5G shifts the needle from campaigns to experiences

5G shifts the needle from campaigns to experiences

Before 5G rolls out, brands should step back and think very carefully about how they can use new formats to truly enhance the customer journey, writes UM’s Lawrence Dodds

Each generation of mobile network tech has spawned a new approach to advertising: 3G gave us apps, 4G gives streaming and higher resolution gaming, and now 5G is set to again reinvent how brands use mobile to reach customers.

I’m sure we’ve all heard more than enough about how 5G is going to change the world, but it’s certainly true for the ad sector. Brands will need to entirely rethink their approach to mobile.

In the first instance, 5G leads to deeper engagement through formats such as virtual reality, mixed reality and augmented reality. It enables richer video formats such as videos that can switch orientation or Black Mirror-style adaptive storylines.

It’s a brave new world, but also – to date – clients haven’t been beating down our door wanting to know more.

The shiny 5G experience

That’s probably because it’s as yet unclear how long it will take the operators to extend 5G networks nationwide and the limited adoption of 5G technology. Until it reaches a mass market tipping point, its appeal to brands will be limited. However, brands that can show the potential of what 5G has to offer have an opportunity to position themselves as innovators in the collective consciousness.

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Clearly this hasn’t been lost on EE, which is keen to demonstrate why its customers should make the leap to 5G. It demonstrated the potential with an ad built around a live performance by Bastille. This was livestreamed from 360-degree cameras over EE’s 5G network to fully immerse viewers in the space.

During the performance the live audience was also able to see use 5G-enabled smartphones to experience Birmingham New Street station in a whole new light. It was overlaid with CGI animations that made Pokémon Go seem positively antiquated by comparison.

The useful 5G experience

But while this is a very effective tech demo, it doesn’t necessarily point to the future direction for 5G advertising. Yes, those that offer entertaining, seamless and user friendly 5G-enabled campaigns will reap the rewards. However, the brands that really hit the jackpot will offer something genuinely useful.

As such, advertisers would be advised to shift their thinking from traditional advertising to branded experiences. After all, while smartphone apps now number in the millions, we return again and again to those that make our lives easier.

The most obvious use case lies in the opportunity to overlay layers of information to add richness to content. In the US, the NFL has worked with Verizon to implement 5G across 13 football stadiums so that spectators can watch lag-less replays, view the action on pitch from multiple angles and view scores and other stats in real-time.

VR experiences will also become more accessible to all as the technology has come on in leaps and bounds through increasingly powerful smartphones. However, it will now be uncoupled from apps and downloads. Cadillac has begun experimenting with 3D Augmented Reality renders of its cars, and further down the sales funnel sales teams will use VR demonstrations in the showroom.

The technology will allow brands to offer audiences the types of interactive experiences they’ve always aspired to on a mass scale. Consider the potential to drive unprecedented engagement: a pharma brand, for example, could offer 3D animations showing exactly what effects a medicine has on different parts of the human body through AR – and pull up supplemental information while that’s happening. All this within what used to be a mobile display ad.

Of course, these new technology-led experiences will come at a cost and won’t be appropriate for every brand. A breakfast cereal won’t realistically have the same need for complex 3D modelling as a high-end auto marque.

The thought-out 5G experience

Rather than jumping on the bandwagon, brands would be advised to use the period of grace as 5G rolls out to take a step back and think very carefully about how they can use new formats to truly enhance the customer journey. The coming months can be used to test and learn; to better understand what formats customers will engage with best, as well as how and where.

Surprisingly, the global tech giants, like Google and Facebook, are not doing enough to help brands build true consumer experiences. There’s little doubt that wheels are turning. But things move fast in the tech sector, and in the meantime, there is a window of opportunity for those outside of the triopoly to step up and position themselves as the de facto 5G specialists for the advertising space.

Verizon Media appears to be making that play, launching six 5G labs across the US and opening a 5G studio in London. In principle, this technology could do more than change advertising formats: it could change the balance of power in advertising.

As they say in the NFL, there’s all to play for.


Lawrence Dodds is client director at media agency UM

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