Focus and context are the new art and copy

Our Next Big Thing issue points the way to the future of advertising and marketing.

Relaxing on a deck recently, supposedly taking a mental vacation from adland, I saw an ad that took complete advantage of its environment.
After finishing the puzzles in the New York Times, my eye was caught by an image of nutmeg, in a wee box just above the crossword. The pic was captioned with “Yesterday’s A Google a Day” challenge, and “How to find the answer” to the-spice-that-motivated-an-exchange-of-islands query. Intrigued, I looked above the fold to find a two-column half page ad with a new question (“Is there moss on all sides of the rocks where Aurelius Ambrosius is said to be buried?”) as well as an empty Google search box and a throw to
Brilliant. Someone realized that when stumped crossword fanatics resort to search, so why not make a game of it (and make it feel less like cheating)? This invites participation that’s entirely within the pre-existing routine of the reader. When it comes to all the new techie options out there (which often require elaborate participation) coming up with ad ideas that don’t fight for attention – but rather riff off interests and routines in entertaining or useful ways – will be key.
Our Next Big Things report  looks at several trends that have that requisite focus and context potential. Of course, every time something new unspools, there is the big adoption reckoning factor: will consumers embrace it in large enough droves to warrant adding it to the list of campaign elements? And until the truly novel becomes the norm, it’s deemed not ready for advertising. But a big factor is just human nature – how easy is it and what’s the reward? This is where focus and context can tip the scale.
It’s also why things like NUads from Microsoft, interactive ads that use Kinect gestural and voice activation building off existing Xbox gameplay, have a better chance of breaking through than “interactive” schemes of the past. The audience is already trained to respond appropriately (and it’s a significant demo). That’s likely why it gleaned attention at Cannes, and why those who see the demo immediately start plotting uses for it.
The mobile commerce and adaptable digital design trends covered also open the door to exciting possibilities – the latter enabling a much closer relationship with culture than just interrupting it, while the former engages the consumer as a shopper creating retail options everywhere. They’re more direct than OOH advertising of yore, so less invasive of public space and have the potential to eliminate some of the clutter with more targetable use.
As to the bigger Next Big Things picture, “baking marketing into the product” is one of the trends columnist Will Novosedlik flags as the future. He describes a utopian marketplace where the quest for the cleverest tagline is replaced with a continuous consumer input loop that starts with the product, and if done well, replaces campaigns with “long term cultural narratives.” “Instead of a culture formed by business we could have a business formed by culture,” he writes.
He observes that the current agency model is not equipped for this approach, or even to deal with the collaboration convergence requires. On that front, Jonathan Paul’s media feature this issue looks at the change sweeping media agencies, as they evolve to meet the new advertiser needs. The shops who are closest to the consumer have been gaining importance to marketers, and now media agencies are challenging AOR’s lead role by playing up their content capabilities as well as their ROI-enhancing targeting and metric powers.
So like the rest of the planet, the status is definitely not quo, and the upheaval has economic, structural and fundamental impact. How it will shake out has spawned endless theories and some considerable reorganizational bets, but a few trends – like shopper marketing becoming  a core brand-building discipline, and digital, media and content expertise becoming more crucial – indicate that programs with focus and context, abetted by advances in cost-effective targeting and increased accountability, are shaping a new formula.

Cheers, mm
Mary Maddever, exec editor, strategy, Media in Canada and stimulant