It’s not hard to envy marketers from the pre-digital age. While it wasn’t quite as straightforward as throwing money at a TV, radio and print campaign and leaving it at that, it was certainly a lot simpler than it is now.

Now we have more tools, more data, and more ability at our fingertips to tackle a media landscape that has become incredibly fragmented. Ensuring that an advert reaches its audience can feel like a complicated exercise.

Acxiom recently surveyed 2000 consumers and held a roundtable with a group of marketing experts. The resulting report, Ad Campaigns Reimagined (registration required) asked the question: “how much has really changed in our approach to marketing since the pre-internet era?”

In asking this, we learnt a few things…

Creating an emotional connection requires a sophisticated approach

One thing is clear, creating an emotional connection is still critical in advertising. But you cannot use the same techniques as advertisers used in the 70s, 80s and 90s. Things have moved on.

For one thing, consumers today have a huge back-catalogue of adverts to mentally draw on. They’re now confronted with brand messages from every side, every channel. The result, as I’ve touched on before, is a consumer that is wiser to the marketer’s tactics in evoking emotional resonance.

Nowadays more ‘blunt’ approaches will receive short shrift.

Most such approaches are perceived as having been ‘done to death’. Sex still sells, but you can’t be too obvious about it. ‘Irony’ is tired in the eyes of the consumer. And charity ads that attempt to pull on the heartstrings with evocative images still often provide that ‘jolt’ required to instil action, but can often fall prey to being viewed as cynical. 

Naturally, in a media landscape where consumers are quick to call out appeals to their emotions as ‘phoney’, any sense of authenticity commands attention.

In contrast to the more prescriptive advertising of the 70s and 80s, we now live in an era of self-publishing, peer sharing and upvoting.

Consumers want ‘natural’ content, organically shared and peer-selected; something that speaks to them personally on an authentic level, even if it’s humorous.

This isn’t just a contrast with the ads of the 70s, 80s and 90s. This is as a direct result of the existence of the adverts that have come before. These ads form part of the cultural backdrop of today’s consumer attitudes.

Overall, marketers face an uphill struggle, but one where emotional connections are still important.

Almost a third of consumers in our poll thought that nothing would make them respond positively to an ad, but then went on to state that making them laugh would be a good way of moving them from emotion to action.

Put simply, today’s consumer is emotionally cynical. If you can understand that, and play to it, you’ll market to them much more effectively.

It’s harder to achieve a ‘big splash’, but personalisation can be hugely powerful

In today’s environment the advertiser who can personalise their message, through access to the best data, segmentation tools, and sound tactics, has a clear advantage.

But while personalisation is a powerful approach, it’s also viewed by some as problematic. 37% of consumers indicate that they wouldn’t be happy for brands to use data about them in order for those brands to share more relevant marketing offers or messages with them.

However the truth is that this is more of an indication of the low quality of most personalisation efforts to-date. Too often consumers receive an offer that is inappropriate to them, or which offers to sell them something they have already bought. 

However, where consumers see accurately-targeted, useful offers and messages, resistance to personalisation evaporates.

The problem is that we tend to remember the bad examples and not the good. At one point 51% of our respondents pointed out that they would be annoyed if they received different offers form the same brand across different channels.

Clearly personalisation has a role to play in their brand experience, it just needs to get better and more visible without being creepy.

As an interesting aside, our research also found that the 18-34 ‘millennial’ generation is much more open to receiving offers via personalisation than older consumers, as long as it offers them a more streamlined brand experience. Which leads us to another important observation…

Understanding how to use multiple channels together is now essential to achieving cut-through

In the recent past, marketers have spoken of ‘cross-channel behaviour’. Most often this term has been applied to millennials. But the truth is everyone now is multichannel.

Most marketing campaigns will have to take account of this with an multichannel approach, something that was not quite so much of an issue for our marketing forebears.

Arguably the majority of multichannel approaches suffer from fragmentation. They’re too often disjointed and inconsistent. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

In our fragmented media landscape it is hugely important that markets create a ‘unified brand experience’ across all channels. Marketers need to create multiple touch points with a consumer using consistent imagery, branding and messages in order to create impact. 

Navigability (again, never a problem for our forebears) also becomes key.

Consumers are not going to be able to sufficiently engage with the advertising they see if it sits behind a labyrinth of data capture sheets, pages and display ads.

Little about the fundamentals of advertising (having quality creative content, achieving emotional resonance, etc) has changed in the last few decades. The principle difference lies in the method of multichannel attack.

In this world, access to the right data and its correct, ethical use, is key. Without that, the best creative content in the world will do little for you.

Make sure your own creative achievements are recognised by entering your work into the Advertising category of The Masters of Marketing, Econsultancy’s new awards in partnership with Marketing Week.