When it comes to predictions, I’m with Yogi...

18 Dec 2017  |  Dominic Mills 
When it comes to predictions, I’m with Yogi...

...Yogi Berra, that is. Who he? He famous US baseball coach who once said “it’s tough making predictions, especially about the future”.

Indeed, still thinking about the business of predictions, here’s another famous Yogi quote: “It’s déjà vu all over again.” Every columnist knows the same stuff just repeats itself every few years.

I did okay (ish) with some of my predictions last year here, here and here.

But I got some stuff wrong too.

Adblocking, for example. I thought it would be a huge problem. But it is no longer such a big deal.

I thought Silicon Valley’s lobbyists would swat away Brussels' threats to their businesses. Now I’m not so sure. Slowly, the political mood has shifted and tide is turning against the Valley boys.

I thought the US Department of Justice would hammer agencies over production malpractice. We’re still waiting.

I thought Facebook et al would no longer get away with numberwanging. Miscalculation. And I thought agencies would hold them to account for this. Also a miscalculation.

I did not foresee the galvanising effect of Marc Pritchard on the industry generally, although I wish more high-profile CMOs would have signed up to a #MeToo-type movement. Still, if this column had a ‘Person of the Year’ award to bestow, it would be on Mr P.

I also vowed to readers I would be more cheerful. I failed, and it was a stupid idea anyway.

So what of 2018? Here are a few predictions and observations.

1. This time next year I’d like an AI machine to do the hard work for me. Why not? Everybody but everybody is predicting AI - genius in a box, infallible like the Pope - is the NBT for marketers.

But what if the machines aren’t as clever as they’re made out to be. What if they’re stupid? What if they get it wrong? And would we - blinded by faith - even know?

About 18 months ago I saw an AI hipster, sorry hypester, explain that anyone using their machine shouldn’t worry too much if the results were poor for the first month or six weeks. It was still learning.

Well, I thought, if I was buying an AI machine I wouldn’t want one that was still in primary school. At the least I’d want a machine with a post-grad qualification. What marketer would want to waste budget like that?

2. This year’s Christmas stocking filler will have a big impact on adland. Yes, I’m talking about devices like the Echo and Google Home. Starting at £69.99 they are often cheaper than some Christmas stockings themselves so their user base will increase rapidly.

I’ve seen one forecast that, by the end of 2018, 40% of UK households will have a voice device. Me, I think that’s understating it, and I think that, rather like the TV set and tablet, there will be one in the living room, one on the kitchen and one in the bedroom/s.

There will be two obvious effects. First, the pressure on brands to develop a voice or audio strategy. Two, the inexorable rise of Amazon as a force in the the advertising eco-system, potentially rivalling the duopoly. My thanks to Simon Andrews of Addictive/The Mobile Kitchen for drawing my attention to this piece.

3. Measurement, as in third-party, independently, verified stuff (i.e. JICS), is hot. I think I’ve written more about measurement in the last year than in the previous ten. What was once a hygiene factor has become a big issue, and a politicised one at that too. Advertisers (led by Mr Pritchard) have woken up to its importance, and agencies - initially reluctantly - are beginning to make noises about it too.

It’s good, incidentally, to see ISBA, under new boss Phil Smith, aka ‘Front foot Phil’, taking up the charge, not just on measurement but media generally.

The big deal this year in the UK will be BARB’s addition of the full-platform, all-devices monty. This will intensify the debate around the subject and which may finally bring YouTube and Facebook to the table. Expect tons more debate on this.

(As an aside, I’m told that the trial data shows that the most-watched programme on a mobile last year was ITV’s Love Island. Obviously this is down to the audience demographic, but it may also be that the mobile leaves one hand free for other activities.)

4. Media agencies. P&G's Marc Pritchard (pictured above) not only set the debates rolling on measurement and brand safety, but also on media agency transparency. This one isn’t going away for a while yet, or at least until the big players fall in line.

But will they? They’re caught between a rock and a hard place on this, since to bow to transparency imperils the gravy train, and as results in the latter half of the year showed, the holding companies are already feeling the squeeze in multiple ways - as here and here.

One answer is media agency consolidation, of the type that saw MEC and Maxus come together as Wavemaker. Expect more of this. All of the holding companies are over-agencied. However, I don’t expect this to be repeated amongst the independents, for whom the chance to make hay will continue.

There will be a particular focus on Wavemaker as the lab rat for a new kind of media agency network. It says its focus is technology and content - i.e. no mention of buying. We’ll see.

5. Writing for Mediatel, Sky Media boss John Litster made collaboration a theme of 2018. He is right to say it is unprecedented. Astonishing when you think about it in the current climate, but most media have spent far more time fighting their immediate peers than they have the wider competition.

This collaboration can take a number of forms: research (which they mostly do via their trade marketing bodies), back-office resources, tech and, the ultimate, sales.

As far as TV is concerned, sales is off the cards but it is showing the way in other areas and, amazingly - after years of head-in-the-sand behaviour - the newsbrands' efforts (at least the Guardian, News UK and the Telegraph) to jointly sell premium video signal a major step forward.

Newsbrand display to one side, the sector that needs to think hardest about this is magazines. Without some kind of scale offering, they face marginalisation.

6. And the long tail (i.e. other stuff to watch out for in 2018)...

Gender stereotyping rules from the CAP/ASA. I don’t get it. They’ll tie themselves in knots, and the court of public opinion will name and shame miscreants anyway, rules or not.

Fame/targeting/personalisation. The first two are fine; the last won’t work and isn’t necessary, even though advertisers have convinced themselves it is. And that’s before we even get to GDPR and its effect on personalisation.

GDPR. Yes, this is a big deal and, fingers crossed, it will reward quality publishers who offer trust and great context.

Consultancies. Lots to see from them this year, and I expect some attention-grabbing hires, initiatives and acquisitions. But other than providing advice/auditing to clients, they’ll stay out of media agency territory.

Cannes. The Year of Rehabilitation. It’s got no choice.

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23 May 2018 

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