Welcome to 2019: The inexorable march of technology

Regulation will protect personal liberties. Right? Wrong? AI and machine-learning will unleash human creativity. Right? Wrong? And coming next... 5G and the continued rise of Uber.

If there’s one group of companies that will be glad to see the back of 2018, it will be the tech giants. Their year was marred by brand-safety gaffes, data breaches and stock price falls. If 2019 brings more of the same for Google and Facebook, without substantial penalties from either markets or governments in return, we may at last be able to say definitively whether these platforms have become "too big to fail".

This relates, in particular, to Facebook in light of the Cambridge Analytica debacle. Facebook now needs to draw a line under past indiscretions and be much more proactive about facing up to its responsibilities as a gargantuan holder of data and, yes, as a media publisher, too. At least Mark Zuckerberg can be quietly pleased that 2019 is free of US elections, which in the past have acted as a lightning rod for misinformation campaigns and fake news.

Whereas 2018 was when Europe got serious about regulating data use with GDPR, 2019 eyes turn towards how the US will respond. Last year’s enacting of the GDPR-style California Consumer Privacy Act is likely to have big ramifications ahead of its implementation on 1 January 2020. This spring, the Coalition for Better Ads is expected to launch a white paper that could propose new guidelines for online ad standards. And, despite the recent concerns about the cryptocurrency bubble appearing to burst, blockchain should continue to rise up the ad industry’s agenda in myriad ways, whether through brands trying to increase accountability and/or reducing costs with smart contracts, or agencies looking for long-term solutions to the protection of intellectual property.

The European Union is likely to impose its first significant fine under GDPR regulations this year, which could be as much as 4% of a company’s global annual revenue. Marriott-owned Starwood Hotels & Resorts admitted in November last year that 500 million customer accounts had been exposed over the past four years – could it be at the front of the queue?

While GDPR has been easier for large publishers, and the likes of Facebook and Google, because they can get consumer consent quickly and effectively, one area to watch in 2019 is how smaller brands and media companies solve the challenge of managing data in-house, using expensive software and a limited talent pool. Smaller publishers and adtech companies could start sharing their resources where possible, too. Indeed, some adtech minnows, such as Vectuary, have already been punished for consent procedures not being GDPR compliant.

While 2019 will be too early for 5G to become a big part of our lives, we can expect to hear the buzz around super-fast mobile internet grow considerably, as the US, China and South Korea compete over which will roll out their network first.

In the UK, EE is expected to begin a limited trial this year, with O2 following in 2020. Apple and Samsung, however, are likely to wait until 5G is more widely established before adding superfast modems to their smartphones. With superfast infrastructure comes the potential for greater real-time video communication, as well as much bigger data transfers over networks, although the downside includes the security risks that come with that.

Faster speeds and phones are, at last, also enabling greater opportunities to produce augmented reality in a game-changing way for brands; it seems hard to believe it has taken this long, given that the viral hit game Pokémon Go captured imaginations way back in 2016. In general, brands haven’t yet shown a large amount of interest in AR beyond niche and low-cost projects on Snapchat or their own apps, and this looks set to continue unless there is a step change in the demand for hardware.

There is also the question as to whether, despite the hype over AR start-up Magic Leap’s products and VR headset Oculus Go, consumers have space in their lives for another device. If consumer tastes have not yet caught up with what is possible, brands may also have become too risk-averse to invest in big, sexy AR projects. As one agency’s chief technologist confided to Campaign: "It is way past the time when clients would experiment with AR, everything is about getting returns now." In other words, don’t expect virtual shopping malls and pocket personal shoppers to become all the rage just yet.

AI is becoming so prevalent in marketing and consumer technologies that it may be the beginning of the end of the term being meaningful any longer (remember when something being "digital" meant something?). Beyond many of the gimmicks that 2018 treated us to, such as a Chinese AI newsreader and an AI-created script for a Lexus ad, 2019 is likely to bring more production teams using AI for greater automation and the use of high-grade video effects at a lower cost. Google and Adobe, not to mention a plethora of start-ups, have already launched AI-powered tools to meet such demands.

Lastly, the two tech brands to watch over the coming year will be Uber and Lyft, with both transport services expected to float on the stock market. The latest valuations for Uber, expected to go public in the second half of the year, have broken the $100bn barrier, reflecting the company’s growing ambitions beyond providing taxis to become what chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi calls a "global A-to-B mobility platform".

If Uber achieves that lofty goal, we might be asking whether it too is "too big to fail" very soon. Whether it is acceptable for tech companies to wield such power, however, is the key question we must all address in 2019 and beyond.

Buyers will mandate consent

Simon Halstead

Head of open demand, Ad Platforms, Verizon Media

This year, the new IAB OpenRTB (real-time bidding) standard – 3.0 – will drive forward with increased use of signed bid requests, and the start of the roll-out of ads.cert, which will fuel more clarity and transparency in the media market.

