It Feels Like 2012
This moment in marketing feels a lot like 2012 did. Specifically, digital marketing targeting, personalization, and attribution today feels very similar to how social media marketing did then.
Then as now, the evolution of each practice from niche to ubiquity had negative effects on the very platforms the marketing lived on. Then as now, things were too good for marketers at the expense of too many others. Then as now, a major correction was both inevitable and necessary. The next correction will come soon. In the same way organic social reach went away, these capabilities largely will, too.
We're already seeing the beginnings of that change in new browser releases and in legislation (extant and proposed), and most marketers will read this and conceptually agree with what I'm saying. What I'm affirming here is that almost everyone, maybe myself included, is underestimating the scope of the coming change. I used to call a Facebook post a success if its organic reach was higher than the number of people who Liked the page. You know what organic reach is now.
That's the kind of reduction in targeting, personalization, and attribution capabilities I'm talking about. It's worth asking yourself, what happens if the same kind of change in organic reach from 2011-2016 happens to those capabilities over the next five years?
Update on 12/13/18:
My statement that today’s digital marketing has, “negative effects on the very platforms” they exist on was too soft, and undersold the reasons for and likelihood of a severe correction. Ad tech and its use by advertisers isn’t just harming platforms, it’s harming people.
That’s demonstrated in places like the New York Times shining a light on the use of location data by apps and advertisers, and Wired talking about the actual person-level harm of poorly thought out application of ad tech. These are both long reads, but if you’re in advertising, ad tech, or publishing, any understanding of our current status and our trajectory is incomplete without reading them.
Because of those dynamics and the coverage of them, the backlash against ad targeting, personalization,a nd attribution capabilities is becoming more mainstream, more informed, and more severe. That backlash is leading to things like a bill in the US Senate which, while probably not meant to be voted into law, sets important flags in the ground around informed consent, the sensitivity of location data, and GDPR-esque roles like data controllers vs. processors.
So I’ll take it back to the thesis. Today ad tech feels a lot like social media marketing did in 2012. Expectations are unrealistic. The status quo is unsustainable. A correction is coming. And it’s going to be severe. So it’s worth asking, what happens if in the next five years the targeting, personalization, and attribution capabilities we have now just… go away?