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January 14, 2008
The Future of Advertising

This week I start teaching a course called "The Future of Advertising" at a 100+ year old fine arts college. (I also start writing this column for Talent Zoo.)

There's plenty of irony to go around, of course. I don't pretend to know what that future may be. But as it's been said, "If you want to learn something, teach it."

The students and I are going to explore gaming, mobile, search, social networks, blogging, lifecasting, data, optimization, rich(er) media, Google (and all that one word entails), gadgets, widgets, web applications, interactive TV and more. We'll participate with Twitter, Pownce, blip.tv, Viddler, Facebook, et al. And we'll dig into strategy, budgeting (staff and money), user experience, writing, design, production, metrics, optimization and maintenance. You know—advertising as it's played today.

No wonder the industry seems to be in such positive, mutating turmoil. I wonder if my class will appreciate how amazing, even daunting, advertising has gotten in such a short period of time?

In the course outline, I suggested thinking of "The Future of Advertising" as preparation for a trip abroad. I encourage you to do the same, if you haven't packed already. "What’s absolutely critical to know in order to survive in the future? What do you need to be fluent in? Where and who should you visit? What’s your place in the grand scheme?"

Three key points have bubbled to the surface in my own experiences with the evolution of digital marketing and advertising. I hope these thoughts help you navigate this future we're already caught up in, here at the top of 2008.

1. Digital advertising and marketing is still very much about the primacy and supremacy of ideas that sell.

Ideas first. Technology, design and user experience second. At the core of any website, widget, banner ad or mobile app created for advertising should be a distinct, singular, compelling idea which connects you with a company, product or service. The best ideas, even in the digital space, should cause you to say, "I hadn't thought of it that way before." They should change our perceptions.

This means being able to express any digital idea, no matter how complex, with simplicity and grace. This means focusing on editing. The best TV commercial creative teams have an ability (and the wisdom) to express their intent successfully with a minimum of words and images. It's incredibly difficult to replicate that standard when selling (or buying) an AJAX/Flash content management-driven mobile widget. But please try.

Technology, design and user experience may very well be the essential substance of the idea. And they are wonderfully important. But only the idea is the idea. Only the idea can sell. Even in the future.

2. Participation means the world.

Just do it. Stop dancing around the fringes and jump in. I've suggested CEOs should be required to blog. Or that marketing departments should create positions for Facebook Experts, ala beer marketer Neal Stewart. The point is, those that do are the ones that can (and will). The old agency model trained and nurtured their troops up the ladder from print to broadcast. Now the ladder has acquired numerous new rungs. Please continue climbing. Even if you're the CEO.

3. Being able to see the matrix is invaluable.

In other words, being able to visualize and convey the entire ecosystem of a modern digital campaign is priceless. (And it only comes from experience. See point #2.) Compared to 10 years ago, today's strategizing, budgeting, staffing, production processes and maintenance of marketing and advertising ideas is both wicked awesome and wicked hard to wrap your head around. Get used to it.

Before I retire, I believe we will see ourselves completely tear apart and rebuild Marketing, perhaps even Business. We are abandoning long established trading and promotion cycles, media, tactics, metrics and compensation methodologies. In their place are "always-in-beta" practices, consumer empowerment and the conversation economy. The key to understanding, implementing and harnessing these forces comes from a willingness and ability to comprehend the new ecosystem.

Did I mention my class is a five-hour "studio" offering? Thank goodness it only meets once a week. I take solace in thinking the length will give us plenty of time to participate. And I hope it’ll generate a few ideas for future columns here at Talent Zoo.

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As a writer, creative director and drummer, Tim Brunelle started in advertising in 1993 after receiving a B.A. in Jazz from the University of Cincinnati. Since then, he's worked with TBWA/Chiat Day, Heater/Easdon, McKinney & Silver, Arnold Worldwide, OgilvyOne, Mullen and Carmichael Lynch. Tim now works for his own entity, Hello Viking.

Tim has provided strategic and creative leadership to A.G. Edwards, Anheuser-Busch, Brown Forman, Goodyear, Harley-Davidson, Porsche, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Volkswagen.

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