The great G up – next-generation mobile connectivity spells another round of growing pains

The commercial rollout of 5G has taken its first tentative steps. But how transformative will the next generation phone network be and at what price? Tracey Porter investigates.

This article originally appeared in The Madtech BriefMarketing‘s second print issue for 2019

Tracey Porter 150The ability to judge right from wrong and act accordingly is not a trait inherently obvious in all those who earn a living shifting product. This is a fact that goes some of the way to explaining why the issue of restraint is shaping up as the biggest challenge facing marketers ahead of the introduction of the 5G network to Australian audiences.

While the upgrade from 3G to 4G was largely viewed as a homogeneous evolution, the benefits of this much anticipated fifth-generation mobile broadband technology have already been well documented. While it is referred to as the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ by some enthusiastic analysts, more level-headed approaches suggest the introduction of this tech is essentially about two things: increased speed and reduced latency. The upshot of this means that it has potential to be something of a game-changer – not only for digital consumers who seek relief from poor quality Wi-Fi, but also for advertisers seeking to take advantage of its ability to process and exchange more data at higher speeds by producing more complex brand messaging, across more devices, more frequently.

Super fast and super responsive

With claims that at its peak it could be up to 1000 times faster than 4G with 100 times less latency, advertisers and publishers with access to 5G can expect to see faster ad-load times on desktop and mobile, as well as more connected devices, in turn furthering their ability to personalise content in real time while tapping into more contextual and behavioural data.

But in a world already drowning in content, where the average Australian would be required to live 219 lives just to be able to consume the amount of video content that is uploaded to YouTube each year, does either side really want to face a flood? Brendan Shanahan thinks not. The head of storytelling at digital innovation agency Fusion, he claims the introduction of 5G has the potential to create even more noise that users will be seeking to block out. Shanahan, whose agency works with clients including Stratco, the Detmold Group, Queensland Country Health Fund, UniSA and the APA Group, says 5G to marketers could prove a tipping point for reconsidering the complexity of their campaigns.

“We hear a lot of marketing execs talk about ‘channel of choice’,” he says, but with so many options available it could come down to reassessing what’s relevant. “As 5G will allow more connections, we could see more objects start to be connected to the internet (as if there aren’t enough already!). But as the Twitter feed ‘The Internet of S**t’ proves, just because something can connect to the internet, doesn’t mean it should.

“More connected systems provide more data, which can then be used by advertisers to spot points of a user’s day where they could target a message towards them. It goes back to providing value for consumers. Will your message just be more noise, or are you providing [your audience] with a good experience?”

Shanahan says the challenge, in essence, remains the same, despite the new technology: design messages that provide value to people, and display them at the correct time. “The technology will help deliver that message, but if it sucks, people won’t respond.”

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should

DDB creative partner David ‘Jacko’ Jackson, whose client roster includes brands across the automotive, banking and FMCG sectors, agrees the introduction of 5G into mainstream markets means marketers and their agencies will be forced to learn how to reassess how and when they speak to audiences. While digital consumers may sometimes forget that having a mobile device on them at all times is akin to carrying a tracking device, Jackson says the onus will be on advertisers to ensure the data and messaging they are sending to and from these devices is used in a relevant and meaningful manner.

“Just because you can communicate with someone doesn’t necessarily mean you should. With the introduction of 5G, potential consumers will have access to a super-fast broadband connection around-the-clock. Marketers will need to demonstrate restraint with regards to how and when they target them. For example, when an audience is second-screening as they watch their favourite TV show, should we direct them to a virtual or augmented reality experience related to it? Or are the traditional TV ads that accompany it already enough? It needs to be about finding the right balance or a brand could overstep the privacy line and appear to be stalking customers.”

Both Shanahan and Jackson point to evidence suggesting that users are already attempting to minimise their exposure to advertisements, social media and other digital distractions.

While increasing numbers of Australians are choosing to undertake digital detoxes, Melbourne restaurateur James Bradey has taken the matter into his own hands by implementing a policy that invites guests to leave their phones in a lockable draw prior to dining. This follows similar moves by performers including Kate Bush, Dave Chappelle, Amy Schumer, Jack White and Alicia Keys, all of whom have placed a ban on mobiles at their concerts, Jackson points out.

Verizon Media’s Paul Sigaloff sees things a little differently. While agreeing 5G will change the way brands will be able to communicate with customers in a more sophisticated manner, the ANZ managing director of the brand formerly known as Oath argues the approach taken will be much richer and more rewarding.

First, you need to consider the drivers for communication, he says. “Looking at academic studies there are different levels of communication. At the first level, human communication is about sharing needs and important information. The second level allows for more complex language and enables people to share thoughts and ideas. The final level for communication is around feelings and emotions.

