Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in Nov-Dec 2018

Unlearn, then learn and do it fast

Technology and data are changing the rules of the advertising game; only people smart enough will keep up and play it.

Over the past few years, I have been asked by Aurora to predict for their annual issue the developments we can expect in the digital marketing and advertising worlds in the coming year. If you read any of my articles on the subject, you will find that every year, I have mostly plagiarised myself. This is because in my opinion, the challenges have remained the same year-on-year, despite continuous improvement and the fact that the overall macro view of the digital industry has been fantastic. So, the question begs attention; why do I always talk about the same challenges when there is obvious improvement over the previous year?

Let’s skim through the areas that I have always felt needed improvement. As a digital media start-up that turned into a 100-plus people agency in six years, I have seen it all in a very short period of time. The three key areas where I have had lots of challenges are HR, digital learning and pay scales.

Now, I am tasked again to give my two cents on how things will shape up in 2019. I will start by stating that most of this article will be focused on how the marketing landscape will affect people; HR, brand and agency teams and audiences. Why? Because without people there is no advertising and marketing industry. This may be true for all industries but it really hits home for agencies.

None of you are oblivious to the changing dynamics of pretty much everything, but it is especially so for the technology-meets-marketing-meets-data phenomenon. It’s like an untamed beast that keeps changing and growing at a dizzying pace. What is good today is done-to-death by tomorrow – and this affects all of us. If you are the CMO, you need to reconsider how your budget is spent and to what end. Every dollar has to be accounted for, inefficiencies ironed out and targets achieved.

Targets, KPIs and objectives are also changing. For the last few decades, advertising has been about connecting with your target audience through the most emotional message your brand can communicate. If you can bring a smile to your audience’s face, bravo; if you can make them tear up, you win the medal! But is this enough? That is the ask by the CFO. Are smiles and tears bringing in the sales? This question is at the centre of every marketing strategy across the globe. You can almost feel a shift from emotional messaging to a more functional approach – and rightfully so. We are no longer in control. With so many people, smartphones, social media accounts, content and so much data, attention spans are minuscule. Hence, what makes me smile can leave someone else indifferent.


If you talk to Facebook, they will tell you that creating an ad for TV and running it on mobile is a waste of budget, talent and brainpower. If your audience is going to scroll up within 15 seconds, a 30-second video with a message that appears in the 16th second is an absolute waste. This is the reality and the challenge we are facing.


Let us see what this means for the agency. If you are a digital agency, you may still be in better shape if you are willing to not slow down. Let me rephrase this; only if you are willing to speed up and I mean rocket speed. If you think you have mastered it all, you may as well commit suicide. Because my dear readers, there is no mastery to be achieved when the medium, the audience, the message and the landscape is changing by the day. The only mastery that agencies, teams and individuals can achieve is of continuous learning. Reading, watching and executing at a pace that is just a notch down from total burnout.

This brings me to the question of human resources. To simplify, we can call everyone in the marketing/advertising/branding field ‘people’ and they have to realise that being stagnant means going downhill. Quick example. A Photoshop wizard of lore is literally of no value if he is not super in After Effects today. And, amazingly, even this is not enough. As a creative, you should be able to conceptualise, shoot, edit, design and develop content and sell it to the client team. In no way am I trying to take away from the importance of ‘expertise’ and ‘mastery’, but even the masters have to rethink, recalibrate and unlearn to learn the new environment.

If you talk to Facebook, they will tell you that creating an ad for TV and running it on mobile is a waste of budget, talent and brainpower. If your audience is going to scroll up within 15 seconds, a 30-second video with a message that appears in the 16th second is an absolute waste. This is the reality and the challenge we are facing.

At the risk of sounding like a know-it-all, the biggest fear I have is for those friends of mine who are used to the old ways; big budgets, big concepts, big shoots and big dollars to get it to the audience. If you have not already been hit by this, please start preparing; the playing field is going to be different, so start investing in learning. Learning about technology, data and so on and so forth.


Creativity, talent and even experience can be trumped over context, relevance, timeliness and lower cost. My advice to all the agency people is to bring on more and more young people. Edgy Millennials who are bored easily – do your best to keep them entertained.


To sum up, I would like to mention that the biggest challenge agencies will face in 2019 will not be from other agencies, but from individuals. From the four, averagely-talented guys who can create content on the go, place the brand in there and do it all much cheaper. Creativity, talent and even experience can be trumped over context, relevance, timeliness and lower cost. My advice to all the agency people is to bring on more and more young people. Edgy Millennials who are bored easily – do your best to keep them entertained. On the other side of the spectrum, the brand team must prepare for three things. Firstly, to think quickly, think small and forget perfection; secondly, to learn, learn and learn about this ever-changing beast as if your life depended on it and thirdly, know that this is the last crop of agency people who will deal with your unreasonable, unrealistic asks with a smile on their faces. The next wave of young professionals is going to change the rules of the game.

All in all, I am very excited about what’s coming up and the way our marketing and advertising industry is going to shape up along with every job, team, organisation and industry. Whatever you think is on the horizon, will come much more quickly.

Azam Jalal Khan is CEO, Digitz. azam@thedigitz.com