We were getting better playbooks for overall strategy and understanding humans AND getting new interesting tools and channels. This should be the golden age of marketing. But instead of evolving in harmony, these two phenomena have developed in different directions, creating growing tensions.

In 2017, Binet & Field in “Media in Focus” showed that even though we live in a digital era, brands should cut down on tactical targeted communication in favor of broad emotional ads. On the other hand, at the beginning of 2019, digital ad spend was poised to overtake traditional spend in the US.

The problem is we have gotten the two mixed up. The shiny new tools and data got confused for strategy and objectives. And the strategy models that pointed to the need for brand building were seen by some as an argument not to explore new possibilities.

The duality was fueled by tech FOMO, short termism, and big commercial interests on both the old school and innovative sides of the ring. The debate has sometime been fierce, with new tech accusing heritage organizations of recommending dying media channels because of ignorance and outdated revenue models.

Meanwhile, the old guard feels that new tech advocates are recommending new things and new KPIs without being able to prove how they contribute to the overall brand objectives, in an attitude reminiscent of this IBM ad from 1997:

“We need to be on the internet.” “Why?” “…Doesn’t say.”

In the early and mid-2010s, the pendulum was clearly swinging towards the new and exciting. Pepsi famously shifted a large chunk of its 2010 marketing spend from Super Bowl TV ads, instead focusing on social media and brand purpose and digital engagement KPIs. The campaign won a Clio award and was celebrated for its innovation. However, in the wake of the campaign Pepsi lost the equivalent of US $350M in market share to Coke (who kept to traditional reach media).

As we are looking forward to a new decade, one can’t help but see the irony in the fact that Facebook will be one of the main advertisers of the 2020 Super Bowl TV broadcast.

And at the same time as the power player of the social media economy is humbling to the benefits of traditional advertising, traditional players are quickly sobering up to the fact that just TV ads and physical retail outlets will not suffice in 2020. TV reach is diminishing, digital is an ever increasing part of consumer interactions, and traditional retail is seriously challenged by etailers (R.I.P Sears and Barneys).

So if I am to make a humble wish for the upcoming ’20s, it is for these two camps to come away from polarization and find the middle ground.

New technology, channels and ideas should be given a fair chance, to be evaluated and tested on how they can deliver on overall targets.

At the same time, these new things on the block will need to prove their abilities, not just on delivering engagement rates but on delivering on overarching goals such as brand building, physical availability or product benefits.

Mastering the combination of singularity and consistency in strategy with curiosity and understanding of new phenomena will really be the key to success in the coming years.