“Bringing this back to 5G, brands will be able to communicate with consumers in a more sophisticated manner as this new technology will facilitate a much richer layered approach that can be integrated into both advertising and content.”

So where then will responsibility lie for ensuring the benefits of 5G technology are not outweighed by the very real threat that digital users could find themselves being spammed by brands eager to get their message across?

Ben Cooper, founder of innovation design consultancy Tricky Jigsaw, says the issue is a delicate one where advertisers and brand custodians know what’s possible technically, but are required to balance that with their own ethical boundaries.

While admitting he’s very much in the “camp of freedom of speech and the internet is about our empowerment”, he can also see where this power can be misused. It is up to responsible brands to lead the way in terms of applying restraint in the face of so much connectivity, he says.

“Look at the scale of brands like Apple and Facebook… they need to have a moral compass, they need to understand their actions, they’ve got to think them through. Personalising the users’ world at first is helpful, yet letting them live inside a filter bubble (a situation in which an internet user encounters only information and opinions that reinforce their own beliefs) either propagates their mindset or manipulates it.”

Cooper says there was a time, albeit millennia ago, when TV was the only screen available and consumers were forced to adhere to the broadcasters’ schedules. However, a proliferation of subscription services and the corresponding invention of ad blockers and other such tools, means consumers today have the option of viewing only the content they want, when they want it.

“All the algorithms are designed to show you content based on your previous interactions. If you’ve got a mindset that is National Front then you live in a National Front world. You’re not going to get a different perspective, and we all need different perspectives to understand the colour and the possibilities of the world.”

Verizon’s Sigaloff says ultimately the goal for advertisers is to engage and inspire behaviour. And on this point, all commentators agree that as well as resulting in ‘new interactive and immersive’ content, the rollout of 5G will also see the introduction of new ad formats that increase participation in what he describes as a “practical and authentic” way.

Where we’re going

While this will be largely be seen across AR (augmented reality), VR (virtual reality), mixed reality (MR), autonomous cars, connected machinery and IoT (Internet of Things) devices, there may be other avenues as well. Fusion’s Shanahan suggests that if 5G proves to be more reliable than the NBN (National Broadband Network), we may see users getting 5G data packages to support their gaming and streaming. “This could be particularly important for esports advertisers, given that their content will now be able to be viewed by more people more often. VR’s an interesting one; it’s yet to hit a ‘mainstream moment’, so 5G could deliver that – and of course that may be when the ads start to arrive en masse in that channel.”

Tricky Jigsaw’s Cooper believes outdoor advertising will benefit exponentially from the introduction of this type of technology, predicting “it will become incredible”, connecting physical and digital.

“Suddenly you’ve got a 5G outdoor [asset] talking to a 5G device that can help content be personalised in real time. Suddenly you’ve got ads that are fully immersive, offering content that you can go off and spend time with. Equally, you can be configuring your evening meal prompted by a dinner recipe, and pick it up from Woolworths on your way home because it’s that responsive, there is no lag.

“All the stuff that we know today that we can’t quite do right now will suddenly be made possible and I think that’s really exciting. Because the convenience that sits around that is huge. We will suddenly get where we hope to be, but at the moment we just have a series of bad customer experiences as the load times make us impatient and frustrated.”

DDB’s Jackson says in a world full of smart technology where everything contains a chip, brand custodians will need to practise restraint and not go too overboard, too early with the new technology.

“It could lead to an oversaturation of messages and experiences. Remember the first wave of banner ads, when they covered every webpage? It was because the industry had no idea what the right balance was. So, inevitably, there is going to be a period of ugly trial and error. There’ll be some awful examples of how it’s used. But it’s just the industry learning the balance. When marketers have the ability to push media rich broadband experiences, for better or worse, creatives just jump at it.”

Cooper too cautions marketers not to get “too excited, too early” given that there remains a two- to five-year wait until the 5G infrastructure and assets are there to support such innovation.

He says it’s important brands and their agencies instead keep stock of what lies at the heart of why marketers do what they do. While ideas already exist that would get better with the technology that 5G provides, they weren’t purposefully [created] for this tech, he says.

“The thing to always remember is that understanding consumer needs comes before the technology. It’s really important to know what the technology does, but don’t be completely led by it. In a way it can end up causing confusion when you’re trying to ultimately make something that your audience wants to spend time with, or can add value to their day, or be useful in a moment.

“[Ultimately] it really comes down to understanding them first and then linking the amazing things that bumps in technology like this allow us to do.”

* * * * *

To purchase a subscription to Marketing magazine, visit the online shop »

* * * * *

 

Further Reading:

 

 

 

 

Image credit:Marc Sendra Martorell