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Still awaiting the advertising industry’s ‘iTunes moment’*

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It was fourteen years ago, on April 28, 2003, that Apple introduced iTunes. The music industry had been undergoing a disruption for years, as a struggle took place between the status quo guarded by the legacy Music Industry, and the emerging consumer behavior of downloading songs. Various events had taken place (e.g., Napster, to name a big one) to fuel the disruption, but it wasn’t until iTunes that things fundamentally changed – immediately, and forever. Now, 14 years later, the music industry is nothing like what it was before.

iTune’s fourteenth birthday seems a good time to acknowledge that the Advertising business today is a lot like the music industry of the late ‘90’s. Very similar conditions that contributed to the sea change in music consumption and purchase are screaming that change is overdue in the ad-led approach to brand building. But, similar to the music industry disruption of a generation earlier, the legacy ad industry seems to be resisting wholesale change in favor of clinging to old models.

While there have been some Napster moments over the past years, how different does the ad industry look, talk and act now from how it did 10 years ago? I believe that we need an iTunes moment.

Let’s take a look at the key issues that iTunes solved which made it revolutionary – and see how advertising might also re-invent itself.

  • Ubiquity. Today’s consumer is always on, on the move, mobile. iTunes solved for that by making your music library available without your CD’s. Today’s agencies need to view problem-solving through the lens of an always-on consumer – and across all platforms and channels. This makes mapping consumer journeys hugely important – but brands and agencies should push further, devising and managing journeys in ways that create competitive advantage, not just opportunities to place more ads.
  • Consumer control. iTunes gave the consumer the control they sought – to be able to buy the songs they want, when they wanted. The ad industry similarly knows that the new opt-in consumer is in control – yet continues to interrupt them, push ads at them, and is surprised by the rise in ad blocking. Advertising must earn consumers’ attention by developing new, more consumer-centric models and approaches. Marketers should stop always selling the next product or service, and put as much effort into thinking how the experience feels and adds value for customers.
  • Instant gratification. iTunes allowed consumers an instant way to access and download a song they wanted, so consumers no longer had to drive to a store to buy it. Today’s brand users also want instant gratification – and it can come in the form of a purchase, an experience, additional content, or any other added value. In fact, marketers need to recognize that the journey itself, and the brand’s ability to simplify it, enhance it, automate it or add value to it, can bring the greatest advantage for brands.
  • User experience. While iTunes was a technology solution, more than anything it was successful due to its better, seamless user experience (as all Apple products have). Advertising needs to commit to its “users” and put the customer at the heart of the company and its marketing – and recognize that any aspects of advertising, websites, mobile apps and experiences that don’t slavishly deliver a positive user experience will be substandard and be detract from brand value.
  • Personalization. The ability to buy any song at any time gave consumers the ability to create music collections that spoke to their individual passions and interests, beyond the mainstream and beyond what the industry promoted. Data is helping advertisers to tell more and more relevant stories – and needs to continue to be more personalized. And those stories don’t need to overtly “sell” stuff.
  • A hardware solution. Let’s not forget that iTunes succeeded on the back of the success of the stylish, simple to use iPod. The oncoming wave of digital assistants (from Amazon Echo, to Google Home and beyond) suggests new hardware and technology that can create solutions for brands beyond paid advertising by bringing service, value and simplified experiences is an area brands need to explore.

iTunes’ birth seems ages ago, because it set in motion a music revolution – for both consumers and the industry. It’s high time for the ad industry to experience its own iTunes moment. What do you think?

*Originally published in MediaPost’s Marketing Daily April 27, 2017

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