For the majority of the time that advertising has existed, we needed to have two separate but inter-linked disciplines – creative and media. No point in making lovely ads which the target audience never sees; no point in getting in front of the right consumers with a message that they won't relate to or engage with.
Digital media has been around for a mere 15 years or so, and in that time we have seen many trends come and go, and the medium has evolved incredibly quickly.
Initially, during the first phase of digital media advertising, it was all about display. Nothing else was really possible. We had a new medium, and we used it in an old way – sites tended to be online replications of offline publications, and ads were the same; just like posters, only clickable.
If you didn't yet have a website, all you could do with those letterbox spaces was use them in just the same way as a billboard – nothing wrong with that. Billboards have been around for a long time because they are very useful – if a little unsophisticated – ways of communicating a simple message and of amplifying an integrated multi-channel media campaign.
Furthermore, while "the web" was the newest, shiniest part of the internet, it was more often email that was genuinely changing people's lives. Given that websites were relatively function-free, often merely brochures or magazines which could be read at home on the computer, email was connecting people almost instantaneously, at almost no cost, and with a profound effect.
By 2008, more emails had been sent in human history than letters phone calls and faxes combined. So email marketing was also, understandably, fairly huge and has, in fact, been a victim of its own success.
I recall while working for Ad.com that the AOL office on Hammersmith Road had a counter showing "number of emails" sent "this month", "this week", "this hour", and showed the split between spam (around 92%) and actual mails (the remaining 8%). No wonder that we all got used to ignoring the majority of corporate emails – that simple search engine with the plain white page changed the game.
And after Alta Vista strangely decided to become A. N. Other portal, Google filled the breach, and reinvented the wheel. By mid-2009, £6.50 of every £10 spent on digital advertising went to Google. Search became the start of most people's web experience, and was the primary activity engaged with online. Unsurprisingly, search engine marketing (SEM) was soon to follow.
From around 2001, every year was touted as "the year of the mobile" and with the advent of the iPhone, the mcommerce age is certainly upon us.
Then we started to realise that with an interactive medium, the advertising could be interactive, actually, somehow, engaging with audiences.
Social has become enormous. You only have to look at the prices paid for Instagram and Yammer, and the immense rise and rise of sites like Pinterest and Viddy, to see that it's not going away.
Advertising on tablets as distinct to mobiles is massively on the rise, and let's not forget, location-based services and connected TV, as well as those that have gone by the wayside as serious B2C channels such as push SMS and email you could say.
In the early days, we had to try to persuade clients to build websites, and after a certain tipping point, we had to try to stop them building bad ones.
Today, we are very active on display, mobile, social and video; tomorrow – connected TV, location-based services for mobiles/tablets, and whatever else comes up that might not already be on the horizon.
One thing that we can be certain of when future-gazing and wondering what else is on the near horizon – just as the English weather is unpredictable, it is difficult to know how technologies will continue to throw curve balls to marketers and keep us on our toes.
It's one thing to know that technology will be great for consumers, and that it will impact immensely on our lives. But just as the year of the mobile was predicted 10-plus years ago – and yet it is only now coming to the fore – it is not enough to know what is coming; we would ideally need to know whether it is going to actually have an impact.
Just as the immense rise of search or social or email was almost instantaneous, the first stab at interactive TV and 3D TV hardly yielded a positive ROI on marketing investment.
Email has trailed off enormously, and there is far more money spent on misguided social media drives at the moment than ideas which genuinely push the business envelope (for every Starbucks there are at least a dozen Femfresh's).
In truth, of course, every medium evolves. One could argue, perhaps successfully, that the main stimulus for evolution in print, outdoor, radio, cinema and TV has actually been something digital, but that's not the point – all media evolves. Digital, however, has evolved more times, more quickly, and to a greater extent than any other medium – and all that in around 15 years.
The reality is that it will continue to grow, change and evolve, and, as marketers, we must understand where our audiences are, why they are there, and what we can/should do in order to continue to keep our brands relevant.
I know that at our company Ybrant Digital we are constantly aware that if we don't evolve continuously, we will cease to be relevant; if we hadn’t started building an application programming interface (API) years ago, we would be way off the game with Facebook now. If we hadn’t started to build our mobile proposition in 2009, we would be in the dark ages today and we won't rest on our laurels.
Facebook themselves say that "the journey is only 1% complete" – I think they are being optimistic.