• August 2014

The Future of Advertising: Derek Woodgate on Disruptions and Opportunities

From “PR Rules: The Playbook—The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Supersizing Your Small Business.” Available August 8, 2014, on Amazon.com

By Hope Katz Gibbs, with Kathleen McCarthy
PR Rules: The Playbook

Defining Advertising

By Derek Woodgate
Futurist, and President
The Futures Lab, Inc.

Advertising is experiencing a huge disruption in every aspect of the industry.

The revolution is certainly creating considerable concern among those comfortable with traditional industry structures and approaches. Yet this shift will open up new opportunities in terms of media and advertising formats, and consumer reach and engagement—not to mention cross-disciplinary collaborations, specializations, delivery technologies, financial structures, and reception performance approaches.

As Internet technology guru Clay Shirky recently stated: “It is the people who work out how to work simply in the present, rather than the people who mastered the complexities of the past, who get to say what happens in the future.”

As I see it, four very distinct but interacting layers will provide the strategic architecture for the coming revolution in the world of advertising.

  1. The changing human;
  2. The blending of, or moving across the four consumer touch spheres (the public sphere, the social sphere, the tribal sphere, and the psychological sphere);
  3. New media and advertising formats and technologies; and
  4. New effectiveness criteria and metrics.

These four layers will be supported by a number of critical overlays such as:

  • Changing business models/financial structures (predominantly subscription, bundling, pay-as-you-use, even fan-funded programming);
  • Types of agencies/players;
  • New creative tools and production techniques; and
  • New content providers.

1. THE CHANGING HUMAN: Behaviors, Attitudes, Lifestyle, Identity, Archetypes

Even though we may still see the remnants of mass advertising campaigns, the thrust of future advertising will be much more micro-personalized and largely experiential, leveraging the consumer’s subjective experience and perceived relevance.

This experiential approach will drive advocacy by:

  • Building and extending brand citizenship.
  • Providing personalized meaning and relevance.
  • Understanding the consumer’s deepest needs through continuous dialogue.

Having the intelligent tools to achieve this level of personalization will not be the issue. It will be relatively easy to create in-depth individual consumer profiles by:

  • Analyzing purchase or “interest” behavior or hits (such as retail behavior monitoring of a customer’s reaction to an advertisement, product, retail display, etc., via facial expressions, voice, and gesture); or
  • Analyzing a potential customer’s social media and online interests, conversations, and behavior; or even
  • Monitoring physical movement or specific touch points within individual “friends” in one’s social group or special interest group.

However, dealing with the intercrossing of multiple, often interacting, non-coherent identities of an individual will be more difficult.

The continuing shift towards “remix lifestyles,” with their unrestricted canvas of choices, often means the consumer takes up a very subjective, short-lived position or behavior that does not represent the person’s typical behavior.

For advertisers, understanding emerging status markers, social signals, and identifiers—and how they will be expressed and what they actually mean or represent—will be crucial.

Advertisers will be required to take an agile approach, even adapting in real-time. Delivering “messages” —whether on a mobile device, a wearable computer, or as a projection on one’s hand or in the midst of an in-store product display as one walks down the aisle—will reinforce saliency.

As a counter to extreme personalization, advertisers will also need to understand the growing power and intercommunication of the “crowd” and the problem of transient collective personality that it brings. This is very different from a traditional, more easily defined cohort.

How will “the changing human” affect advertising by 2020?

