By Melanie Hamilton
The Bauhaus school of art, popular in the 1920s, is emblematic of the period’s growth and innovation. One hundred years later, its view on innovation is just as relevant, as brands and society deal with an unprecedented rate of change.
In many ways, the Roaring ’20s of the 20th century could not have been more aptly named. That decade’s first year alone saw women gain the right to vote and the rise and fall of Prohibition.
The 1920s would also include the beginnings of the Harlem Renaissance and the Jazz Age, as well as the emergence (and later destruction by racist rioters) of the Greenwood district of Tulsa, Okla., as the nation’s “Black Wall Street.”
The year 1920 also saw the launch of KDKA in Pittsburgh, Pa., the country’s first commercially licensed radio station. The station broadcast live results from the James Cox–Warren Harding presidential election — the birth of breaking news and mass media.
The original Roaring ’20s ended with the Great Depression, which in turn spawned the fireside chats that President Franklin Roosevelt broadcast to the nation via radio. By the end of the decade, there would be some 100 million radios in the living rooms of U.S. listeners and buyers. Advertisers and marketers have been chasing those audiences at scale ever since.
Of course, the 1920s weren’t “roaring” for everyone. While many white communities enjoyed a booming decade of growth, communities of color largely did not see the same levels of prosperity or opportunity. These same communities were rarely, if ever, marketed to or exposed to media or advertising that featured them — a situation that has improved significantly since but still challenges programmers and advertisers today.
Will The 2020s Roar, Too?
Back in the Model T days, Henry Ford said that if the people who built his cars couldn’t afford to buy his cars, something was wrong. Current income disparities are just as noticeable and social disparities are accentuated by social media and the 24-hour-a-day news cycle that created the explosive growth and popularity of news, information, and even disinformation.
Today’s income differences are also associated with differences in television viewing habits. The “Effectv TV Viewership Report” for the second half of 2020 aggregates data from 16.3 billion hours of viewing by more than 17 million Comcast households across 65 markets. That data shows that as household income levels increase, viewing shifts away from entertainment networks and toward news and sports networks for cable. Access to comprehensive data and sophisticated analytics are essential if advertisers are to keep up with such shifts among the audiences that matter to them.
When considering the 2020s, it may be helpful, if not prophetic, to recall a line often but apparently erroneously attributed to Mark Twain: “History never repeats itself but it rhymes.” And while history may or may not repeat itself where the 1920s and 2020s are concerned, there are a few eventualities about which people can be confident, if not certain.
The new normal is still a work-in-progress.
Viruses, like humans and other life forms, seek to survive and propagate. Unlike humans, they can’t adapt to their environments, so they adapt themselves through evolution and mutation. Scientists will try to keep up with this, just as the advertising ecosystem has tried to keep up with consumption patterns and create future-proofed solutions for an exponentially fragmented marketplace.
For both virologists and advertisers, total success is unlikely.
There will be more threats to IT-enabled infrastructures.
There will be continued efforts by a variety of malefactors to disrupt corporate and government IT infrastructures, power grids, elections, advertising integrity, and social stability, both nationally and, increasingly, locally. Investments in enhanced infrastructure and tools are required to ensure the advertising ecosystem is protected from bad actors and fraudulent behavior.
Advanced technologies will continue to be razor-sharp double-edged swords.
Just as the same fires that heat a home or cook food can burn down houses or entire cities, the same technologies that make our lives easier and better can also make them more challenging or even more oppressive. Much depends on how those technologies — and access to them — are regulated and overseen.
Multiple advanced technologies, including the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and augmented/mixed reality, are poised to bring significant changes to how people do almost everything, including manufacturing goods, creating brand experiences, and interacting with each other.
“Success” will need a new definition.
Changes in how audiences consume content and advertising will force changes in how advertisers and content providers define “success.” Life online has transformed how audiences consume entertainment and information, and it will continue to do so. Life online has also transformed how entertainment and information are created and delivered, and it will continue to do so. In the face of these continuing transformations, marketing professionals cannot succeed with familiar, traditional methods and technologies alone.
The recording entertainment industry had no Latin GRAMMY Awards until those responsible for market awareness figured out that most Hispanic and Latin music wasn’t sold in traditional retail record stores. In other words, what’s now billed as “the Biggest Night in Latin Music” didn’t exist until that industry started measuring sales in ways that were more diverse, inclusive, and equitable.
As the music industry learned, marketers and advertisers need to measure the right things, and measure things the right way, to stay aligned with viewing habits and buyer journeys. They must then use this data to drive their tactics to identify, reach, and influence the audiences they care about.
A Decade of Change Already in the Making
Changes in media and technology are already afoot. These changes mean content producers cannot assume that if they build it, the viewers will come. The short-form streaming service Quibi raised some $1.75 billion in investment capital, only to shut down as the global pandemic limited mobility and demand for mobile-friendly content. Meanwhile, content providers are experimenting with new advertising formats as well. Enhanced targeting and addressability create opportunities for more precision, which in turn creates opportunities for new, local, smaller, and niche TV advertisers.
The 2020s will see multiple ways in which technology enables, assists, and accelerates transformation in areas ranging from how work gets done to how governments govern. Advanced technologies are already changing how and where people work, learn, and consume information and entertainment. Advertisers and marketers who fail to adapt risk falling to the wayside.
Whether any of these changes will spur developments that rhyme with any of the positive aspects of the Roaring ’20s is too difficult to predict. But it is certain that the future will incorporate many of the fundamental changes already underway in work, education, information, entertainment, healthcare, and financial management, among other areas.
How audiences learn and buy is changing almost daily. Advertising and marketing tactics based on accurate, relevant data are the only way to keep pace. Now is the time to contemplate what strategic changes are needed — and to begin making them.
About Author: Melanie Hamilton is VP of enterprise sales at Effectv, a division of Comcast Advertising, a partner in the ANA Thought Leadership Program.