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The Drum's top 10 digital marketing storylines of 2016

2016 was the Year of Brexit and Trump, as well as celebrity deaths, but there were plenty of memorable marketing moments, too. Like, say, exploding phones and drone delivery.

Here’s our take on the 10 that most embody marketing in 2016 – and that will have the biggest impact on 2017.

1. Fraud

Fraud was surely one of the biggest storylines in marketing this year, including both the complex schemes that tricked ad exchanges and netted cyber criminals millions, as well as the efforts underway to stop it.

But “fraud” could also arguably include transparency – or lack thereof – and the inflated metrics from both Twitter and Facebook, as well as the snafu at Dentsu, which had to repay the $2.3 million it overcharged clients like Toyota.

2. Snapchat Spectacles

Snapchat continued its run as social media darling in 2016, not only giving legitimacy to once-maligned vertical video, but also introducing photo-taking Spectacles and pop-up vending machines that were quickly embraced by Millennial-loving brands like American Eagle. Snapchat Spectacles could even pave the way for broader adoption of smart glasses from players like Apple, giving us pause to include wearables on this list, too.

And let’s not forget the Cinco de Mayo Snapchat lens from Taco Bell that was viewed 224 million times in 24 hours, reportedly setting a Snapchat record. (And, honestly, it wouldn’t be hard to make an argument to include Taco Bell in its own right here as well.)

3. Voice Technology

Amazon says it sold 9x more Echo devices this holiday season than 2015, which is a good sign 2017 will also be a big year for voice technology, including assistants like Alexa, Siri and Cortana. (If that isn’t enough, there’s also the vote of confidence from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, whose 5000-square-foot home is now outfitted with a voice-activated assistant, Jarvis, who, naturally, is played by Morgan Freeman). 2016 also brought us voice integrations in cars and more and is indeed poised to change our lives forever. I.e., watch this space, folks.

4. Fake news

The proliferation of so-called fake news and the subsequent debate about how to curb it is an issue that – perhaps ironically? – dominated headlines in 2016. While Facebook has detailed its plans to fight it, the news that followed thereafter from Google about its response to a search result for “did the holocaust happen” proved just how complicated delivering “credible content” for an infinite range of queries will be. And, again, this is something we’ll likely see play out throughout in 2017.

5. @realDonaldTrump

Something else we’ll have to face in 2017? You-know-who.

But, really, no 2016 list about virtually anything would be complete without at least a nod to President Elect Donald Trump. We’re including him here thanks to his penchant for policy by Twitter and ability to dominate the news cycle long before his shocking victory. And – hey – if nothing else, we surely have years of good SNL skits ahead of us now, right?

6. Bots

Zuckerberg announced Bots for Messenger in April and 11,000 bots were created in the first three months alone. Bots allow brands to free up human resources to deal with more complicated issues and offer consumers more privacy when it comes to sensitive information. But that’s really the tip of the proverbial iceberg as we race headfirst toward conversational commerce. It’s still early in the bot game – and most consumers have likely only interacted with bots in customer-service-like capacities so far. But by this time next year, that will likely have changed in big, big ways. 2016, however, is where it all started.

7. Programmatic

Despite problems with fraud, we would be remiss if we didn’t include programmatic as it is surely one of the biggest marketing buzzwords of 2016. While on the surface it’s not likely to set pulses racing, techniques like header bidding are arguably changing the game for the better. It’s even infiltrating the out-of-home space and helping billboards evolve. Expect to see much more here – unless, of course, there’s an adtech bubble, but that’s another can of worms.

8. Internet of Things

While we haven’t properly dealt with issues like security and aren’t likely ready for hackable everything, the Internet of Things is barreling toward us at full speed. To wit: Gartner projects 21 billion connected devices by 2020. And it only gets more complicated when/if we pause to consider the connected devices we give children. In other words: Disappointment lies ahead if you’re already tired of hearing about the IoT.

9. AI and machine learning

All together now: “The right consumer on the right device at the right moment.”

It’s the holy grail of marketing we hear about over and over.

And marketers seeking to learn about consumers and anticipate their needs in order to do just that have gotten a shot in the arm from machine learning and AI, in which data analysis is yielding keener insights and enabling better decisions and experiences. And, as this evolves, consumers will provide less and less input until their needs are met as if by magic. There’s a fine line between useful and invasive, but, again, that’s a story for another time -- and yet another we'll surely see in 2017.

10. Data

Hey – speaking of which: The aforementioned insights would not be possible without mountains of data and it is the companies that have access to consumer data that are poised to cash in moving forward.

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