Remember in the early days of the internet, we'd "go online" -- after waiting for our sister to get off the phone first -- and we'd hear that loud dial-up noise, and the internet felt like a thing? It was a place we went, and it felt real. Nowadays, we celebrate that the online and offline worlds are blending, and to some extent it's true, but you can still feel the edges. We've got passwords to remember, we've got places with no connectivity, and we still have to add on a data plan to our phones.
When technologies have really arrived, they blend into the background and they become unnoticeable, like oxygen or electricity. It's this context that best describes the internet of things. Behold an age of small sensors everywhere and a world of continuous interconnectivity and environments that respond intelligently to our every move. The internet becomes a connective ambient layer, in the background and all-knowing. It will be a time of data-sharing, predictive computing and cognitive outsourcing.
This new world brings about vast sums of data, creates a plethora of new screens to connect with, and above all else, provides new ways to make decisions. In this environment, what is the role of advertising if our refrigerators are buying the milk?
The first change comes from data. If we're wearing watches, clever clothes and using sentient spoons, our heartbeat, moods, location, stress levels, calendars and search activity are all being recorded, shared and analyzed. If we circumvent for now the obvious privacy concerns, we're armed with the best data we've ever had. Forget big data. When you have intimate data, little else seems important.
If we assume that programmatic is about buying against audiences, not channels, the next stage will be about buying people at a moment in time -- buying micro-moments to serve hyper-relevant personal ads. If we go even further and assume that this information layer makes suggestions, the ads of the future may be promoted routes in our cars, notifications on our smartphones that it's about to rain and an Uber is close, or money-off codes for holiday resorts when sensors on our smartphones detect we're getting stressed.
I'm not planning on watching TV on my fridge anytime soon, but we are about to see a variety of new screens that could convey personal messages to users. It seems likely that wearables will be pushed heavily, but that's not the limit. From larger in-car screens to bigger tablets, from smarter washing machines to projected images on our stovetops, we're at the edge of a time when messaging can come from anywhere.
In this future, perhaps smart mirrors will be able tell us the weather for the day and our clocks will turn red when we're running late. The smart home should become an environment that aids us, with smart furniture that wraps us with thin, ambient information. In this environment, advertising becomes the key nudge when consumers need to make a decision, with algorithms that offer suggestions.
Advertising agencies have oddly arranged themselves around channels and clients, when what matters most is people. This will soon change. Flow advertising will be a practice that allows campaigns to focus around people. It will be an extension of cross-screen advertising to a place where ads can become more personal, with sequential ad units that build over time to move people down the funnel. From rich immersive brand ads to special offers and links to purchase, soon advertising will create and funnel interest in a more seamless way. Calls to action will change, from clap-to-download mobile coupons to buy-now buttons that become a layer across the internet. The architecture of advertising is about to become way more advanced, interesting and wave-like, pushing interest through to purchase and tracking effectiveness.
Let's plan for the future now
The internet of things and smart homes aren't new -- they've been promised for decades. But regardless of consumer adoption of this technology, we need to understand that everything is getting digital, and that what matters are consumption contexts, not channels. I propose we banish the names of channels and the word "digital" forever -- it's all just the modern world now, and the pipes are becoming increasingly irrelevant. We need to work around people and new calls to action. Let's make advertising embrace this, and look back with embarrassment on the days when sticking a TV ad on Facebook was labelled innovation.