Read our new manifesto

Did you miss the deadline?

There’s still time, request your extension

The Drum

Will brands be able to define digital experience in 2019?

For 15 years Madison Avenue has joined forces with the business, entertainment, media and technology leaders of New York City to collaborate on challenges and opportunities at the intersections of these industries. These conversations set the tone for the year ahead. But in true Advertising Week fashion, expect the topics, themes and threads to be surprising.

What a year 2019 has already been, and there is still so much left. If we pause and reflect on the disruption in our own industry, from female empowerment changing the power structure of agencies, to consultancies and agencies speaking the same language, to publishers validating their position as trusted information sources, to platforms jostling to protect privacy and security of data - all while remaining agnostic. It's enough to give you anxiety.

So let's talk about that. Anxiety. It's what I feel in our industry at the moment. Whether it is the relationship between brands and people, brands and agencies, agencies and publishers, there is a confusion as to how best to connect with humans. We’re at a tipping point. Maybe it's me, but I have certainly reassessed my relationship with platforms and publishers, to truly understand how I spend digital time, how I control my data, and what the benefit is of being so connected anyway. So if I feel like that, maybe you feel like that. If you feel like that, maybe your brand feels like that.

Underlying this feeling is trust. That innately human feeling of security. If humanity is at the core of invention, trust is at the core of experience. This feeling and the themes below are what we can expect to fuel our conversations on and off the stage at Advertising Week. Happy 15th birthday!

Story matters

Content marketing is one of the buzziest words in the biz. Since it’s debut content marketing skyrocketed straight to the top. But has it become misused, oversaturated, diluted? Unearthing amazing brand stories and distributing them to the right people, in the right place, at the right time, remains every advertiser’s goal, but in this distracted environment how can brands engage, hold attention and matter? Where can disruption be found beyond the story?

Surprisingly, perhaps in the ubiquity of ad formats already integrated into the vernacular of our digital landscape. Can advertising formats be the catalyst for disruption? Maybe. Categorize AR and VR as the “shiny objects” of recent years as you may, but these tools are helping to push creative boundaries and deliver better experiences for people. VR, 3D and 360 video are spectacular on smaller screens and shorter sessions on mobile, allowing brands to engage consumers where they’re spending more and more time in formats they are comfortable with.

Perhaps this bridge into a creative way to connect brands to people, and people to brands, will help balance the shiny object syndrome with rational business metrics and provide brands tools to tell incredible stories. Stories have and always will be the essence of a good brand, and the backbone of a good business.

Brands become the experience

The narrative should always lead to the experience. One of the best things a brand can do is tell a story that people can experience. But how can a brand become the experience, online and offline? Offline it happens in the store, the place people get to physically experience the brand in context while ensuring unique ways to purchase. The online brand experience needs to match the physical brand principles and DNA. But smart brands are delivering not just conversational touchpoints, but commerce opportunities in context to where people engage with the brand.

How blockchain can help advertising

The digital advertising supply chain is too complicated. Full stop. The advent of blockchain technology has transformed financial markets. How can the impact of this sophisticated system help the complex nature of the digital advertising? Can blockchain technology offer greater efficiency, more reliable and high-quality data? Does the promise of transparency outweigh risks of the deregulated technology’s volatility?

10, five, even two years ago there was hardly a whisper about blockchain in advertising. Now there’s an entire track dedicated to this technology, so yeah, it’s a thing.

Is the brand to agency relationship up for grabs?

Brands are cutting back on fees, revamping their agency roster. They’re evaluating the talent and the tools they develop in-house. At the same time the empowerment of women in our industry, following #MeToo, has changed the power structure of agencies. It’s long overdue but what does the paradigm shift mean? What does the agency of 2019 look like?

Diversify diversity

It’s not enough to support diversity. We need to leapfrog diversity while the conversation is front and center. Let’s embrace special powers of people who might normally be overlooked. Skillset, thought and socioeconomic diversity should be the next layer of equality that we peel back this week. Working with diverse teams challenges thinking, and sharpens performance. Diversity breeds creativity. And in an industry where we’re constantly iterating and innovating to better connect with consumers, an incredibly diverse bunch, the brains of Madison Avenue must reflect that diversity. We’ve only scratched the surface.

Without humanity we don’t have invention; without trust we lose humanity. Issues like brand safety, clickbait journalism, and misuse of data have muddied the promise of the Internet. There is anxiety, where there used to be curiosity and optimism.

Have we become so obsessed with invention that we’ve forgotten the reason for it? To create and evolve curated, special, insightful digital experiences for people? Let’s redefine digital invention by putting people first for the year ahead.

David Shing is the digital prophet for Oath.