So in case you haven't noticed...advertising as we knew it has gone the way of the dodo. And much of the shift has boiled down to our ever-growing need for authenticity.
Yes, you'll find numerous studies on how the millennial consumer values authenticity, but even with all that information, effectively advertising to them (and to the rest of the population) has gotten a bit muddled.
First, let's take a look at the way we've created ads over the years. With the invention of the television came the invention of commercials, which where unmistakably ads (using attractive, aspirational people to sell a product that would inevitably make you as cool as them). Open a newspaper or magazine: ads telling you what you should buy and where you should buy it at the cheapest price (also probably using attractive spokes models). Online ads? Same thing. Seemingly very transparent: here's a product, you need it, buy it.
As advertising developed, advertisers got increasingly more creative - commercials, for example, became mini-stories, giving the successful brand a certain "cool" factor for being hilarious or hip. Again, these ads traditionally had attractive actors or models selling the product and the subtext was: this is what you COULD be if you bought our product. Then we started to get wise.
In the early 2000s, Dove released its Campaign for Real Beauty, shedding light on the fact that the advertising industry had held people to unrealistic beauty standards to sell their products. This sparked years of stories, which revealed the Photoshop aspect to advertising and how none of it is real. People were tired of comparing themselves to the Photoshopped ads and began hungering for more authenticity in a variety of aspects.
This need for authenticity is one of the key drivers of today's advertising, which is one of the reasons social influencer marketing is so popular. People, particularly millennials, want to be engaged in a real way...but they want their privacy at the same time. This is a complication for digital advertising.
In the digital advertising realm, there is a lot of competition, which creates a lot of noise, so standing out is hard. Also, since the current political happenings, the popularity of "fake news" has introduced the troubling fact that clickbait content, regardless of accuracy, can be literally more valuable than thoughtful content produced by well-meaning publishers.
This doesn't match up with our audience's want for authenticity.
If you couple the crowded space and the fake news epidemic with digital advertising fraud, which was projected to have cost advertisers $7.2 billion in 2016, you'll infer a tumultuous state for publishers. The traditional model of producing free-to-the-consumer content funded by advertisers is threatened. And that's not even accounting for the adoption of ad blocking software that threatens to turn the publishing industry completely on its head by eliminating this revenue stream, altogether. If it sounds like a total mess, that's because it is.
But back to authenticity.
We see a lot of media sites today that are full of entertaining news stories, with a bunch of disguised ads peppered in (that look like regular articles). While there are disclaimers somewhere on these sites, some marketing savvy folks are aware that it's paid advertising - but much of the general public does not know. Yet.
In the midst of this push for straight-shooting, Gadget Flow's tactic was to create a product discovery platform. It's essentially a gallery-style platform, populated with ads. So basically, when visitors go to their site, they're under no illusions: they are coming to look at advertisements.
A website full of ads might not seem very profitable right away, but it supports ten thousand products to date and the company has grown to $2 million in revenue. Here are some of the insights about content production that the founders have learned in their journey:
Keep it Real
Over the past few years, as advertisers scramble to appeal to the elusive Millennial population (which slated to spend $200 billion this year), but as I mentioned, the term "authenticity" has pervaded the marketing landscape.
"Millennials are smart," says Gadget Flow Co-Founder and CCO, Cassie Ousta. "They look for the angle and follow the dollar to understand who's benefiting from advertisements and why. They don't mind being advertised to, so long as it feels straightforward and genuine."
So the notion of adopting a more straightforward, authentic, advertising model is appealing to millennials, who understand what they're getting into when they visit a website.
Facilitate Word of Mouth
As with authenticity, marketers are poised to increase spending on word of mouth-inspired strategies, like influencer marketing. Gadget Flow built word of mouth into their platform by featuring social share options prominently underneath product entries.
"Consumers are more likely to make a purchase at the suggestion of a friend than off an ad, alone," says Evan Varsamis, Founder and CEO of Gadget Flow. "Each social share is an endorsement that says, 'Hey, I think this is cool and valuable, and I think you will, too.' We made that extremely easy for our users, so that both consumers and advertisers can reap the benefits."
So if you are creating any piece of content, folks - it's a cardinal sin not to include social sharing functionalities in this day and age.
Stay Ahead of Industry Trends
Gadget Flow essentially built their site in response to industry trends - founders saw the writing on the walls that threatened the status quo in the digital advertising ecosystem, including increasing attention on digital advertising fraud and a consumer's disinterest in being inundated by digital ads, fostering ad-blocking technology.
They also recognized an opportunity due to the influx of aspiring entrepreneurs using crowdfunding sites. And so, they built the platform to foster exposure for startups in the crowdfunding stage, and they did so with industry trends in mind.
Stay True to Your Vision
Too often, publishing sites that are built from the valuable content they offer viewers become persuaded by the prospect of new revenue streams when their platform gains traction. Often, those new revenue streams, such as promoted posts and incorporating purchase links, devalue the content that won them the traffic in the first place.
"We do not sell the products we curate directly," says Varsamis. "We did an experiment, and we feel it takes away from the user experience and our overall philosophy and vision. Our goal is to surface the latest products and crowdfunding projects for our users."
So, while it may seem intuitive for Gadget Flow to sell the products they feature on their site for an easy revenue boost, executives of the platform realized that it undermined their value proposition and they opted, instead, to stay true to their vision.
Whatever you do in your own content creation, you need to stick to your vision. Again, this goes along with our authenticity rule!
With all of this new technology being created, no one can really say exactly how advertising will evolve. But one thing is for sure, being a straight shooter, armed with "real talk" is definitely an asset to any marketing medium.