Skip to content Skip to navigation

Advertising in the 21st century

29 Nov 2017

Mobile phones and videos are the keys to getting your message across, but content is not king

In a recent White Paper by Cisco, it was estimated that IP (internet protocol) video traffic will be 82 percent of all consumer internet traffic by 2021, up from 73 percent in 2016. While it is obvious to businesses and advertisers that mobile devices will be the best medium to reach these consumers, what is less clear is the kind of content to grab their attention.

“What is fast becoming an important part of what we’re working with clients is: the competitor isn’t another company anymore; the competitor is culture,” explains Dan Paris, Regional Director – Business Development, TBWA Asia Pacific. “How do you compete with the speed of what everyone is looking at on their devices?

“The scarcest commodity now and in the near future is attention span. We literally have two seconds to make our point.”

In a recent SMU Centre for Marketing Excellence talk, “The Rise of the Machines”, Paris highlighted the rise of the ‘five second brief’, referring to the time an ad has to capture a viewer’s attention before he can skip it. “If you can’t solve the creative work in five seconds, it’s not even worth considering.”

Paris points out what he labels ‘21st century brands’ as organisations that best embody the new way of advertising.

“These 21st century brands are quite unusual,” he elaborates. “They are fiercely entrepreneurial. We’ve worked with a few of them: Airbnb, Netflix; they are ‘product first’. Everything is about the platform. Everything is about the way they engage people. They work at speeds you cannot imagine.

“The idea of going back to the agency and spending three weeks looking at a creative brief, musing what the strategy might be [does not happen] – it’s done the next day. If it doesn’t work, they’ll try again and again, and they’ll go to a 45th iteration if they have to. Fundamentally they are product first and metrics-driven.”

Embracing the new advertising world

After speaking to 12 CMOs and CEOs in regional roles in Asia-Pacific, TBWA came up with eight themes with regard to advertising in the 21st century:

  1. Embrace your technological fears
  2. Why machines need emotion
  3. The new realities, virtual and augmented
  4. Enhancing the artificial experience
  5. At last, true personalisation
  6. How machines will make data more meaningful
  7. The new skills of the new marketer
  8. How machines will transform marketing’s future

“There are comfort zones for everyone,” says Paris of companies that fear the new tech- and data-driven way of marketing and advertising. “The very good clients know how to bring people around them to help get them out their comfort zones. Other clients get stuck and say, ‘This is my world, I’ll stay right here.’

“How long will that last? How successful will that be? It’s down to them and the businesses they are in, but one way or another innovation isn’t stopping. Innovation and the need to keep moving on is accelerating.”

He adds: “There still is a belief in emerging markets of ‘TV first’ – it gets a message in front of people, just like print does one thing, radio does another, and TV does something else.But if you look at it through the lense of social media, the amount of time people are spending with their mobile devices’ screen instead of the TV screen is way higher.

“People don’t turn on the TV when they wake up in the morning, they pick up their phones to look at message. A lot of developing countries have skipped a generation of technology, they’ve bypassed the desktop PCs and laptops, going straight to the mobile devices.”

Paris lists the example of D-I-Y supplies chain Lowe’s in the U.S. as an old school business that has embraced the 21st century. “They recognised that there is a whole new emerging millennial audience who are now 35, 36 years old. They realised that they have to engage with a whole new style of audience, and they chose to do it with Snapchat. It’s about using Snapchat to teach millennials how to do D-I-Y,” Paris points out.

Content is not king

At the core of all are the new breed of marketers that are comfortable dealing with the aesthetics and creative side as they are with hardcore data.

“There’s all this talk about the rise of the new CMO because fundamentally data is now driving everything,” Paris explains. “It’s about how you use data to inform the rest of the company in terms of sales and the direction the company is heading.

“If you’re in the man in the middle tasked with the company’s growth, how are you going to do that? We are looking for unicorns who have a balance between the left and right brains to work for us. You have to be both creative and analytical. A good marketing guy these days are closer to doing sales than just creating a story for the sales guy to sell.”

Would all of this matter if the content is relevant, well-produced, and catches the attention of the viewer? After all, ‘content is king’, right? "I've always heard people saying ‘content is king’,” Paris muses before emphatically stating, “Content is not king.” He then quotes Canadian science fiction writer Cory Doctorow, who famously wrote that “content is not king”:

“Content isn’t king. If I sent you to a desert island and gave you the choice of taking your friends or your movies, you would choose your friends…. If you chose your movies, we would call you a sociopath. Conversation is king. Content is just something to talk about.”

In the age of social media and viral marketing, that is perhaps truer than ever.


Follow us on Twitter (@sgsmuperspectiv) or like us on Facebook (

Last updated on 30 Nov 2017 .


Looking for something?