Looking back, how will we define the Adland of the last decade?

Will we look at it fondly, talking up the opportunities that new and emerging technologies and channels gave us? Will we look aghast at the mistakes and missteps we took, for instance around issues like transparency, fraud and privacy?

Or will we see it as the ultimate ‘Or’ decade? Digital ‘or’ traditional. Performance ‘or’ brand. Precision targeting ‘or’ broadcast scale. In-housing ‘or’ outsourcing. Short-term thinking over long-term business building. All topics I hope to address in future columns. 

There is little doubt that the 2010s have seen amazing advances in our industry, but it has felt – at times – a combative, ‘versus’ culture, one that pits one tech against another, platforms against the publishers, agencies versus consultants and so on.

Yet, aren’t we missing the bigger picture? Let’s have less of the binary thinking and more of an understanding of the amazing spectrum we have to play with; an attitude, understanding and tools that transcend mere marketing.

As we enter a new decade I’d like to see advertising – or rather marketing – press reset. Let’s celebrate our industry’s ability to help build businesses in both the short and long term. Because if you’re not driving results, what really is the point?

When I spend time with marketers I ask whether the role of marketing has become more important in their organisation recently, or less. I always hope that the answer will be “more” important, but actually it’s often still seen as the “colouring-in department” – a little bit fluffy and not the great business growth engine that it could, and indeed should, be. 

Marketing is also the means through which we tell stories about our businesses, and advertising’s precise role within that becomes about either changing perception or making a brand relevant in a rapidly changing climate and economy. 

Take an FMCG brand I spoke to recently. It wants to move beyond its core products into tangential ones that tap into the health and wellbeing of its existing customers. Think also of the businesses having to completely reinvent their relevance because of the innovative direct-to-consumer digital brands.

Or BT, which is well known and loved by older generations, but out of mind or irrelevant to younger people, who might not have need for a landline or be able to choose from a raft of broadband brands.

It’s why it’s trying to redefine itself through a big campaign around supporting young people through entrepreneurship and enterprise from grassroots. Why? Well, it has to compete with the likes of Google, Facebook, Samsung and Apple. They all matter to today’s young people whereas BT might (yet) not. 

Relevancy is crucial and advertising clearly can change people’s perception on this, but it also has a huge role to play in both finding the right sort of customers that look like those you already have and winning back customers that you might have lost. 

For me, that has to be driven from a business strategy and understanding informed by your data about how, where, when and why you reach those people. 

So, while brand advertising can undoubtedly help in redefining relevance, such as bringing low interest categories to life, data is the key to defining which audiences and channels you should be targeting in order to build the brand. It’s not either/or but the best combination of both, together, to drive better business growth and outcomes. 

So, let’s wave goodbye to our ‘or’ marketing culture and say hello to the ‘and’ generation – a far more positive, inclusive way of working and being.

Paul Frampton is a MAD//Fest Board Advisor + EMEA President of Control v Exposed. This article was originally published by New Digital Age, a MAD//Fest London partner.