Let’s start this Future of Advertising issue with a declaration: We have reached the end of the Digital Marketing era. It has been a great ride since the first banner ad appeared in HotWired in 1994 (with a 44% click through rate!). This year digital advertising investment will be over 60% of all global media spend. What used to be an interesting specialty area for a few geeks is now at the core of all advertising and media.

This doesn’t mean that changes in advertising and media will slow down. On the contrary. If the last 18 months have shown us anything, it is that change is coming at us faster than ever before. We are rapidly entering the post-digital age of advertising. To paraphrase a (very) old Memorex commercial, the question will be, is it real or is it virtual? In fact, it will be both – seamlessly blended. 

A first example of this is how we are entering the “blended” era of TV. Yes, we will still be “watching TV.” But the vast majority of content will be through digital streaming. For many of us this is already the case. We saw the technology coming years ago (see our Signal Archive interview with Michael Paull, now President of Disney+). YouTube primed us for how we would experience video in the digital age. Streaming technology now powers platforms such as Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, and many more. But with so many options has streaming really improved our TV experience? 

This blending is also happening in shopping. In many countries, Amazon has taught us that when you need anything, a quick search and click of a “Buy Now” button will get you what you want in two days or less. Amazon has created a whole ecosystem (including Prime Video streaming) aimed at making it as simple as possible to buy. Others are following. But getting you what you want in a few hours or less is expensive. In a hunt for more revenue, retailers and last mile delivery companies, such as Instacart, are rapidly accelerating their role in the advertising ecosystem, including developing content platforms to place the ads. 

To see what’s ahead for the future of advertising we should look at the Gen Z generation. People born after 1997 are true digital natives. They wonder why we still make a distinction between digital and  non-digital. Gen Z lives and engages in this blended world, in part through gaming. They are growing up “playing” Minecraft, Roblox, and Fortnite. It is where they meet friends and even become aspiring entrepreneurs. They see esports as real as soccer or football. As our Signal Entrepreneur story shows us, brands such as Tampax are rapidly learning how to engage with this new generation of consumers.

Digital advertising is history. The future of advertising is about how we shape useful and interesting consumer engagement and experiences where brands are valued facilitators. 

Next month, we will take a deeper look at the Gen Z generation that will lead us there. 

Stan Joosten & John Battelle,

Editors-In-Chief, Signal360 / Co-founders, Signal P&G