The problem with a new year is that there are hundreds of opinions about the future. Every year I buy the Economist year ahead issue, park in in my toilet bookcase and only read it at the end of the year. It’s always amazing how wrong even experts get it.

How many of us got Brexit and Trump wrong?

Experts predict that by 2025, 75% of the top Fortune 500 companies will be names we haven’t yet heard off and half haven’t been even created yet.

We have been told that our jobs are all about to be replaced not by immigrants but by robots, software and new technologies, yet to be invented. Even the Uber taxi driver is soon to be an obsolete model, replaced by driverless cars.

Sure account handlers could be replaced, robots would happily take the abuse and unreasonable behaviour of robotic clients. But creativity?

That all depends if in the new order of advertising creativity is valued any more.

Data is now seen by many clients as a substitute. We have argued for decades that creativity creates impact and memorability, but with data you hit the target with a relevant message at the right time, so who needs a moody prima donna overspending the marketing budget on fads and indulgences just to win an award?

At the end of 2016, as part of the IPAs effectiveness week, The Wharton Future of Advertising saw almost 80 top people from the broader ad industry to discuss the past, present and future of our industry.

Despite a brilliant keynote from Rory Sutherland, the overview was not good news. Economics, politics, technologies, metrics, data, changing consumers, changing times and many other factors are all challenging the conventional agency and media delivery model.

Though opinions varied and degrees of impact varied, there were no lack of people confident in their belief that they could see the future, and it wasn’t pretty.

We can expect the industry to shrink by 2020, with less ads across all mediums.

Consumers will continue to block ads unless the industry improves the value exchange.

It’s going to get tougher, pay rates will decline and it will slip more into a pure service industry rather than a thought leadership role to clients.

Many well known agency names will have vanished as the economics makes it impossible for some to survive. At least one big media group will fall like a house of cards (no prizes for guess which most have a dead pool on).

Digital is no longer new, it’s no as old as traditional advertising to clients and will see a decline. Twitter will be gone as will Yahoo (even under it’s new stupid name), Facebook will be old and several new more exciting channels will dominate.

Everyone is coming obsessed with tech (and rushing off to CES 2017 for FOMO) so expect new technologies to appear within the next few years that will offer new opportunities to engage audiences. Meanwhile VR is all the rage.

B2C is no longer business to consumer but business to communities (probably the best thinking of the day). And B2B is now B2P – business to people.

Marketing by 2020 will be more radically different from today than it is from 30 years ago. We are about to see a sea change in the whole philosophy of marketing, this is the dawn of a new ad age. A whole different way of thinking.


Will we actually see radical change or will it just go full circle?

ITV has seen its share price rise by 25% since July after a long period of gloom as money pours back into TV as brands pull money from digital (TV still delivers the best ROI). TV content has dramatically improved over the last few years and combined with new channels like ITVBe, is pulling in bigger audiences.

Outdoors has embraced digital technology and is seeing growth. Online brands are throwing millions at big media – look at Google, Facebook, Amazon and ebay.

One thing is certain though, currently there are far too many businesses chasing far too few clients, resulting in lower fees and poorer quality. Add to that, clients taking work in house and the industry seems doomed.

But the good news is that many believe creativity will see a rebirth as it reinvents itself as more about the business than the art of ads. Already we are seeing the development of small creative groups in the space between advertising and management consultancies, like The Garage (

These are just views of the future and there are many who see a more optimistic view.

The fact is, no one really knows what will happen, it’s all conjecture. Sadly gloom makes better copy than optimism.

As we know from looking at the wider world, things so often go in unexpected directions. Who knows, we may all get hit by a giant meteorite tomorrow, Trump may start a global war or we all discover we are living in a virtual reality world and someone turns the switch off.



Dr Chris Arnold is long term Brand Republic blogger.

He is a former board director and Creative Director of Saatchi & Saatchi. He is founder of advertising agency Creative Orchestra and innovation consultancy The Garage.

He has been chair of both the DMA Agencies Council and the Creative Council. m: 07778 056686