Digital marketing in 2038


Photo: Dragan (CC)

We see a lot of predictions in our world, especially when it comes to rapidly advancing technology. Smart speakers, self-driving cars, predictive algorithms and cryptocurrency are only the latest trends to dominate headlines.

If we were to look 20 years down the road, what will digital marketing look like? Two decades may seem far away, but in tech terms, it’s like landing on another planet. The year 1998 brought us banner ads and mailed AOL CDs; phones were ad-free and Amazon sold only books.

Let’s take a few wild guesses as to what our marketing looks like in 2038 …

1. No more exterior devices. Our phones are merely extensions of us as humans. Google Glasses and Snapchat Spectacles failed, smartwatches are doing only so-so, and fitness trackers have run their course.

But it’s safe to say that implantable chips and sensors are in our future. Being able to watch media, respond with a thought or a gesture and track others (friends, children) will be too tempting to pass up.

If we’re willing to tolerate ads in our personal emails, Web searches and phone screens, we’ll tolerate them as they’re directly transmitted to our eyes and our brains. Will this mean marketing will need to come up with even more quick-hit sensational campaigns? We may be working on subliminal ads that actually have a measurable impact.

2. More downtime. We grow accustomed to our standard of living and always want a little more. The 40-hour work week has been around since 1940, while our overall productivity has been soaring.

But with faster computers, smarter artificial intelligence and easier work arrangements (telecommuting, self-driving cars that allow us to work or relax), will we have a 30- or 20-hour work week?

And what will we choose to do with this time? Will it be spent reading or watching shows and movies, or exercising, spending time with family and friends or travel?

As marketers, we may have more opportunities to engage this rising leisure class.

3. Individually targeted ads. I saw “Minority Report” 14 years ago when it came out, and I still think about its vision of the future (specifically, 2054). Street-level billboards greeted pedestrians by name, and a clothing store recognized each shopper by size and preferred style — all through passive retina scans.

We already deal with a crude form of individually targeted ads daily. Online cookies track our visits to sites and show ads of products we’ve previously viewed. Automated emails attempt to shepherd us through the sales funnel. Our movements in physical space are recorded using GPS trackers in our phones.

We may see the end of mass media ads and turn to ads targeted to one person, or a handful of people in the same psychographic cohort. A million customized ads for 10,000 specific people to make 100 sales.

4. Automation for 99.9 percent of the work. We may be the last generation of humans that does the majority of analysis, button pushing and labor. Why build and sell cars using expensive people when we can have robots assemble them, algorithms customize them and automation market them?

The counter argument has always been: But we need human intuition and creativity to do the heavy lifting! We may find out we aren’t so special, compared to computers running as fast as (or faster) than our brains.

What happens when we need a handful of engineers to program those machines? What happens when only one data marketer can do the job better than 100 specialized marketers? What happens when our creations become far superior at our dull, repetitive, narrowly focused jobs than we are?

The predictions we made in 1998 about our present day have been way off, more amusing than prophetic. My stabs at the future will be as comical to our grandchildren.

That’s what happens when we take the trends of now and attempt to extrapolate them far into the future. It doesn’t allow for those unexpected advances in innovation that transform most aspects of society.

All we can do — all we should do — is continue to embrace the strange and untested, to evolve as professional marketers and to push our companies to adapt rather than react.

See you in 20 years.

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About Wade Kwon

Wade Kwon is conference director for Y'all Connect. See his full bio.

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