The Lifecycles of Advertising
The world we live in is permeated with organic and highly repetitive lifecycles: biological lifecycles, business lifecycles, systems lifecycles, to name but a few. The advertising landscape is no different and has exhibited clear, identifiable, and patterned lifecycles. From its humble beginnings as messages carved into stone to advertise public notices, to its latest iterations in mobile and virtual reality– advertising continues to showcase its cyclical nature.
Hopefully, as students of the advertising lifecycle, we can better interpret and understand the cyclical nature of advertising and how it can be applied to advertising today. In doing this, we are in a more suitable position to understand where advertising will be tomorrow.
What do Advertising Lifecycles Look Like?
Well, for understandings sake, it is easy and beneficial to look at the lifecycle as being made up of the same four classic stages of the well-known product lifecycle: Introduction, growth, maturity, and decline.
The main protagonist of the length and complexity of the lifecycle is the current state and development of consumer technology / mass media – print, radio, TV, mobile etc. which is also essentially the sole dictator as to where advertisers choose to spend their ad dollars.
Advertising lifecycles are riddled with imperfections and small undulations, which result from improvements in analytics and measurement tools, as well as both incremental and sizable shifts in the core technologies themselves – making mini cycles within the greater cycle possible and common.
But, in general, the overarching cycle is constantly transpiring; a lifecycle which ultimately begins and ends with the ascension and eventual decline – note: not complete demise – of a specific technology such as print, radio, television, web, and now mobile.
What are the Symptoms of Each Phase?
The Introductory Phase
The very beginning of the advertising lifecycle is characterized by a small number of entities adopting the new form of advertising. These early adopters create ads with broad appeal aimed at the masses – ads that suffer from a gross lack of targeting. Fortunately for these advertisers, demand for ad space on the new platform is low, resulting in ad space which is cheap enough on a per impression basis to still warrant ad dollars.
Ads at this point in the cycle are typically simple, informative and minimalistic, due to the lack of competition and little need to differentiate oneself from said competition.
Another significant and important characteristic of the introductory phase of the lifecycle is public acceptance of ads as part of the ‘deal’. This facet of the lifecycle is vividly depicted in the television advertising lifecycle. People used to show a willingness to watch TV ads as a cost to receiving a plethora of incredible new content. Now, they show an absolute disdain for ‘being forced’ to sit through even the most entertaining of TV advertisements (unless of course it’s the Super Bowl).
The Growth Phase
Now, the technology begins to filter through to the early and late majority of advertisers and agencies. This stage is characterized by a substantial increase in popularity: first amongst the public, and then amongst advertisers, as well as a drastic increase in publishing channels.
At this stage in the cycle, the tech is mainstream – big publishers have cemented their position as the go-to source of media, and niche style publishers have started filling in the gaps that major players have failed to cater to. This dramatically increases the number of publishing channels and the necessary segmentation for advertisers to create and buy space for targeted ads, which makes for intense competition in the maturity phase.
The major symptom of the maturity phase is the inevitable saturation of major publishing channels. At this point, overall demand is at its peak, which means that ad space is at its most expensive. Unfortunately for advertisers, at this stage of the cycle, consumers have become both desensitized and annoyed at advertising on their favorite sources of media, making it a difficult proposition for advertisers and agencies alike.
To respond to this proposition – advertisers and agencies, now well accustomed to the media source and armed with a significant arsenal of skilled personnel well versed in the technology, begin to focus on creating competitive advantage through superior targeting and creativity.
Targeting and impactful creative have been the go-to competitive response behind advertisers’ attempts to displace their competition; their main elixir to mitigating consumer irritability; and their strongest tools to drastically increasing ad relevance during increasingly competitive maturity phases.
The inevitable decline stage is typically initiated by the arrival of a new and ‘improved’ advertising platform. The main characteristic of the decline stage is a downturn in ad buys on that specific technology platform, with spending being displaced at least partially, sometimes drastically, on to the new advertising medium.
The decline stage is slow – at times, incredibly slow, and the transition is often greeted with resistance from agencies and advertisers who prefer their tried and trusted methods of advertising, even in the face of clear evidence indicating otherwise.
Old ad platforms consolidate, pivot, and continue to occupy a space in the overall advertising landscape. But old technology results in a decrease in consumer popularity, which facilitates a domino effect: a number of publishers and ad channels become redundant; large publishers consolidate; and the supply of ad space decreases. This decreasing supply ensures that ad space on the declining platform remains expensive, which is often mismatched with media engagement – a characteristic we are seeing manifest heavily in today’s media.
While these phase characteristics are not concrete, nor perfect, they highlight a definitive pattern of consumer – advertiser – technology interaction which provides clues as to the current state of advertising, as well as indicators as to where ad dollars should be spent. The state of some platforms is relatively obvious, while others are murkier because of the revitalization or re-popularization of certain technologies.
Part of the difficulty in assessing which platform is the most lucrative for advertisers is that the phases are long and often very stable. Television is a perfect example of this. Television has long been cemented in the maturity phase, creeping its way toward decline. All the symptoms of late maturity are there – demand for TV spots has peaked; available publishing channels are in decline as cable networks come to the realization that consumers are unhappy with the state of channel bundling; and consumers have become highly irritated by TV advertising to the point that it has created entirely new business models for video content online.
And so, What Does This All Mean for the Current Advertising Landscape?
It means that there is a number of advertising platforms stagnating during their maturity phase, a number in objective decline, and that mobile is the only mass media advertising technology which is currently in its growth phase. It means that mobile will be burdened with being the catalyst of growth for the greater advertising industry.
Old technologies continue to fight for traction, while new technologies such as VR are in their infancy and inherent introductory phase and are yet to be properly vetted as a viable source of ad revenue. Mobile advertising is the rising tide lifting all boats, making traditional media sources more effective and initiating an advertising resurgence of sorts.
Even with all of this evidence, mobile advertising continues to lag behind the popularity of the technology itself, depicted over and over again by the discrepancy between mobile ad spend and device engagement. With the imminent explosion of mobile advertising (slated to see CAGR of 64% over the next 4 years), the initial inertia of media planners and buyers to buy into mobile is slowly being overcome.
By definition, advertising is a form of communication used to persuade an audience to take some action with respect. The lifecycle embodies this definition. At the end of an advertising technology’s lifecycle, that platform is no longer a mainstream form of communication; it no longer persuades its target audience – for a multitude of reasons; and it no longer encourages action with respect – with advertisers resorting to bombardment tactics that irritate consumers and result in failed campaigns for advertisers.
Advertisers and agencies can leverage this definition, as well as the advertising lifecycles to better understand, predict, and utilize the most powerful ad tools at their disposal. Tools like mobile.
Mobile is the form of communication. Mobile has the ability to persuade more than any other technology in history given its emotional tie and proximity to the user. And mobile will continue to create the most relevant ads possible, which at the very least, creates the illusion of respect.
Don’t ignore the advertising lifecycles, current trends, growth forecasts, and tech giants such as Google and Facebook – mobile is the present and future of advertising. At least for now.