But it is a significant departure from previous RTB specs, so implementation will be complex. People will move to 3.0 in 2019, but will probably also need to support older protocols. This industry standard could negate the need for different blockchain approaches, but expect to see more blockchain panels at events in 2019.  

There will be an even bigger shift to content consumption through connected TV, OTT (over-the-top) and mobile devices in the next year, especially in live streaming. The advent of 5G will bring highly interactive live streams for sporting events and live music, from content overlays, interactive 360-degree experiences, live replays and augmented-reality experiences in real time.

GDPR will start to crystallise, as the first challenges occur, and case-law addresses where and how legitimate interest can be deemed so. Eprivacy will develop, but could be delayed by macro-political factors such as Brexit or EU elections.  

Media buyers are likely to increase their interest and decision-making against signals and start to mandate consent over legitimate interest, eschewing players with no consent approach. Google and the IAB framework are expected to interoperate in the first half of the year, and any publishers who do not yet have one in place will need to have a consent management platform solution deployed.

We are definitely going to see further consolidation of the adtech market in 2019, as the traditional players battle newcomers for control of the future of distribution on the big screen. We’ve already seen traditional publishers doing the same with The Ozone Project. Marketers are looking more strongly at inhousing capabilities and software to take back control, too, and we’ll see more testing and learning about what works and what doesn’t.

I believe the industry will land on a hybrid approach, with the agencies also providing training and resources as well as strategic guidance.

Products will find people

Steve Hatch

Vice-president, northern Europe, Facebook

If the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that making predictions is harder than ever. We can, however, look to longer-term fundamental changes and predict how they will play out in 2019. Here are four for this year.

Next-day is so last year

The only thing moving faster than technology is the change in customer expectations. The moment a piece of technology is incorporated into one device, such as voice, we expect it to be across everything. When it comes to this behavioural shift, we can expect to see ever-shorter delivery times for commerce. Next-day delivery used to be the gold standard. Now, it’s same-day. Products and retailers geared towards not just commerce but near-immediate delivery will enjoy the greatest growth.

From searching to discovering

Discovery will be more important than ever. Relevant, useful and practical will be the watchwords of success, and making the right choices for individuals will be at the heart of that. There will be a major move in marketing from people looking for products, to products finding people, and even campaigns that are creative versus audience- first. To exceed customer expectations, personalisation needs to be done more efficiently. Creating meaningful, data-driven segmentations built around response will allow technology and systems to do the hard work for us.

First Halloween, then Black Friday, now...

Singles’ Day will be "a thing" in Europe this year. Both Halloween, following the US focus on it, and Black Friday have become major cultural and retail moments in Europe. Both are also examples of events moving from West to East. But are we about to see the first major East to West move? Singles’ Day (the biggest ecommerce day in the world) originated in the Asia-Pacific region, and we’ve started to see the same Facebook data signals for this as we did with Black Friday three years ago. So if you want to succeed and grow in 2019, don’t just get ready for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, get ready for Singles’ Day too.

Trust in advertising will go up

More a hope than a prediction. If we as an industry act responsibly, help people to understand how their data is used and protected, focus on great creative, have more members of The Coalition for Better Ads and take a people-first approach, there’s every reason to think we can all enter 2020 having created as much value for people as we did advertisers.

The conveyor belts are not fit for purpose

Nicolas Roope

Co-founder and executive creative director, Poke London

Yes, I know I’m supposed to tee up 2019’s tech-trends-to-watch but I’m not going to. Just like with my kids, sometimes you have to confiscate the screens for some contemplation, even if the conclusion is that they want the screens back with even more vigour.

Instead, I’m going to give you a challenge. And, even though it’s not strictly a technical issue, if you get it right, you’ll progress much faster with technology and transform your business.

Despite all the creativity, advertising became an industry. And with any industry, careful craft evolves into cookie-cutting, always looking to mechanise and structure in the service of ceilingless scaling. When things are predictable and conform to standard shapes and procedures, then it’s beneficial to work in a similarly formal, predictable and mechanical way.

But now, suddenly, the conveyor belts and repetitive cutting machines aren’t fit for purpose. And it doesn’t stop there. The way our agencies and clients interact assumes the same standardisation that has in the past successfully distilled many moving parts into a manageable hand of decisions.

The truth today, however, is that the complexity has increased and, with it, the variety of dimensions which communication now has to occupy.

Each context now needs a bespoke response, bespoke consideration, bespoke mechanics, bespoke creative. And, with each situation, myriad more layers of significance to contemplate and choreograph. To navigate this new world, client and agency need to work together. Not on opposite sides of the table, but as partners; co-adventurers, not suspicious adversaries.

I’m seeing prevailing attitudes to this engagement change for the better, new kinds of relationships forming, new processes and methodologies emerge to play more productively on both sides.

So make a new kind of relationship in 2019. And reap the benefits.

Join us at Digital Media Strategies, the event that shows you exactly how to navigate the future of digital publishing. Click here to see the agenda and speaker line-up

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