Will consumers fight back against increasingly invasive digital marketing tactics in 2018? I sure as hell hope so.

While 2017 was, on the whole, a very confusing time to be alive and on the internet, at least one thing remained crystal clear: we really, really love digital content.
Even though the actual amount of content being generated and consumed is virtually impossible to comprehend, sites and services like Moz, Sprout Social, and Domo have attempted to break things down into semi-digestible terms. Here are a few stats to help put things in perspective.

Every 60 seconds:

  • Consumers watch 50,926 videos on Buzzfeed
  • Instagram users upload 65,972 photos
  • Twitter users publish 456,000 tweets
  • Giphy serves users 694,444 GIFs
  • Americans collectively consume 2,657,700 GB of internet data
  • Google processes 3,607,080 searches
  • 103,447,520 spam emails are sent (sigh)

From an advertising perspective, I think it’s safe to say that we’ve reached a saturation point in terms of how much digital content a human being can actually consume in a given day. As a result, companies are looking for innovative (and potentially invasive) ways to reach more targeted audiences, boost engagement, and maximize their ROI.

Emerging Ad Tactics

On the most basic level, this involves adapting to new devices and trends as they emerge. For example, as AI-driven, voice-controlled hardware like Amazon Echo and Google Home are finding their way into more and more households across the globe, the digital marketing blogosphere is buzzing with advice on voice search SEO. Moreover, Amazon recently announced that it’s in the process of developing an advertising program for the Alexa platform, which we’ll likely start to see (or more aptly, hear) in the coming year.

Other companies are focusing on ways to boost ad engagement on existing devices. For example, while advancements in eye tracking technology have a number of exciting implications for everything from gaming and VR to healthcare, this innovation may also soon be making ads more invasive than ever before. For example, technologies already exist that can identify whether the owner of a device is actively looking at their screen. This kind of tech can be used to pause a video while the consumer is looking away, helping advertisers ensure that their content receives a viewer’s full attention. I understand the benefit from an ROI perspective, but honestly this is pretty scary — anyone remember that episode of Black Mirror with Daniel Kaluuya and Jessica Brown Findlay?

In terms of our day-to-day lives, I think we’re going to start seeing a lot more personalization out there in the real world. This is already happening on a micro level under the guise of omnichannel marketing; for example, retailers can send push notifications announcing special promotions to customers who walk within a certain proximity of their brick-and-mortar stores.

Along the same lines, Disney recently unveiled the MagicBand in its parks, which is probably a good indicator of where we’re headed. The MagicBand uses RF transmitters to communicate with sensors located throughout the parks, enabling the company to track each guest as they interact with their environment in order to offer a more personalized, streamlined experience. Watch this annoying video if you want to learn more:

It’s not hard to imagine companies using our phones in a similar way to create more personalized and effective out-of-home ad campaigns (billboards, subway ads, and the like). In fact, it’s already happening: back in 2016, Clear Channel Outdoor Americas announced it was partnering with a number of companies, including AT&T, to track consumer movement via mobile devices in order to gain better insights into the reach and impact of their billboard ads.

The result? According to the New York Times, “Clear Channel Outdoor could determine the average age and gender of the people who are seeing a particular billboard in, say, Boston at a certain time and whether they subsequently visit a store.” Valuable information for advertisers and creepy invasion of privacy for consumers — who says you can’t have it all?

Winning the Ad Game in the Future

These examples are obviously just a small sliver of all of the crazy new innovations that are currently poised to reshape the advertising industry. Ethical implications aside, I think these technologies could actually end up having the opposite of their intended effect. Simply increasing your reach or ensuring that a consumer has to view your ad in its entirety doesn’t guarantee improved ROI — in fact, it could end up doing just the opposite.

Consumer empowerment is real, and people don’t enjoy having their personal information exploited for profit. Going forward, the real winners will be those marketers who commit to generating genuinely informative, useful content, then leverage the latest advertising technology to disseminate it to a highly targeted audience — only if and when they indicate that they’re interested in consuming it. Otherwise you risk alienating prospective customers, damaging your online reputation, and jeopardizing your ability to compete in an increasingly competitive digital landscape.

Of course, marketing is, in large part, a numbers game; but as people grow tired of the constant barrage of ads, quality is going to become a key driver of ROI. Put simply, if you want new customers, offer them genuine insights. Automated ad tech makes it so easy to crank out digital content — but if you stop thinking altogether, your ads and your ad dollars are just going to get lost in the ever-expanding cloud of digital white noise.

Author Jamie Ayers

A graduate of Skidmore College, Jamie works at L&T as a content strategist, account manager, and editorial lead across a wide range of industries and fields, specializing in the digital economy, experiential marketing, and campaign-led initiatives. His other interests include electronics, Agatha Christie novels, and being outside.

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