  • By 2020, advertisers may already be paying attention to the whims of persuasive digital avatars and personal assistants or artificial intelligent trendsetters and tastemakers—but it is the changing human who will be more difficult to cajole.
  • Message development will be particularly difficult for the 18-24-year-old demographic in 2020 (today’s 12-18 year olds), whom Keith Blanchard, chief content officer of Story Worldwide, considers, “The grossly entitled, helicopter-parented, permanently ear-budded, pre-diabetic, superbrat generation. This includes those blissfully ignorant walking babies born with fingertip access to all the world’s information who can’t find Texas on a map, and cyborg-wired superslackers who spend their days texting, illegally downloading One Direction remixes, and YouTube-chronicling the nonstop party that is their lives.”
  • 2020 advertisers will have to take into account the entitlement attitude of consumers since it will likely provide a shield against reality. In particular, the 18-24-year-old demographic (which will no longer be referred to as a cohort) may well expect their lives—as well as the imagery and sensations that surround them—to be a kaleidoscope of ever-changing, interplaying possibilities.

2. THE BLENDING OF THE FOUR CONSUMER SPHERES: Public, Social, Tribal, Psychological

The lifestyle sphere is the cradle for experiential advertising and marketing. When developed and blended across the four spheres—public, social, tribal, and psychological—advertising moves from a media-centric approach to a more customer-centric approach.

Instead of focusing first on which media to emphasize in a campaign—outdoor displays, smart media carts, mobile TV, 3D walls, etc.—brands would be better served by establishing how to leverage the spheres to best infiltrate and integrate into consumers’ lives in a way that optimizes meaning, context, relevance, and engagement.

What do advertisers need to know about the lifestyle spheres?

  • The public sphere traditionally has been one in which brands endeavor to connect with consumers during “idle time.” However, with the advent of experiential or interactive advertising, that idle time is being transformed into “active time” —through the ability to win either enhanced experiences or actual material benefits.
  • The social sphere provides the opportunity for advertisers to migrate messages across multiple media platforms through social interaction.
  • The tribal sphere is about more-focused social engagement. It is here that advertisers can help create and bind the brand’s and consumers’ identification with specific groups.
  • The psychological sphere is the realm in which affect is not only deeply experienced, but also given a purpose, i.e., new ways to articulate ideas, engender habit formation, guide reasoning, and elicit emotion.

There will be multiple ways in which consumers interact and experience the media delivered across these four spheres.

Consider experiential retail, where we are beginning to see the blending of online and offline worlds, as well as socially integrated, interactive experiences, personally tailored and very much part of our everyday lives. For example, we can expect to see personalized life-games where one’s world and everything we do in it becomes game-ified. Whether we are talking about loyalty points or even big-prize draws when we enter retail, we will be stepping into a parallel, participatory social gaming world.

Equally, the advent of augmented-reality storytelling, which will involve immersive, digitally layered worlds, will allow us to experience new realms of reality, blending media, information, and story by providing contextual entertainment anywhere and everywhere we go.


The convergence of communications, media, data, and entertainment is revolutionizing everything from content and delivery, to location, device, and reception.

  • The average person spends 90 percent of his or her life indoors, but advances in mobile computing have meant that media and advertising are just as likely to be viewed on a mobile device as they are on “fixed” equipment.
  • Meeting this changing landscape will require considerable thought on behalf of the consumer, producer, and advertiser as to which content, device, and delivery mechanism will achieve optimized effect and affect.
  • The Internet and mobile devices are central to many of these developments, enabling anywhere, anytime access, as well as incredible choice in deciding which and how such media will be delivered and consumed.

Together the Internet and new modes of mobility will enable multi-platform, multi-device, and multi-screen reception simultaneously across various media. Physical media formats of the past are being replaced or supplemented by direct replacements on the web.

Therefore, we are beginning to see direct customer advertising opportunities in multi-purpose apps, with the Cloud playing a prominent role, that provide anything from news and social media management to mobile entertainment.

In parallel, advances in transmedia, cross-media, and blended media are requiring advertisers to develop multiple and new media-specific advertising formats that best leverage the medium.

For example, we will see advertising as 3D projection mapping on buildings and storefronts (even in the sky), with added 4D components such as smell-a-vision, locative advergames, and annotated, augmented environments. These will include interactive billboards and transportation, integrated social media at every turn, even opportunities to project ourselves into the advertisement itself, especially as telepresence technologies expand and become more ubiquitous.

