How to Become a Futurist & Other Lessons Learned at AdTech New York

Jim Hamilton
Nov 21, 2013

I didn’t expect to learn how to become a futurist at AdTech New York (November 6-7, Javits Center, New York City), but it’s one of the many lessons I learned from a day on the show floor and at the conference.

How to Become a Futurist — Sheryl Connelly, a futurist at Ford, gave the Thursday morning keynote and it was a sobering ten point summary of the challenges facing the world. Here are those challenges in short form:

  1. Growing global population
  2. Falling fertility rates
  3. Aging population
  4. Fewer workers to support the non-working and elderly
  5. Impact of Brazil, Russia, India, and China (particularly India and China)
  6. Urbanization
  7. Global talent shortage
  8. Growing power of women
  9. Information addiction, time poverty, no day of rest
  10. Information overload, inability to act

Compiling depressing lists like this, apparently, is what futurists do. They gather up trends and show them to their bosses who typically respond with something like: “If you think I have time to worry about the future, then you don’t understand the problems I’m facing now!” When asked what you need to do to become a futurist, Connelly made it sound easy: “If I can be a futurist, you can be a futurist.” (Note to self: Find some futurists and sell them some InfoTrends studies.)

Faster Horses — My favorite moment of Connelly’s keynote was this quote by Henry Ford: “If I asked consumers what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” I think this is equally true for a lot of topics, but particularly for production digital printers, because if you ask commercial printers, they just want a faster, cheaper offset press.

Health and Beauty? It was a bit surprising to see multiple health and beauty aid fulfillment companies at AdTech New York. A bit of a contradiction, yes, but in speaking to one of them they said that they were there because of the way they can manage fulfillment of small items like cosmetics and health supplements. They said that this could apply to other markets that have fulfillment needs.

Card-linked Offers and the Death of the Cookie — Proving that your marketing dollars are actually providing value isn’t easy in a ‘post-cookie’ world, according to Peter Vogel of Plink. Marketers, he said, are moving away from the use of ‘cookies’ as a tracking tool because of the ability of users to delete them as well as the fact that though a cookie may connect to a computer or device, it doesn’t identify a particular user. This, together with the limits on bank interchange fees on debit cards because of the Durbin amendment, has opened up an opportunity for ‘card-linked offers,’ credit card-based programs in which the card owner benefits from mobile/Internet driven promotions.

Flash, By the Way, Also Is DeadCinegif, promoter of the FIG rich media format, is convinced (as was Steve Jobs) that Adobe’s Flash is dead and that what is needed instead are short, repeating, trackable GIF animations designed for a world in which ten seconds is the limit of an on-line user’s attention span. They say that their FIG format combines the engagement of video with the simplicity of a still photo. Not only that, but a FIG is constantly in motion and doesn’t need to be clicked to start playing, and, it allows advertisers to track usage (views, clicks, etc.). It is this tracking component that particularly appeals to advertisers.

Venture Capitalism in Action — Cinegif was one of dozens of start-up firms represented at AdTech. In fact, some VCs even had their own booths and it wasn’t unusual to enter a software company’s booth and find that you were talking to the VC who was backing them. And if the languages spoken on the show floor were any indication, then Israeli, Indian, Korean, Chinese, and Japanese funds are involved in addition to American dollars and UK pounds.

Stop Pushing — One of the AdTech keynotes had a panel called ‘Stop pushing’ on the new paradigms in social advertising. The four keynote panelists represented Facebook, Hootsuite, Wildfire/Google, and a VC firm focused on the advertising space. The moderator, Dan Neely of Networked Insight, suggested that social media is caught in a “social jail” that limits advertising spending. The others seemed to agree. Here are some other sound bites from that session:

  • Brands are becoming publishers, which changes the content marketing investment.
  • Who do you trust? The brand or your friends?
  • Twitter acts as a ‘multiplier’ for television.
  • Incubating ideas in-house is happening in automotive, financial, digital media, and some big brands.
  • The market is in a phase where brands don’t think they are innovating fast enough and need to invest more.

