From Mumbai to Kite Hill: Observations on Advertising’s Future

Does advertising have a future? That was the thought-provoking question posed to us by Ana Milicevic, co-founder and Principal of Sparrow Advisors, at a recent adtech breakfast we held at our office. Ana, an adtech veteran and consultant, began the session by asking what the last great, or even good, ad we saw was. Most of us needed to go back half a year, to the Super Bowl, to recall such an ad. 

Which leads us to the short answer of no – at least not in the capacity as we see it now. Instead, advertising will have to go through an evolution. As Milicevic continued to drive home, the only constant is change. Definitions change. Behaviors change. Expectations change. And in today’s mobile and digital-first society, the speed of these changes has increased exponentially, and advertising will need to adjust accordingly.


In today’s tech-heavy and user-centric society, these changes have lead to the shift from mass media to semi-private channels. This shift in media consumption habits has forced advertisers to create more targeted experiences for consumers, or face being skipped. With the growth of ad blockers, whose usage is up 15 percent (2014) to 30 percent, advertisers need to have the flexibility to change their “old world” models to adapt to changes in consumer behavior and preferences of the “skip-ad” generation. 

Think like a consumer

In order to combat ad blockers, and being skipped, advertisers need to put themselves in the consumer’s shoes - which shouldn’t be hard, they are marketed to during their daily lives as well! Milicevic highlighted five key factors that are important to today’s consumers: curation, personalization, simplicity and semi-automation, immediacy and non-friction. Essentially, consumers want everything today to be a mix of the Netflix and Amazon models - and you can’t just blame Millennials for this one.  

Milicevic also highlighted a number of trends we are seeing in regards to consumer behavior, as opposed to what was traditionally thought of as the standard. No longer do consumers feel comfortable with invisible services and assets, they want to feel like they are in control. Loyalty and trust have become defining factors when considering products and services for today’s consumers, leading to a shift from push marketing to pull marketing. Additionally, consumers today have been shown to prefer experiences, rather than just accumulating things, and are far more open to sharing (Uber, Netflix) rather than owning. 

Challenges for the industry

In our profession, and in adtech PR specifically, GDPR has been ever present since the 25th of May. As such, there is no need to go into great detail, as you’ve heard it all before. However, the impact GDPR has had on advertising cannot be understated. With the recent legislation in California, Milicevic believes it is only a matter of time before we have country-wide regulations in the US as well. Another aspect that came out of GDPR was a more scrutinized look at where your data is coming from - whether it be first or third-party data. 

Data regulations and the way that it’s collected aren’t the only challenges advertisers are facing either, as both ad fraud and the duopoly continue to play major roles within the industry. Milicevic, however, voiced confusion at the fact that some executives within the industry have come to see ad fraud as “just part of doing business,” instead of an actual problem. Some even include expected losses due to ad fraud in their budgets, anywhere from 15 to 20 percent! 

Silver Lining 

Not all is doom and gloom in the industry and advertising is not going away, nor should it. However, like the automobile, telco and media industries, the advertising industry needs to adapt. Consumer’s habits change – Baby Boomers consume products and services differently than Millennials, and Gen Z will bring an even bigger shift in its consumption habits. Using Ana’s insights, paired with our own experiences, it is now up to us to help our clients, and the industry as whole, to adapt and rebrand.

Be sure to check back in a couple of weeks to see our blog post expanding on the current challenges adtech, and the advertising industry as a whole, are facing. 

- Michael Deleo, Senior Account Executive