One of the hottest tickets in live events last month took place not just over a digital channel, but on Zoom, the video conferencing software that has taken off in the pandemic.
As tens of thousands watched over the conferencing platform and chatted over Twitter, Josh Gad, Mandy Patinkin, Robin Wright and other famous actors performed a “table read” of the movie “The Princess Bride.” The event was orders of magnitude larger thanks to a tsunami of online buzz, and pointed to a confluence of emerging trends in media: consumers are increasingly platform agnostic, life is blurring between online and offline, and innovative forms of content creation are booming. Along with the rise of gaming and new roles for influencers, change is afoot across the consumer and media landscape.
For content creators and marketers, 2020 has been a turning point long in the making. Cord-cutting and the rise of over-the-top platforms have created a category of “unreachables” that new forms of content and marketing may help to capture. Barriers of entry are coming down and fragmentation is going up, following consumers as their behaviors shift from big screens to small, their tastes heading in disparate directions. The next few years will be fascinating for observers as “TV experiences” and business infrastructure, including advertising, undergo changes that have been accelerated by COVID. Here are some of the trends to watch:
The line between online and real life is blurring. “I don’t think the consumer is thinking about ‘when am I in digital and when am I in real life,’” says Kimberly Doebereiner, director for the future of advertising at P&G. She points to shopping examples such as buying online and picking up in stores, or uses of AR as with Pokemon Go, that integrates a mobile game with the real world. “You can’t think of a vector of digital versus real,” she says. “It’s about moving the consumer along.” Other examples of the melding of experiences includes a campaign by the Australian winemaker 19 Crimes that asked consumers to download the Living Wine Label, point it at the bottle and watch and listen to stories about the people who settled the land where the wine’s grapes were grown. And Joe Biden’s campaign crossed the digital/real when it offered campaign “yard signs” for the game “Animal Crossing.”
New roles for influencers. And “influencers.” With their millions of followers, influencers’ role in reaching consumers expanded this year to include creating products, and of course, selling them. In China, millions of consumers have turned to influencers’ live selling video streams to purchase goods, to the extent where Alibaba has launched a program to recruit and train influencers around the world. In the US, similar approaches are rolling out, thanks to Amazon’s Influencer Program and a new rule that allowed Instagram users to directly sell products.
Being an influencer is not just a job for people. From the global phenom Lil Miquela to the World Health Organization’s Knox Frost, virtual influencers, or “avastars,” have emerged to promote brands and ideas to their millions of followers. Millions of dollars in venture capital and brand dollars show this trend is gathering early momentum.
An endless boom in content. Not so long ago, content creators worked mainly through established networks and studios. Now, social networks, individual influencers, brands, bloggers and others are developing media independently of gatekeepers. Influencer creators are becoming ad agencies, taking on more of the big-brand content creation. So are models for fashion brands. Instagram Live hosted a “Verzuz Battle” between 76-year-olds Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight that drew an audience of millions. While brands have long played in the content game, Doebereiner says the difference now is that the focus is on “figuring out how does your brand fit into the consumer’s life in a way that isn’t an interruption.” LEGO Movies are a leading example of branded content, so are efforts such as that of TopGolf, which co-produced Will Smith’s “The Joka” and provides the backdrop for the show’s interviews at one of its golfing locations.
Gaming grows and grows. Gaming was huge before the pandemic and has grown significantly since, and it engages hard-to-reach demographics as well. “Mobile gaming is predominantly women, the eyeballs are growing exponentially, and many are cord-cutters,” notes Doebereiner. Marketers are finding new ways to play: One of the most popular games, “Call of Duty,” does not allow advertising. So South American retailer Almacenes Exito leveraged gaming influencers and put bounties on their heads within the game. Expect plenty of innovation and growth in this market going forward.