Given the combined cultural-communication leveling and business-model havoc reaped by digital technologies in the creative industries––music, film, and publishing––the question needs to be asked: Is advertising headed for a similar and possibly marginalized future? The future of advertising may well be up for grabs or will manifest as a model and practice so evolved that work done yesterday will look retro, depending on your POV.
One positive take is Rob Schwarz’s recent piece in Forbes, “I Saw the Future of Advertising and It is Pretty Awesome.” (http://www.forbes.com/sites/robschwartz/2012/11/11/i-sawthe-future-of-advertising-and-its-pretty-awesome) Herein, he surveys the best and brightest in the Tomorrow Awards, “an advertising award show dedicated to showing the future of communications, today.
A not-so-positive take is provided in Adaptive Path’s Peter Merholz’s November 18, 2010 blog post, the title of which pretty much says it all: “The Pernicious Effects of Advertising & Marketing Agencies Trying to Deliver User Experience Design.” He writes: “Such agencies have been able to hang on because Chief Marketing Officers and other executives are trained to buy marketing services from them, and they see user experience as simply another marketing service. I foresee generational change, when the current crop of CMOs retire, and are replaced by people who grok how things actually work. When that time comes, and it will, ad agencies will find themselves marginalized, as it becomes clearer that manipulation and media buying is not nearly as important as an honest engagement with customers through delightful and desirable experiences.”
As a school that grows talent for the creative industries, BDW (bdw.colorado.edu) possibly occupies a middle ground. We have two paths to graduation: a concentration in user experience in which the students are best described as designer-developers, and a path that focuses on product and service design. Students in this second path are best described as developer-designers. We are a maker culture. And everyone is entrepreneurial, a claim that is tested in our Startup semester.
Our graduated students head off to a variety of futures. Some go to work in agencies and some love that experience and some very much agree with Peter Merholz’s conclusions. Other graduates start their own companies, head to companies such as Adobe or Startups like SendGrid or to very different types of agencies like DeepLocal.
All that said, there is one question that persists throughout our various projects at BDW, which tend to hack existing tech to create experiences that bridge digital and physical environments. Here is the question: “Is Advertising Necessary?”
This is not a trivial or merely provocative question and I we are exploring its implications with members of the BDW board with an eye to holding a summit in Boulder in early October 2013. We are early in our discussion, so watch this space for new ideas around this topic.
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