Advancement and learning from 3D world and game developments will lead to new levels of immersion, sensation, and ambient experiences. The addition of augmented reality and sensory enhancement will make these experiences more compelling, believable, and desirable and will increase retention.


One of the biggest changes we can expect in the near future (and we are already witnessing its impact in a lower form) is the move towards more one-to-one advertising, or interactive and responsive personalized advertising. Supported by bots and artificial intelligence, which are continuing to provide more in-depth consumer profiles, advertisers will be able to discern levels of engagement in real-time.

Our ability to quickly collate, analyze, and react to “big data” will make this personalization even more relevant to the consumer. However, more importantly, as we see substantial meaningful progress in the field of neuroscience and its relationship with advertising, we will also be able to better understand and substantiate the power and truth of advertising messages and claims.

A good example of this development is the UK chocolate brand Beyond Dark, which is using scientific evidence to determine the pleasure coefficient of various cocoa levels in their chocolate. The company has been collaborating with neuroscientists to study a group of users’ brainwaves to measure how eating their dark chocolate ranks against other pleasurable activities such as finding money or stroking a puppy.

Such approaches, which have arisen from the growing field of neuromarketing, go way beyond traditional focus groups by tapping into consumers’ subconscious using biometric indicators (heart rate, brainwave activities, respiratory rate, etc.).

Similar mirror technologies that read gesture, touch, facial muscle reaction (environmental psychophysics), etc., are being introduced into interactive window displays, virtual walls, physical and virtual 3D pop-up ads, smart kiosks, interactive shelving, and smart media trolleys in order to explore, analyze, and react in real-time to consumer behavior.

As this field expands, we will see the broader introduction of sensory analysis to help measure consumer perception. Accordingly, advertisers will be able to better understand how consumers identify, discriminate, and perceive quality of a brand or offering.

Advertising Takeaways

  1. The four interacting layers making up the strategic architecture for the coming revolution in the world of advertising mean that in the coming decade, the field will likely establish that lifestyle spheres are more important than the format itself.
  2. The ability for players to adapt and offer alternatives in real-time, based on consumer reaction/response or degree of engagement will be paramount to creating brand and offering desirability and uptake.
  3. This revolution in the whole advertising industry will demand the need for substantial changes to business models/financial structures; types of agencies/players; new creative tools and production techniques; and new content providers.
  4. This revolution will simultaneously provide a whole new world of amazing opportunities.
  5. The ability to leverage these opportunities will depend on how agile, fluid, and responsive the advertising industry can become to the real-time needs of the changing human (especially the coming 18-24 year olds), the power of emerging technologies, and the potential that will be provided by new creative approaches, formats, delivery systems, and reception environments.
  6. Personalized, yet often socially mediated interactive advertising, delivered in blended formats across multiple platforms and media simultaneously, will demand a rethink on the whole concept of advertising as it becomes more and more integrated into everyday life and behaviors.
  7. The impending advertising revolution will deliver a whole range of hitherto unknown augmented sensory experiences and environments that are both exciting and engaging.
  8. While providing a greater level of meaningfulness to the consumer, advertisers will be able to better identify and understand what role and pleasure advertising contributes to our overall human development.

About Derek Woodgate

Futurist and author Derek Woodgate is the CEO of The Futures Lab, a futures-based consultancy based in Atlanta, with six satellite offices around the world. The firm specializes in creating future potential for major corporations and institutions, especially in the fields of entertainment, media, culture, communications, and new communities.

He spent nine years as a British diplomat, and 13 years as a corporate executive, and he is an authority on the application of emerging and immersive technologies and the changing human in the design and production of experiential entertainment with his creation of what are termed “Sense Events.”

His books include: “Future Flow” (2013), with a preface by DJ Spooky; and “Future Frequencies” (2004).

For more information, visit The Futures Lab, Inc.