The Future of Advertising hasn’t happened. (At least not as predicted. by me).

Back in 2006 (a year during which the FT ran a headline “Eurozone economy enjoys Goldilocks recovery….”) I was asked to speak at the Periodical Publishers Association annual conference. My subject was ‘advertising’ and, in line with all conferences the World over, was title of the speech was to be preceded by ‘The Future Of..’  (It is a tradition or an old charter or something that states all conferences must have a session titled this way. That, and another called ‘The View From The Top..’).

Anyway, raising my visionary binoculars, I felt I saw a future of advertising where brands would not simply lurch toward digital (as most of my magazine publishing audience feared) but rather, choose to make more considered, distributed use of marketing dollars in executing integrated campaigns. Campaigns that exploit the best attributes of all available media. It was not a particularly radical view, but one that I felt made perfect sense.

I cited Sony’s Bravia campaign as a fantastic example of a truly integrated campaign. It really was an amazing undertaking. The beautiful TV ad, which first aired at half time between Manchester United and Chelsea on Sky Sports and occupied the entire ad slot, was accompanied by exclusive behind-the-scenes content only available online. A blogging campaign attracted more than 1.8 million ad views. Printed inserts, which the Direct Marketing Association proudly showcased, were used in the national press and, in an exclusive deal with the Independent newspaper, Sony sponsored the entire technology section of the Independent On Sunday Magazine.

Sony Bravia TV’s sold out within the first three weeks of the campaign.

Five years on from my talk I’m left wondering how far into the future I was looking. I was expecting it to happen by now, that’s for sure.

There are plenty of campaigns that share the same messaging and use multiple media but how many truly exploit the media? How many fuel sales that strip the shelves? Apple’s extraordinary marketing machine aside, I see precious few that fulfill my increasingly groundless prophecy.

The reason?  A massive, mitigating factor: the space and time-bending property of social media. And I didn’t foresee it. I didn’t foresee what a profound effect social media would have on people’s lives and companies’ resultant ad spends.

In 2006 social media was a term people certainly bandied about but it really had little meaning – at least not within the general marketing mix. In 2006 Google had only just bought YouTube, Facebook was a little-known networking site used primarily for arranging illicit rendezvous and Twitter, well at the time of my presentation, Twitter had been in existence for just 7 months. Just five years on, YouTube’s unique visitor count has rocketed from 63 million per month in 2006 to a staggering 790 million per month. Facebook (which only launched in 2004) is well on its way to billionth active user and Twitter regularly chirps over 200 million tweets per day.

Little wonder companies’ marketing spends are being warped by social media. After all, that’s where everybody is, right? Well, whilst that may be the case, despite the tendency toward tunnel vision when it comes to social media, there remains a question over strategy. According to Alex Pearmain, O2’s head of social media, “Whatever people tell you, there is no definitive case study for social media. We couldn’t tell you how every Like or comment increases sales or helps to up sell a customer to buy broadband. We don’t have that model yet and no one does.”

Pearmain’s comments, made without even a murmur of dissent at a recent New Media Age event in London and attended by Facebook and BBC among many others, are surely significant. Brands know they must utilize social media but don’t know how best to leverage the vast conversation taking place. Aside form the obvious value in listening in (what brand doesn’t want to know how they are perceived) there remains a struggle to turn dialogue into cash.

Few would argue that Apple hold the trophy for marketing effectiveness. Yet where is their social media presence? They don’t have one. But you can be sure they’re listening in. Listening and refining. Constantly. And at the same time spending marketing dollars on campaigns that squeeze the value out of print ads, TV ads and more. And clearing their shelves in the process..

Poster element of the iPod campagin

Clever ad placement at subway station in Toronto

Companies are worrying too much about engaging in social media (with a lack of tools to do so efficiently) and too little time in simply listening and quietly adapting.

Where does this leave my prediction for the future of advertising? I stand by it. And just like in 2006, I give it a timescale of 5 years..

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