The Future’s Exciting but Advertising Needs to Celebrate the Now Too
Perhaps it’s a symptom of the advertising industry’s identity crisis, but we seem to be spending an awful lot of energy wishing our time away. We’re obsessed with the future. It’s all about what’s next, not what’s happening now. With so much uncertainty about where agencies and production companies will be in twenty, ten, or even five years, the urge to future-proof is understandable. But it may not be such a bad idea to put down the trend report, take a break from your live-streamed AI conference and practice a little mindfulness. Celebrate the now.
Because there’s a lot of amazing stuff happening right now.
Last week I went along to the Advertising Producers Association’s annual Future of Advertising event at Bafta in London. There was a lot of cool stuff on display and there were interesting debates playing out on stage. But afterwards I couldn’t help but think the brief of defining The Future puts a lot of pressure on speakers who are doing and dealing with some really interesting things today.
Adblocking, for example, was one of the key threads of the afternoon. It’s a technology that’s been around forever and a story that’s unfurling right now, all around us. Mel Exon, MD at BBH London, spoke about the debate, the problem for publishers and the responsibility that the ad industry has to create data-light, non-obnoxious advertising and useful, creative digital platforms that are useful for consumers. This talk, she told the audience, had to be tweaked and re-written several times as new developments kept ad-blocking in the news cycle. Yes, it’s an issue that has huge implications for tomorrow… but it’s happening today.
One of the highlights of the afternoon was the inaugural APA IDEAS Showcase (you can see a list of the winners here). It presented a selection of some of the most exciting ‘Interactive, Digital and Experiential Advertising’ to come out of the UK production industry in recent months. The presentation will be toured around the world and, for me, it was a great encapsulation of the industry at this moment in time. It was innovative, yes, and very techy, but this wasn’t some hypothetical thought piece or collection of experimental, over-stretching hacks. Instead, it was a representation of the kind of solid, clever and creative projects that the industry is capable of in 2016. And that’s something to be proud of. Own it.
While we constantly race towards the future – an ever-moving goal, never quite in reach – it’s easy to forget how far we’ve come.
I wonder if framing innovation as ‘futuristic’ is less helpful than it sounds. Yeah, it’s flashy, conjuring sci-fi flashes of super-cool sky cities and teleporters… but the future also enables clients to procrastinate. “Oh that’s kind of cool, we should perhaps get round to that… someday…”
It also encourages us to be fickle, to ditch technologies that fail to explode fast enough. 3D printing, someone said to me recently, has been kind of disappointing because it hasn’t really been picked up by the mainstream. Because every household in the developed world isn’t 3D printing its food, furniture and underpants, it’s a disappointment? There’s a similar thing happening with virtual reality. There have been so many VR projects in the advertising and marketing sphere over the past few years that it no longer feels, to insiders, as a shiny new toy. We’re experiencing VR fatigue. But bedding down, finding a place in the world, filtering down to the mainstream, is a process - it takes time.
I’m going to leave you with a quote from Stink’s Daniel Bergmann, one of the earliest interviews I did for Little Black Book, which I think sums up the situation quite nicely:
“I think a lot of people are thinking about the future, but the important thing is to stay calm and focused on making good work. You have to move inside the system and live it, influence the trends and be part of it.”