People have been able to avoid ads for a long time, much before the skip button became available to them. When the it officially appeared on YouTube ads in 2009, it only represented a way for users to say “I wouldn’t care about this ad anyway but now I can also tell you by clicking here” and to feel more empowered about the content they consume. In 2016, users will feel even more empowered by choice: they will be able to choose to pay for ad-free subscription services (e.g. YouTube Red – announcement here if you missed it), or use ad-blockers (now working with in-app ads as well) as a symbolic sign of protest to say “I’m outta here” and keep the skip button permanently pressed.
This is where our journey begins in 2016: choice becoming a sharper weapon in the users’ armoury. Here are 5 trends I believe we’ll witness.
1. Even more screens
We have had smart TVs and smartwatches (and more supposedly ‘smart’ devices) for a few years now, but they have been mostly front-ends of other devices with more extended capabilities. In 2016, devices will go from ‘smart companions’ to ‘smart masters’. We will be able to convert any TV or screen with a USB port into a fully functioning computer, simply using a pocket-size $85 device (Chromebit is only the first of such devices, here is the announcement). New smartwatches (e.g. new LG Urbane 2) already offer 3G/4G coverage as standalone devices. In addition, increasing participation in the smartwatch sector by the traditional watch manufacturers (e.g. Tag Heuer first, and recently the more affordable Fossil) will contribute to mass-adoption and shift user habits. For example, we’ll be able to remain connected when we go for a run (soon even a swim) or out to dinner without carrying a smartphone anymore.
As a consequence, content will become even more ‘liquid’ as it travels across screens, providing user experiences that are orchestrated and possibly inter-connected, especially as devices start to talk to each other and users perform tasks using multiple screens (e.g. receive a push message on a smartwatch, research on a smartphone, and later complete a purchase from home using a laptop).
2. Branded content will continue to morph
As I wrote in my last article (here), as ad-blockers and ad-free subscription services give even more choices to users, advertising is bound to become less intrusive and more useful. For the online advertising industry to find a new balance, the ‘cost’ of ads on the user experience will have to decrease below the opportunity cost (material or practical) of paying for an ad-free subscription or downloading an ad-blocker. Ideally, such opportunity cost will become negative, if branded content is able to provide value to users. This becomes all more interesting when it happens across an increasing number of screens with different sizes and functionalities. If marketers and creatives have been questioning the impact of ads on the limited real estate of a smartphone screen, wait until they have to come up with something effective on a 1.6 inches smartwatch screen. As one of my colleague puts it, it will be “like painting a Mona Lisa on a stamp”.
As a consequence, content will become simpler, and the focus will partially shift from the impact of the creative to the utility it provides. An interesting recent example is the Star Wars campaign from Lucasfilm, based on a Chrome experiment at www.google.com/starwars. Once landed on the site, users are asked to choose between the light and the dark side of the force, and then they can experience a number of Google services ridden with Star Wars easter eggs. As they explore, users opt into an array of branded content, engaging at several touch-points across Google maps, YouTube, Calendar, and even Chromecast and Android Wear with customized watch-faces and push notifications.
3. Moment marketing
More screens mean more opportunities for brands to engage with users, but also more complexity. To remain effective, brands will have to adapt to new ways of finding their audience. For example, simply targeting a consumer demographic (still the most adopted type of targeting) will become less effective as it still leaves thousands of different engagement points across a variety of screens. On the other side, as the amount of available user data increases (e.g. with location-aware services), so does the ability to use such data for richer targeting. This will allow marketers to choose the most relevant moments to engage with users, and target based on signals of intent to provide more useful content.
A recent ‘Think With Google’ article (here) explores this concept for automotive brands: as the moments along the purchase journey become available to advertisers, the types of content that most matter are 1) test drives, 2) features and options, and 3) walkthroughs.
4. 360 degrees video become mainstream (more so than VR)
Cardboard and Oculus Rift have kept us excited about the possibilities of VR in the long run. However, the adoption of VR headsets to date remains very limited and I don’t expect this to change significantly in 12 months. However, the story about 360 degrees video, providing a more immersive experience even without using a VR headset, is completely different. Both YouTube and Facebook launched 360 degrees videos in 2015. As brands increasingly go mobile-first in their campaigns, 360 degrees video will provide a better canvas to engage with users. Put simply, we’ll turn around a lot more while we watch videos on mobile.
Here is a recent (and cool) example: for the launch of the new RX model, Lexus produced a video with a number of 360 degrees moments embedded in it. For the first time, the entire experience was embedded in the YouTube homepage (check it out here).
5. Video goes beyond branding
From the marketers’ perspective, one great aspect of mobile is that it collapses the consumer journey, bringing awareness, consideration, and purchase much closer within a few, immediate actions. As watchtime shifts to mobile, video platforms are giving brands the ability to leverage users’ choice by providing options to drive conversions. For example, YouTube has been introducing formats to drive conversions from video ads, with shoppable ads or app download promotions. These formats have already gone mainstream in 2015, and next year we’ll definitely see an increasing share of brands using video for both branding and conversion purposes.
More inter-connected, more immersive, and more useful. Is your content strategy ready for 2016?