The Drum | A ‘Worldier, Wiser Internet’: Are Marketers Facing a New Generation of Online Users?

For The Drum’s Predictions Deep Dive, we assembled a panel of marketing leaders in the digital and social spaces. Their prediction? As audiences mature, the rules of online engagement will continue to change.

We’re now ankle-deep in The Drum’s week of predictions. But when we brought together agency leaders in the social and digital spaces, their first priority was to tell us that certainty is a rare commodity in their world.

“Especially in social, it’s unpredictable,” says Hannah Anderson, managing director of Kyma Media. “Social platforms change their minds every week. If we make a prediction at the beginning of the year, we are setting ourselves up for failure. If you had asked me three years ago if TikTok (then Musically) was a winner, I would have said no. Back then, long-form content was king and Facebook was going to be the new Netflix. In general, all predictions are potentially futile.”

Look, you have a pinch of salt. But grandiose visions of the future aside, there’s a lot our panel can agree on. At the very least, we are witnessing a shift in the hearts and minds of online audiences right now.

A wise generation

According to at least one of our panelists, a long-overdue wave is emerging: “We’re suddenly looking at a more secular, wiser web,” says Kevin Joyner, director of data strategy at digital agency Croud.

Joyner continues: As audiences grow “skepticism and mistrust of the press,” people are becoming more familiar with automation; with the power of AI to create things; with fake content and cybercrime; with issues around privacy. Their expectations are rising. Much of what is important in the coming year is about responding to these worldly, wisdom concerns. It means using creativity to foster trust, safety and authenticity. When you’re talking to someone who’s mature and has been through a lot, you speak to them with greater respect. Advertising also goes in this direction.”

In other words, marketers are now dealing with a generation of Internet-savvy users who are very familiar with the rules of the online game, and especially who know who is selling what to whom. James Mortimer, director of paid social at iCrossing, says: “People are more aware that there is an exchange of value online and often they there is exchange of value.”

Some elements of this psychological paradigm manifest as a kind of online armor: people are more aware of how information about them is collected and traded; they are better at sniffing out fakes; they are more and more bored with the products they already buy; and their subconscious is adept at sifting through all the noise of unimaginative advertising (which always manifests as stronger banner blindness).

But our panel says it would be a mistake to write off this “wise” generation as simply resistant to online advertising. As Adam Connett, head of digital at AgencyUK, says, “they don’t mind being advertised to if it’s relevant”. Indeed, as we become more aware of the digital economy, says Connett, we are in some cases more accepting of ads than ever. For example, deepening parasocial relationships between online creators and their fans, watching or clicking through an ad, or using a creator’s discount code can increasingly “feel like a kind of advocacy; it’s a real value exchange.”

From this battery of observations, our panel drew a number of conclusions: creativity in digital advertising is more important than ever; community and advocacy will only grow in importance; and while concerns about privacy and data sharing are real, they will not shut down the digital economy. As Liz Cole, head of social for VMLY&R in the US, says, “people want to laugh; they want to have fun; they want to be cool; they want to feel like they belong. It’s all very basic. These things often supersede more philosophical considerations.”

Digital-cultural singularity

“We’ve crossed the line where so-called internet culture and mainstream culture are no longer distinct,” says Cole. It is not difficult to cite examples that prove that digital culture has indeed broken this threshold: Reddit users influence the stock market; films made from viral themes; The first meme president of the United States.

Cole says it’s important for brands and marketers alike to pay attention to this cultural shift. “We need to move from a previously multi-channel and format-driven approach to planning content, ideas and campaigns to a more consumer- and culturally-led approach, using these platforms as a palette of different methods. to tell a story and hope that it resonates with people who actually interact with it on the original platform.”

All of this signals another shift: a shift in power toward communities, creators, and consumers, whose agendas and interests marketers will do well to monitor. It will be difficult to predict them, but it should not be necessary to pay attention.

For more information by marketing agencies and about the year ahead, check out our Agency Predictions hub.

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