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Insights from Day 2 of AFM

May 6, 2014

By Constantine von Hoffman, editor of ANA Magazine

Tuesday at the ANA Advertising Financial Management conference got off to a great start with a lively, informed — and PowerPoint free! — talk on the future of marketing by Rishad Tobaccowala, chair of DigitasLBI and Razorfish.

He began by pointing out all the assumptions the marketing industry has about the future — how it will be increasingly digital, social, data driven, mobile, and focused on emerging markets. No great surprise there, but then he started dissecting those assumptions and looked at what is left out of them and their implications.

First, he looked at how important analog’s ideas and actions remain despite the seeming triumph of all things digital. For example, there is the way mobile is putting more emphasis on people and places, like how people go into a brick-and-mortar store and then look online to see if they can get a better price. That’s digital supplementing analog.

One of the reasons analog will always be important is because digital is binary – yes/no, on/off – while people are not. We are a “maybe” species that frequently rejects data we know to be true in order to follow our preconceptions. “People choose with their hearts and then use numbers to justify what they just did,” he said. While this might seem a critical flaw at a time when all the talk is of “data-driven decision-making,” it’s actually a strength we need to understand. “The underlying basis of our business is storytelling,” Tobaccowala added, “and storytelling is analog.” In other words, if Beauty had stepped back and made a well-thought-out rational decision about falling in love with the Beast, no one would have been the least bit interested.

Tobaccowala then warned about the risk of always looking to the market leaders for innovation. “TV and video is going to come from the slime, not the heavens,” he said, turning a phrase which I bet made everyone think. His point was that just as Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu have become big by being disruptors, they didn’t start that way. The next disruptors are already out there, it’s just that no one has caught on to them yet. “Don’t pay too much attention to your bosses,” he said. “They are the past.”

The future of marketing is less about ads and more about utilities and services. He pointed out that for $60 or $70 a month people can get much of their media ad free by subscribing to things like HBO GO, Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Spotify. While not everyone will or can do this, the 30 percent to 40 percent who do are going to be the ones most desirable to marketers. The only way to reach them is by providing something useful which they will use. He summed up the consumers’ view perfectly by pointing out that ads tell consumers the brand doesn’t value their time.

That really was just the first third of his talk and the rest was every bit as interesting and iconoclastic. Tobaccowala is @rishad on Twitter and I just became a follower.

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