May the Fourth Era of Advertising Be With You

In a rapidly evolving landscape, accurately predicting the future of online advertising is no easy task.

Four years ago, I wrote an article for Adweek outlining the emergence of the fourth era of online advertising, characterized by media transactions on online platforms with a focus on data privacy. Looking back, some predictions were on point, while others require reassessment.

In this updated and improved article, we will examine the progress made in online advertising, the unexpected advancements in AI, the changing media consumption habits and the evolving landscape of privacy and identity.

From AOL to ad networks

The first era of advertising was the portal era. Yahoo and AOL dominated in an era of high CPMs. The second era started after the .com crash in 2001 where we then had the direct response era. Paid search generally and Google particularly became dominant players.

Affiliates thrived on new tracking technologies. In display, high CPMs for brand campaigns turned into performance ad networks.

The third era followed the 2009 financial crash: the platform era. This saw the rise of multiple ad platforms and walled gardens (led by Facebook Audience Network, programmatic display and video) and the mass use of data.

As you can see each era brought new dimensions and followed a period of disruption. As we head into the fourth era, that disruption has been constant for a few years from the pandemic, regulators’ changes and economic uncertainty.

The fourth era of online advertising

In the past four years, most media transactions have indeed shifted to online platforms. The rise of Connected TV (CTV) has significantly contributed to this transformation, especially with the acceleration of this shift due to the pandemic.

However, despite these changes, data privacy has not progressed as rapidly as expected. The delay in Google’s sunsetting of third-party cookies, for instance, has temporarily alleviated concerns in the advertising industry. Nevertheless, privacy remains an essential aspect of the future of advertising.

The rise of AI

AI has become the most significant story in the marketing industry. Chat GPT, in particular, has rapidly gained popularity as the fastest-growing software application in history.

Its impact on progressive marketers is already evident, with AI assisting in tasks such as creative development, content production and media bidding. Major tech players like Google, Facebook and Amazon have also rolled out AI marketing tools, increasing adoption rates. This surge in AI adoption has been driven not only by technological advancements, but also by a shortage of available talent and the need for improved productivity in the wake of the pandemic.

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