Student Blog: The Future of Digital Advertising

I’m excited to introduce the first article from my student guest blogger series 2015!

The use of digital technology is continuously changing, with big impacts on the modern advertising industry. Valentina Mango is a graduate of the CAM discipline at the University of Ulster. She carried out research during her dissertation to explore the opportunities and challenges of digital technology use in advertising, in both traditional and digital media, from practitioners’ perspectives. To do this she interviewed digital and traditional advertising agencies based in Belfast, Northern Ireland. This is what she found, in her own words…

Digital Technology in Advertising

With digital technology the information flow is shifted from the advertiser to the consumer. Consumers can now make their own adverts and share them online (content generated adverts) with the purpose of reminding others by sharing brand-focused messages. They can communicate interactively with the adverts they see by leaving comments and opinions and this makes the communication no longer unidirectional but an innovative dialogue thus, an incredible challenge for the world of advertisers.

As Nicola Mendelsohn, Executive Chairman of ad agency Karmarama and President of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) said in 2013:

”The future of advertising is, as it always has been, intrinsically linked to technology and people.”

The Influence of Digital Technology in Advertising

Growth in digital advertising has continued at 15-18 % per annum worldwide over the last three years. The entry of new technologies in the last decade in the market, affected enormously the industry of advertising.

The phenomenon can be described as an “interactive revolution”: the evolution of advertising into a two-way medium in which consumers with PCs, internet, cable TV can choose the information and research the product they most desire.

This change of behaviour from consumers has changed also the practitioner’s strategies to reach out to the audience.

The difference with the past era of advertising is that digital allows old and new media to connect. For example, TVs today can connect to the Internet and mobile phones can be connected to TV channels. This connection is a tool that advertisers have to take into consideration, as messages have to be adapted for multiple devices and work well digitally.

OfCom shows that the average number of people who have access to the Internet here is still lower than the rest of the UK and that Northern Ireland has the highest TV usage. Although Northern Ireland accounts for the highest number of tablets ownership, traditional media devices still account for the majority of media consumption.

Definition of Digital & Change in the Industry

Findings of my research show that there might be a lack of communication between digital and traditional agencies:
  • I believe that giving a definition to “digital” can be subjective; some practitioners are more tech savvy than others just because they have a greater interest in technologies.
  • In some instances they both expressed that old and new media can connect and have a strong value in the industry thus that they are both important.
  • This appeared to be contradictory: sometimes both types of agencies also gave more importance to the specific kind of media they usually work with.
  • Practitioners acknowledge the change in the industry as a consequence of technological advancement that allows a greater reach and increase of measurability tools, which prior to the use of digital was not available.

Big Data

The amount of data in our society has been exploding, creating large data sets (so-called “big data”) which, if used correctly, can be of great advantage in using digital within advertising.

The understanding of big data and its usage also challenged the knowledge of the practitioners. Most of them considered the element of big data to be a bit overused in the industry, highlighting that it is not an element of need to all campaigns especially in a small marketplace like Northern Ireland.

It is debatable then, whether Big Data can be considered a challenge, an opportunity or both. 

Participants agreed that big data is an element, which needs to be contextualized by considering social, geographical and economic background.

Digital Challenge: Agencies versus Clients

All participants illustrated the substantial challenge of digital when presenting their ideas to their clients, who are often reluctant in using a digital strategy for their advertisements:

“…Sometimes we have to convince them to use it [digital] because they’re so cautious.”

Clients may be cautious due to the media consumption context of Northern Ireland, which still lacks in digital spread.


One of the big challenges with digital in advertising is the risk of becoming intrusive. All practitioners agreed that it is a risk that cannot be taken and that can be overcome by applying smart strategies to advertising projects.

The feel of intrusion can lead to a lack of trust from consumers towards a brand, which could make them feel that their personal space has been invaded.

Although practitioners acknowledged that the risk of becoming intrusive is a challenge, they also all agreed that most of the time this is a “pre-constructed” issue by consumers who lack education regarding the world of digital advertising.

But, is it really? Practitioners do have a responsibility in being strategic in using digital technologies.

New Digital Technologies 

A study conducted by IAB Europe defined programmatic advertising as “…The use of technology to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of internet advertising; helping marketers to reach their desired audience and publishers to best monetize their inventory.”

The study described programmatic to be the major driver of real-time engagement, which is predicted to account for 60% of all digital advertising by 2017, making it an important element for the future of advertising.

Some participants believe that there is a potential opportunity for the development of new ways to advertise through wearable technologies such as Google Glass and the Apple watch. 

These accessories will become an opportunity to deliver to the consumer, only tailored adverts. Thanks to these technological items, consumers can be tracked in relation to what they observe, listen to, and pay attention to. A revolutionary way to advertise.

According to one of the practitioners, the next step to the wearable technological items is the creation of augmented reality, which may be possible to create through these. One of the participants from a digital agency said:

“So for example we built a prototype that showed a car. You would point your phone at a page and it would have a 3D car that you could look around, so if you imagine that you are looking to buy a car – you have a new car coming out – you build this app. You don’t need people to come in to the showroom and look at the car. People just download the app. You can turn the phone about, zoom in, change colour and interact with it… It’s kinda like a fake reality – augmented reality.”

The Future of Advertising

Digital and traditional agencies see the future of advertising in relation to digital differently.

A participant from a traditional agency analysed the future as a behavioural shift in which consumers will consume media differently thus the necessity for agencies to look at where and how consumer behave on the digital sphere. Digital agencies see the future more as a matter of technological advancements for them to work with and they believe the consumer will always be found on digital.

Digital agencies outlined that often traditional agencies are unprepared in relation to the use of digital; traditional agencies believed that the future of advertising is integration, highlighting that traditional media will never be less important or less effective than digital.

It was also outlined from a digital agency that it is not just a case that digital agencies are composed of younger staff who are more knowledgeable on digital technologies.

On this last contrasting opinion, I actually noticed myself that digital agencies hold a more informal environment than traditional agencies. Digital agencies do embrace the risk of using digital and they are reluctant on the effectiveness of traditional media as they feel the latter is almost an obstacle to the technological development in the advertising industry.

The exploration of digital technologies in advertising showed that digital agencies tend to believe that campaigns can succeed without the use of traditional media; some of the digital agencies also outlined the experience of working with traditional media when the latter were unprepared for the implementation of a digital strategy. Moreover, traditional agencies strictly believe that digital technology is an essential element that could be added to the “above the line” media but that would not work on its own.

Valentina Mango is a graduate in Bsc Hons Communications, Advertising and Marketing 2:1 (Ulster University - class 2015) who lives between Italy and the UK.

You can find her on LinkedIn here or email her at valemango90 [at] gmail dot com


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