What is the future of advertising? Part 3: the students
As part of our series this week on the future of advertising, Ella Sagar went to a university to speak to advertising students about the future of the industry and learned what the next generations really thinks about ads and media.
For upcoming marketing students, career viability, social media and sustainability seem to be top of mind.
Earlier this week I presented to a group of undergraduates studying “An Introduction to Advertising Practice” at Richmond American University London on the future, or futures, of advertising.
While it felt very odd to be back in a classroom, and even odder to be the one “lecturing” when not so long ago I was in their seat, it was a great opportunity to hear from them about what they really think about media and advertising, not just as consumers but future experts. Particularly as we prepare to host our flagship marketing conference, The Future of Brands, in just under two week’s time.
In parts one and two of the series, several of our columnists and rising stars (members of our Future 100 Club) offered their predictions not just for the industry, but for the next wave of talent coming in.
In an informal survey, the students told me they mostly see ads online and on social media. Social was regularly in, if not all of, their top three sources for information and entertainment.
However, when it came to their favourite ads, they were all TV ads. This ranged from Cadbury’s to Geico and Spanish beer brand Cruzcampo. All of the respondents subscribed to at least one streaming service, with Netflix being the most mentioned, and had more than one internet-connected device.
When asked to describe the world of media and advertising in three words, some of these included competitive, creative, targeted, informative, negative and quick.
In a room full of potential future creatives, media planners, buyers, strategists and marketers, when it came to questions, they were mostly about the viability of advertising as a future career path.
One of the students asked me whether I liked working in media and advertising, and if I would recommend it, another if if I’d ever considered working abroad, and finally if I thought a career in advertising had longevity given all the changes it had gone through. These included the growth in digital, artificial intelligence, and media fragmentation that has been happening over time.
These concerns around career options and compatibility would seem very normal for young people at the start of their careers, but also in particular for a cohort that has gone through so many disruptions with the Covid pandemic.
Katy Clarkson, head of planning at independent media agency December 19 told The Media Leader that new starters in planning at the agency were still not initially aware of media as an industry or potential career path and what it entailed.
She said this was the same as when she first joined the industry and described it as “still hidden” part of advertising, with different job titles to other industries.
“If no one tells you about media and it is not searchable on LinkedIn how are they going to find you,” she said.
However, she was still optimistic for new starters coming into the industry.
“I am enthusiastic about media and advertising as a career because it changes so much you will always need the human expert at its heart. Computers don’t have ideas in the same way,” Clarkson said.
I later got to sit in on group project presentations which centred on a campaign pitch for a climate change charity.
This is admittedly quite a tough ask even for seasoned client teams given the well-recorded action-intention gap with sustainable behaviours, particularly as the highest earners and emitters can be the hardest to convert.
The students’ assignment was divided up into insight, target audience, creative, media plan, and budget. The groups were also assigned different target audiences; general US, wealthy US, general UK and wealthy UK.
All of the groups had in-depth insight into and spoke passionately around the climate change impact on different demographics and behaviours, from the huge amounts of fast fashion in landfill and carbon and methane emissions, to the CO2 impact of air travel and those earning top salaries.
Several mentioned sustainable brands they themselves used and influencers centred on sustainability they followed as examples to include in campaigns.
On this trend, Clarkson noted that new entrants to the industry seemed much more interested in brand purpose of the media agency, as well as clients, and one reason they chose to work for December19 was because it was certified as a B-Corp.
When it came to the media plan section of the presentation, the lynchpin for every presentation was using influencers and digital.
This would seem unsurprising given that these students are digital natives, living their lives across multiple internet-connected devices, but all of the presenters were very aware of how different messages needed to be targeted to different demographics on different platforms.
Instagram and TikTok dominated the social media choices in the campaigns themselves, and growing social media followings and measuring social media engagement were often the primary indicators of success of any particular campaign.
Naren Patel, founder of Media For All, said: “Most young kids coming into the sector are obsessed with TikTok and social media because they consume more of it.”
Lori Cridland, account director at independent media agency, Mostly Media echoed this as she said for many new starters social is “top of their list”, highlighting TikTok in particular, but this “sample of one” trend is not just for the most recent grads.
“As soon as you start, you think about what you consume. The changes from assumptions you make on audiences keep going, especially because of Covid.”
She added new employees have great ideas, abilities and understanding from their courses but she said it “can be a bit of a shock” coming in to work day to day at a media agency initially.
Both Clarkson and Cridland stressed the importance of working in person with newcomers to the industry so they could learn things from the processes and systems needed for media planning, to other etiquette from phone calls, emails and client responses which are difficult to teach remotely.
Clarkson found while new planners had a more general understanding of marketing and typically understood social media much better, and in particular were much more aware of TikTok and had strong points of view on how to use the platforms for organic growth, these early planners and buyers did not want to “pigeon-hole themselves” in one medium, and would rather try a bit of everything as they saw it as a long-term career.
The students also included other channel choices on their media plans like partnerships with celebrities known to be “green” like Leonardo DiCaprio alongside agreements with other like-minded brands to the charity like Rent the Runway and Patagonia.
Digital display ads and sponsored listings on search engines like Google also featured high up on their media budget priorities.
Placing ads on streaming companies like Netflix and Spotify also appeared in most campaign plans in order to target younger audiences,
Traditional formats like out-of-home (OOH), TV and print came lower down the list of channels.
The appeal for using OOH was its broad reach to a wide section of the general target audience, along with opportunities for digital interactivity with QR codes and social posts.
TV and print were mostly included on parts of the plan the students were targeting “an older target audience”, but print in particular was noted for its “trusted” nature.
On these media choices, Patel said: “The last figures that I saw had Google and Facebook taking 50% of all adspend in the UK. It has been interesting to see the change in advertising behaviour over the last 20 years, but interesting certain channels (TV and OOH) have retained share while Radio and Cinema have seen some growth. National and Regional newspapers have taken a bashing and spend has shrunk.
He added: “I still believe that there will always be a place for Broadcast channels like TV and out-of-home. Some advertisers have found it really hard to build brands on digital platforms and I think a mix of media channels is still the best way.”