In the age of customer-centricity and renewed privacy, digital advertisers need to highlight their human side.
It’s no secret that the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) has greatly upended the ways in which companies do business, with traditional advertising and marketing practices and models being laid to waste as new technologies and innovations emerge.
Two years ago, the world witnessed an acceleration of 4IR as the Covid-19 pandemic swept the globe. Lockdowns, isolation and ongoing bans on store transactions, travel and movement forced a shift in consumer behaviour. Audiences – even those who had previously been resistant to technological innovation – moved online amid changing socioeconomic and lifestyle conditions. In 2022, yet another shift is about to occur as privacy, mis- and disinformation, and customer-centricity take centre stage.
The impact of emerging technologies and regulations
When the pandemic hit, many South African businesses were still relying on traditional advertising and marketing practices. Few were using digital channels and those that were had only reached the tip of the returns that digital advertising offered. Fast-forward two years and digital advertising is once more undergoing a rapid shift. Where static, sales-driven approaches previously reigned supreme, 2022 embraces change to accommodate the need for more engaging, customer-centric experiences that will be a defining factor of digital advertising.
In order to comprehend this evolution fully, it’s important to understand how digital channels in particular changed the ways in which audiences consume content. Just a few years ago, static digital advertising banners were trending, with companies spending thousands to ensure their brands were front and centre on major news websites. The role of this type of advertising had to change, with banners evolving from static words and images to GIFs and even video, and now becoming more personalised to consumers’ interests.
Standard email marketing was extremely popular, with everyone from large corporates to bloggers collecting email addresses and sending out thousands of mailers to audiences on a daily basis. Email marketing was so effective that the world’s most popular search and email platform, Google, even enabled built-in ads to appear as emails in inboxes.
Then, in 2018, the EU introduced the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). This provided guidelines for media and businesses as to the types of consumer information they could retrieve, collect and disseminate, as well as the ways in which this information could be utilised and the rights of consumers. Global companies scrambled to align their information policies with the GDPR while consumers in the EU rejoiced at no longer having to view unsightly ads or be spammed with email marketing. In 2021, South Africa’s own Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA) was implemented, having already been delayed by a year due to the pandemic, and companies once more had to pull out all the stops to ensure they complied.
Privacy is power
According to Statista, approximately 25-million South Africans are on social media (that’s more than one-third of the country’s 60.7-million-strong population), while 38.13-million are active internet users, with 36.13-million accessing the internet on their mobile phones. While many businesses had been plying their wares on social media platforms for years, with the first ad introduced on Facebook in 2005, the content these companies were posting to social media was mostly sales driven and directed at audiences. as brands continued to push sales on social media and with web banners, savvy consumers were downloading ad blockers and hiding ad-driven content from their social media feeds in order to enjoy a more personable experience.
Whereas audiences were quick to sign up for offers and consume media at the start of the pandemic, two years of working from home and constant digital connectivity have led to a “digital fatigue” of sorts. That’s is not to say there will be an entire shift from digital to real-world experiences. After all, many of the world’s systems rely heavily on digital technology. However, a growing trend will be a move from the static to the engaged, and to an expectation of boundaries, especially when it comes to audience privacy. To this end, digital advertising and marketing teams will need to learn to emphasise and highlight the more human side of their offerings, with less of a focus on the tactical and more on emotion, connection and flexibility.
The expectation of truthful, unbiased content
If endless reams of content – any content, from written to static imagery to video – were the order of the day in 2020, 2022 will see the rise of more digitally savvy audiences who are selective of the content they consume. One need only to look at the drop in social-media influencer trust in recent months for an example of this. Perhaps as a result of digital fatigue but also, to a very large extent, as a result of the mis- and disinformation experienced in the early days of the pandemic, audiences are now looking for credible sources and content that is truthful and unbiased.
Audiences and customers are no longer content with sitting back and passively consuming the ideas and information being relayed. Instead, they want to actively engage with content and the brands speaking to them, and feel that they are being heard by these brands. For a brand’s digital advertising to see success in the coming months, a renewed focus must be placed on a two-way engagement strategy and having a discourse with audiences and customers, no matter how uncomfortable it may seem at first.
A new frontier for digital advertising
While the majority of changes in digital advertising will continue to be more on the theoretical side for now, practical innovations have by no means slowed. In the past months, audiences and customers have been introduced to technologies such as mobile e-commerce, cryptocurrencies, NFTs and the metaverse, all of which will have huge impacts on the digital advertising space.
The metaverse, in particular, will further bring engagement into the spotlight. Virtual and augmented reality have already been flighted by many brands and will become more immersive in the metaverse, with approximately 85-million global users predicted to have experienced one or both of these technologies at least once in 2021. In the digital advertising and marketing realm, there is an expectation that the metaverse run parallel to real-world marketing efforts, offering experiential and immersive experiences as opposed to simple placement of ads on websites or social media platforms.
Examples of these include concerts and fashion shows held in the digital realm and revenue streams that originate online. The latter also relates to cryptocurrencies and the ways in which businesses are using innovations such as non-fungible tokens (NFTs) – a non-interchangeable unit of data stored digitally and associated with digital files that can be sold or traded – as entry points to the metaverse for their audiences.
Even digital out of home (DOOH) models have evolved, by adapting to and adopting a more omnichannel approach that involves programmatic media and a diverse selection of digital channels to engage with audiences and customers.
Equipping a community
At the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), it is our aim to understand and unpack these changing trends, and help our members and the broader digital advertising community in South Africa to embrace them. We want to equip this community to meet the challenge of implementing these changes in their digital advertising and marketing efforts. Digital advertising may once more be undergoing a transformation, but we hope that our concerted efforts in recognising and interpreting the changes taking place will be of use to those in the sector.
Our councils and committees, steered by digital marketing, media and advertising experts, are at all times keeping track of the constantly evolving digital media landscape to ensure that businesses are always relevant and thriving. Thanks to these councils and committees, we are able to help drive digital marketing forward.
The IAB South Africa comprises 150 leading media companies, brands and technology firms working in digital marketing and media, and empowers the media and marketing industries to thrive in the digital economy. The non-profit, non-governmental trade group fields critical research on interactive advertising, while also educating brands, agencies, publishers and the wider business community on the importance of digital marketing.
Razia Pillay is the newly appointed chief executive of IAB South Africa, which manages The Bookmark Awards. She founded FOUIR Digital Academy, a digital academy that teaches women in developing countries the skills needed to navigate the 4IR future. Pillay also lectured and facilitated the Digital Marketing Employed Learnership programme at the Red & Yellow Creative School of Business.
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