It might feel like 2016 has blown by faster than any prior year, but if you stop and take a look back at this year's industry headlines, you'll realize how much has truly transpired in less than 12 short months. The marketing landscape that we step into in 2017 is vastly changed from a year ago. If you had to distill those changes down into a third-grader's weekly vocabulary list, it might look a little something like this.
Yes, OK. I'm starting with a phrase, rather than a word. I suppose that might make you question the validity of this entire list. But stick with me. "Ad blocking" made last year's list as well. And this year, it would be absurd to have anything but ad blocking at the top. The concept represents an area of rampant growth, billion-dollar implications, contentious debate and speculation, and never-ending developments.
In 2016, internet users declared more loudly than ever that they're fed up with all the bullshit the publishing and advertising industries have been throwing their way. Consequently, publishers and advertisers alike have spent the majority of the year running in panicked circles.
Given the aforementioned rise in ad blocking, online walled gardens have received a fair amount of attention as well this year. Most of this attention has gone to Google and Facebook, and rightfully so. In the U.S., 85 cents of every new dollar spent on digital media went to Google and Facebook in the first quarter of 2016. According to some, marketers should be less concerned about ad blocking and more concerned about how massive tech platforms like Google and Facebook are sucking the value out of the advertising market for everyone but themselves.
Also tied into the implications of ad blocking, in 2016, the topic of a user's experience with advertising took on new weight. Slow page load times, non-user-initiated video ad plays, content blocked by ads. These aren't new disruptions to the user experience, but they're ones that publishers and advertisers are increasingly having to be ashamed of. Internet users are fed up, and they won't be fooled by the "you won't believe what happened next" click bait headlines for much longer. Even the less savvy of internet users are getting wise to the fact that such content is sure to bring with it an unbearably ad-stuffed experience, and they're not having it.
OK, so your ads are increasingly getting blocked from the get-go. But when they do get through -- do they really get through? The industry has continued to struggle with the issue of viewability this year. What constitutes "viewable"? Who gets to define it? Is viewability improving? Can we really know? This year, everyone raced to throw their own definition into the mix. And we're all still as confused as ever.
Chatbots are by no means a new phenomenon. But in the marketing realm, they came into their own this year. Ever since Facebook announced at F8 that it would allow companies to have automated interactions with consumers on its Messenger platform through chatbots, the chatbot landscape has become a gold rush. In August, VentureBeat introduced its Bots Landscape, a mapping of more than 170 companies, representing more than $4 billion in funding, that are playing in the bot field. That's big -- and it's only getting bigger.
Speaking of ad tech landscapes, we knew exponential proliferation of entrants on the ever-expanding Lumascapes couldn't last forever. And while new players continue to emerge daily, in 2016, we finally started to see some real signs that the fragmented ad tech landscape is beginning to consolidate a bit. In the first half of 2016, the marketing industry saw 204 M&A deals (valued at $6.8 billion), up from 85 deals (valued at $2.1 billion) in the year-ago period. And don't forget Verizon's $4.83 billion move to get in on digital advertising with its purchase of Yahoo. With venture capitalists pouring less money into ad tech, life is hard for the start-ups. It won't be surprising to see a lot of them get snapped up on the cheap, or fade away entirely.
Amid the broader industry fragmentation, marketing technology has continued to proliferate as well. The "complete marketing stack" continues to be an elusive but sorely needed foundation for marketers. At MarTech 2016, Scott Brinker released the 2016 marketing technology landscape supergraphic, which has become a new bible within the entire marketing technology industry. It underscores the continued failure of the Adobes, Salesforces, Oracles, and IBMs of the world to offer truly "full" marketing stacks. Indeed, most marketers are still struggling to piece together their own stacks to suit their unique needs.
Or AR, for that matter. 2016 has been the year that virtual and augmented reality turned the corner from gimmick to viable marketing vehicle worthy of investigation. Of course, we have Pokemon Go to thank for a lot of that. Not to mention Oculus Rift. But that's really all it takes to turn a corner -- a few applications that demonstrate true marketing potential. And then we're off to the (virtual) races.
Beyond the marketing industry itself, 2016 has been rough. Not just because we lost Bowie and Prince, either. Rather, there's been no getting away from the headlines this year that remind us of just how divided a nation the United States still is -- politically, racially, culturally. In the sense that marketing must be a reflection of the society it functions in, those tensions and themes have bled into the industry this year -- for better and worse. On the "better" side, consider Coca-Cola's full-page ad in USA Today -- stating, "We live as many. We stand as one." On the "worse" side, consider how pissed off a bunch of people got at The Gap based on how a black child model was positioned in a campaign.
On a lighter note, did you get a load of all the friggin' emojis this year? In 2016, if you didn't use at least one emoji in your messaging, there was a big swath of the population who probably didn't even recognize your marketing as an attempt at communication. This year, we expressed ourselves exclusively though laughing smiley faces and tiny cartoonish piles of poop -- and marketers were happy to follow suit.