgets to engage audiences around their online brand platforms.
However, our world was already over-saturated with cultural content and this was about to explode as the internet further developed into social media. Suddenly, consumers themselves were creating content that could generate more buzz than big budget advertising creativity. As Douglas Holt points out: “In YouTube or Instagram rankings of channels by number of subscribers, corporate brands barely appear. Only three have cracked the YouTube Top 500”. Ads don’t compete with other ads. Instead, they compete with a plethora of content created by the very people advertisers are targeting—their customers.