Top Digital Trends for 2010

The drive for content at scale ranks among the developments set to make waves

(ADWEEK) As a rough 2009 draws to a close, the digital marketing world is looking ahead to 2010, hoping to deliver stronger growth in the sector, which is one of the few bright spots in the media world. What lies ahead? We identified 10 trends that are sure to make waves in 2010.

1. Content at Scale.

In remaking AOL, CEO Tim Armstrong has gone back to the future by betting on content. But Armstrong doesn’t believe content is king in the old way. In the new world, the race is on to use data and automation to produce content that people (and advertisers) want at as low a price as possible. That’s led to the rise of so-called content mills like Demand Media and Associated Content. AOL is betting its future on the area. The question for 2010 is whether this automation and data-driven approach will lead to a flowering of useful information or more detritus clogging search results with low-grade, ad-heavy Web pages.

2. The End of the Digital Agency.

There won’t be a moment when the invisible line dividing digital and traditional agencies is completely erased. But 2010 will see the distinction blur to the point of being meaningless. The Great Race, as Forrester Research calls it, pits digital shops looking to hone their branding chops against traditional agencies adding tech skills. More digital agencies will compete for (and sometimes win) through-the-line assignments, and more clients will be willing to choose a lead agency based on which of its roster shops comes to the table with the best idea.

3. Social Gaming.

At first glance, it’s easy to wonder why anyone would use FourSquare, the mobile social network that awards users points for checking into restaurants and bars. Start using it and you’ll see how addictive it becomes in competing to become “mayor” of your local coffee shop. The same goes for the runaway success of social gaming company Zynga, which has shown that people will spend real money for virtual goods. Marketers have just begun to dip their toes in the area, but brands are certain to explore it further in 2010.

4. Demand-Side Platforms.

If there was a watchword of 2009, it was efficiency. That’s likely to continue well into 2010. Internet advertising remains inefficient to buy and sell. At the same time, behavioral advertising has attracted even more marketers to the notion of buying the audiences they want, using content as one of several signals. These trends led to the construction of ad exchanges, which in turn has fueled the development of agencies building out demand-side platforms like Interpublic Group’s Cadreon and Publicis Groupe’s VivaKi. More ad inventory will flow through these systems, threatening to further disrupt the digital publishing landscape with more automation.

5. Engagement Pricing.

There’s no shortage of critics of the Web’s ad pricing system. In crude terms, it divides into two buckets: clicks for direct response and impressions for branding. As the Web matures as a branding medium, 2010 should be the year when more publishers and marketers explore new pricing mechanisms that better reflect their goals. Promising starts have already been made in cost-per-engagement and time-based ad models by networks like VideoEgg and Lotame. The challenge is the same for any new approach: New models might make more intuitive sense, but they diverge from the accepted media-planning practices.

6. Augmented Reality Grows Up.

To date, augmented reality has proven to be another gee-whiz tool for agencies. Only a few efforts, like AKQA’s tool for the U.S. Postal Service that uses AR to find the right size packages, pass the useful test. That should change as AR and mobile converge to provide an array of useful services. City guide Yelp has shown the possibilities of AR with an iPhone app that lets users view reviews of nearby businesses (like restaurants) through their phone camera. While AR will likely retain its cool factor, its test for 2010 is in proving it can live up to the hype.

7. Social Media Morphs into Digital.

If 2009 was the Year of Twitter, 2010 will be the year when social-media tools are treated as part of the fabric of the digital world. As Altimeter Group’s Charlene Li predicted, social media would become “like air,” and be pretty much everywhere. That means publishers and marketers will use tools like Twitter and Facebook Connect to make experiences more social. More marketers will look at social as an integral part of their digital strategy, rather than a stand-alone area for experimentation.

8. Privacy Wars.

Data on consumers, the Web’s greatest strength, might also be its Achilles heel. Scrutiny on the collection and use of consumer information online will increase in 2010, as regulators grapple with whether the industry needs new rules of the road that give consumers more notice and say when their information is collected. The ultimate bogeyman — an opt-in requirement for collecting behavioral data — probably wouldn’t fly, but Web players will likely be required to give more notice and choice to consumers when tracking their digital footprints. The ad-preferences dashboards rolled out by Google and Yahoo are a sign of things to come. Another possibility is marking behaviorally targeted ads to give consumers an easy way to opt out of tracking.

9. Data Gets Creative.

Until recently, data has remained the preserve of ad targeting. Expect that to change in 2010 as more marketers tap into the popularity of data visualization by providing tools for consumers to see data in action. Sprint used this approach to produce a hit advertising campaign with the Sprint Now widget. The king of this approach remains Nike Plus, which uses data visualization to show runners how they’re progressing. Thanks to open application programming interfaces, Twitter has spawned dozens of data visualization offshoots, conditioning people to mix their social data to find interesting trends.

10. The Year of Mobile, Finally.

After many false starts, 2010 figures to be the year when the mobile advertising market finally takes off. Heavyweights Apple and Google are poised to face off in the key market, with Google pouring its seemingly infinite resources into the development of the Android operating system. The competition will open up new opportunities for marketers in the burgeoning app economy. The biggest push should come in location-based services, which hold the possibility of giving brands the chance to minutely target consumers.

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