I’ve Seen the Future, and It’s Me — Sheryl Connelly’s keynote got me thinking that there is a step beyond mobile that could be described as the connected environment. This is not original thinking on my part, of course. It’s basically the idea that it’s not your mobile phone that is the center of your world. You are the center of your world. Somehow in the future your environment (your house, your car, your office, etc.) will know that you are in or near it, and will connect you to the tools you’ll use for everyday living. I just hope it doesn’t involve surgery…

It’s Sane to Be Paranoid — The possibility of a future with an embedded microchip in my brain wasn’t the only worrisome topic at AdTech, in fact, the whole event made me nervous. I got a creepy feeling listening to all sorts of companies talk about how much they know about me. One of the more unsettling moments came from an Israeli company called Sensegon that got its start developing homeland security techniques to identify possible terrorists. Having tackled that issue they decided to branch out and figure out methods for identifying potential buyers. Sensegon divides non-terrorist humans into eight profiles: Achiever, Emotional, Explorer, Persistent, Popular, Practical, Risk-Averse, and Status Seeker. The Sensegon people are really bright and seem to be onto something, but the idea that they got into advertising by identifying potential car bombers is a mind-blower. Some companies talk about business transformation. Sensegon is a great example of a real one.

Who’s got the PII? The language of AdTech is full of acronyms, one of the most prevalent being PII (personally identifiable information). Depending on who you are speaking to, some may want it outright, some may want to leverage it, and others may want no part of it. In any case, security around PII was a major AdTech theme.

Print Is Alive, or Maybe It’s a Reanimated Zombie — Cross-media as a topic was evident around the show floor. There was even one printer there, Cellotape, promoting, among other things, near field communication (NFC) tags on packaging. Other interesting cross-media activity at AdTech came from Convertro and PrintAR. Convertro has what it calls ‘marketing attribution software’ that allows direct mailers and catalog producers to track the effectiveness of their channels and thereby optimize their spending. PrintAR is developing an augmented reality application that would allow interactive capabilities (imagine being able to spin the Wheel of Fortune after pointing your mobile phone at a PrintAR image).

Kevin Jonas Knows Millennials — Kevin Jonas of the band ‘the Jonas Brothers’ was on hand for the last keynote of the day. The idea was that he would provide insight on how advertisers could connect to Millennials, a demographic that dominates the Jonas Brothers fan base. (The ‘Millennial’ generation is made up of people born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s.) Why the great interest in these youngsters? Sean Finnegan, CEO of the C4 Group, who interviewed Jonas on stage, noted that in five years Millennials will have greater spending power than the Boomers. The Jonas Brothers were early users of MySpace to reach their audience, but according to Kevin Jonas, they were late in getting on Twitter. Jonas said that it is important to create an environment that fans want to come back to and be social on. He also said that “looking good, feeling good, and doing good” are important to Millennials. Now that the band has broken up he said he was pondering a career as an entrepreneur. Asked about technology, he mentioned a few items that have caught his attention, one of which was the Mimo onesie that one of InfoTrends’ own Millennials, Arianna Valentini, wrote about in her recent blog: “Custom and Functional: New Growth in Electronic Textiles.”

A Big Day for Twitter — Coincidentally, the second day of AdTech New York was the same day Twitter went public, kicking off an IPO that pulled in about $24 billion, even better than they had hoped for. The big day I’m talking about, however, was mine. Tweets I made using the hashtag #jonasbrothers made Thursday November 7th my biggest day ever on Twitter. One of my tweets, something that Kevin Jonas said about Miley Cyrus, was retweeted 157 times and favorited by 64 people. I’ve been using Twitter for a couple of years now but nothing I have ever tweeted got this kind of reaction. As measured by Klout, my social media impact jumped substantially due to that tweet and a handful of others about Kevin Jonas. Extended blogging and tweeting over my time at PRINT 13 this fall did not have nearly as much impact.

Note: You can follow me on Twitter at @jrhinfotrends.

Be Passionate about Social Media — I’m not exactly sure who said this (it was in one of the conference sessions), but I think it’s a good summary of the sentiment at AdTech, and it is a good ending point for this blog: “If you are a CMO and you aren’t passionate about social, you are in trouble.”

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