Ad Forecasters Offer Mildly Bizarre Glimpse of the Future

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There are two things all advertising geeks love: graphics and numbers – lots and lots of numbers. You can positively hear the crunching sound of those digits whenever you’re in the presence of anyone in an advertising-related industry. (Full disclosure, I once worked for an advertising agency in Chicago.)

With that in mind, Borrell Associates' recent webinar on digital advertising was not surprisingly number-centric – with a bit of ad and social media history, some Miley Cyrus references and a plethora of predictions for what the future of advertising holds in our increasingly digitized world.

For a point of reference, the very first television ad appeared 73 years ago on July 1st, 1941. It consisted of a Bulova watch ticking for 60 seconds with the voiceover: “America runs on Bulova time.”

My, How Advertising has Grown

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Borrell Associates, a Virginia-based firm that tracks local advertising, promoted the webinar — “Happy 20th Digital Advertising! Here’s What You’ll Look Like at 30" — as "a unique (and mildly bizarre) glimpse of the future."

It was hosted by three Borrell executives, CEO Gordon Borrell, Jim Brown, vice president of sales and marketing, and Corey Elliott, director of research, who kicked off the presentation by showing the world’s first Internet banner ad.

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They also shared a thought provoking statistic. That first ad had a clickthrough rate of 44 percent, amazing considering the current average clickthrough rate is around 0.02 percent, Borrell noted.

Where Were You When…?

Just in case participants had forgotten, a series of reminders flashed on the screen reminding us of “the way we were” back in 1994 (Clinton was president, “X-Files” and “Cheers” were hot and Miley Cyrus was a baby), where we were technologically (beepers were a thing, cameras had film, and pay phones were everywhere) and what were then unbelievable predictions (encyclopedias, video and book stores would all become obsolete).

Skipping forward to 2004 (when Gmail was brand new, “Friends” was must-see TV and Miley Cyrus was still a pre-teen), and none of the sites or technologies shown in the image below even existed:

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“MySpace was far bigger and had more traffic than Google," Borrell said. "No one knew what MyFacebook [sic] was back then.”

After the strolls down memory lane, Elliott took over to talk about forecasts and predictions of how things might change over the next ten years using ad spending and digital advertising revenue databases, mathematical trending and forecasting, and Delphi panels.

There was a brief explanation of Delphi panels, which could have used more detail, before two interactive surveys were presented asking what the participants thought regarding the future of daily newspapers and how long until their eventual demise.

Via webchat, some participants registered their confusion about whether the questions were referring to a complete cessation of these publications or more specifically print newspapers – the hosts clarified them to mean the latter.

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Some statistics that were included (and there’s that familiar crunching sound):

  • The kinds of companies that are “becoming more digital” — telephone directories overall receive the majority of ad revenue, while radio apparently receives the least
  • “Who’s getting the most money” — Autotrader.com is at the top of the graph with Clear Channel on the bottom
  • And “who’s growing the fastest” — Trulia is fastest, ReachLocal’s numbers are in the negatives 

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The Next 10 Years

In keeping with the theme, a series of predictions followed – but not before a short diversion to discourage naysayers, entitled “A Brief History of Scoffing” including several well-known (Western Union’s infamous negative assessment of the telephone) and some lesser-known (Dionysius Lardner’s assertion that high-speed rail would asphyxiate passengers) instances of predictions that failed to come true.

Some of the fairly predictable predictions for the next ten years, according to Borrell are:

  • Printed coupons generated through newspaper will disappear
  • All but a dozen metro dailies and nearly all yellow pages companies will shut down
  • Radio will be almost entirely web-based

Possibly less predictable were:

  • The FCC will pull all broadcast licenses and all digital media will be “video-centric”
  • All people will have personal marketability scores

Additionally, the case was made that everyone will use social media to solicit bids from local entrepreneurs, etc., for everything from purchasing goods and services to Lasik eye surgery and that advertising on a local level will be gone and replaced by promotions.

The closing quote by computer scientist Alan Kaye — “The best way to predict the future is to invent it,” — gives the impression that Borrell Associates hopes for a bit of its own inventing.

One footnote — all of the participants in the webinar will receive a set of answers to questions from the post-webinar Q&A, along with a 2009 prediction from Borrell that was “stunningly wrong.” We'll share it when we get it.

Title image by Edward Padgett  (Flickr) via a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.