It's Bolser’s 20th Anniversary, here’s my take on the changes in marketing since 2001

Bolser is now 20 years old and like most self-funded start-ups there have been some incredible stand-out moments, it’s been a complete rollercoaster ride of highs and lows. Looking back over the last two decades, it’s interesting to see what’s changed and what has stayed the same in marketing and advertising.

Ashley talking to the audience about the last 20 years

It's all gone or going digital.

Way back when, before the advent of digital marketing, I worked in direct marketing. But even then, I loved the technology, telling anyone who would listen about how the internet was going to take over the world. I made a couple of predictions:

  • The internet was the future of marketing and advertising (and everything!)
  • The mobile internet would one day take over the world

At the time, few friends or clients would listen to me, it seems history has proved me right!

So what has changed?

20 years ago feels like the technological dark ages. No widespread internet, absolutely no broadband, no web on your phone, no apps, no Instagram, no Twitter, no Cloud, IoT (Internet of Things) or A.I. - a lot has changed!

There has been a revolution in the media landscape!

Direct mail is now PPC and email marketing.

Back then, almost the only individual communication tool was direct mail. It was incredibly expensive, often costing more than 50p per message in print and postage. That made us incredibly careful, knowing each communication was massively costly, the effort to get it right was enormous. Direct mail was a combination of meticulously honed craft, art, maths and science.

Individual messaging is now commonplace using digital channels. One to one targeting and communication has become much easier and much, much cheaper, that should be a good thing right? Not necessarily.

eCommerce has become accessible to most.

Costs have been reduced by more than an order of magnitude, OK I haven’t scientifically applied Moore’s Law, but I remember telling a leading Northern furniture retailer they needed to spend around £1m to get their eCommerce shop off the ground. These days, a tenth of that would make an excellent fully functioning eCommerce site, and costs are still falling with out-of-the-box services like Shopify.

'Surfer' by Guinness. Good things comes to those who wait.

TV commercials – still around but a puzzle.

TV advertising hasn’t gone away and still remains a mainstay of many advertiser budgets, that’s a conundrum for me. Most people don’t admit to watching broadcast TV advertising and personally I can’t bear to watch commercial TV because of the ads, but it does seem to amplify many campaigns, even if viewed in broadcast apps or on YouTube. I feel that creativity in the last 20 years has slipped, I can’t remember a great recent ad but I do remember the Guinness 'Surfer' Ad from 1999!

Ads used to be a talking point, not for me in the last few years! Is this due to budget cuts, the rise in bland global brand advertising, super safe brand managers, or a reduction in the relative impact of TV?

Natural search (organic), PPC and Social is the new press advertising.

What’s happened to press ads? Well, you tell me. We used to spend £millions on black and white press ads for our clients, but that’s not happened in a long time. Visiting any newspaper website is like stepping back in time to the early internet, most are impossible to use or read! For our clients, almost all their advertising is done via digital channels now.

What has stayed the same – people have!

When we first started Bolser, we were in the business of persuading people to do the things we wanted, buy physical products, get insurance, use the services we were promoting, apply for credit cards or add to their mortgages.

Today, people still have the same basic desires and needs as our ancestors. Providing for ourselves and our families.

We used tried and tested marketing principles alongside our partial understanding of human psychology – to persuade people to buy our client’s products. These principles go back hundreds of thousands of years and are deeply ingrained into the way people think. Today, people still have the same basic desires and needs as our ancestors. Providing for ourselves and our families - food, the need for emotional and physical rewards and to reproduce. We also have the same insecurities! If you learn these principles and apply them to your marketing they will always hold true. At least in my lifetime.

We are still in the business of influencing people, the radical change of the last 20 years is that we now use completely different technologies. A marketeer in the ‘50s would have still understood the marketing landscape of the late 20th or early 21st Century. Not anymore, there has been a complete revolution in the last two decades.

“The skill is gone…”

I would argue that in today’s marketing and advertising, not enough time, effort or money is spent making sure the right message is sent to the right person at the right time. At virtually no cost, scattergun email campaigns flood our inboxes, produced by the most uninformed teams. Craft is what I miss most from the old ways of doing things!

That is not to say that I don’t love the fantastic opportunities technology can provide today, accurately targeted marketing is a big step forward for both advertisers and consumers. That’s despite GDPR and the backlash over ownership of personal data.

2041?

What will life be like for a marketer 20 years from now? My view, in the words of the Busted song “…it’s the same world but they live underwater”. So much will have changed, but so much will be familiar. 

The predominance of physical devices (phones and laptops) will reduce and will bring many new challenges to marketing and advertising. We will move around both physically and virtually in a cloud of our data. You may think I’m exaggerating but, the right doors will literally open for you, be that self-driving cars, airport lounges, bars or web services. You will only pay on use. Curation will be key, and a host of personal assistants will vie for your business based on how well they know you and your preferences.

Every TV, digital media or radio ad will be personal to your circumstances and you'll opt-in with your data because it will be far too annoying to be bombarded with generic advertising.

Oh and no more passwords. No more learning different systems - simple.

Much of the process of marketing and advertising will be automated, many of the things we are too lazy to do now, or that are too expensive, will be done by machines in one form or another. Your data may belong to you, but you will still overshare!

Happy 20th Bolser!

Looking back over two decades of incredible change, I feel proud to have been part of it, helping to shape digital marketing, sculpting a small part of the landscape with innovation and technology. I also feel proud of the people I work with now and those I’ve worked within the past, I hope that the jobs they do are in some small part improved by what they learn at Bolser.

So take a moment, let us know what has changed during your career and where you think we will be in 2041?

I can’t wait, here’s to the next 20!

Ash, Managing Director

Ash set up Bolser in 2001 and is renowned for innovation in digital marketing and cycling to work most days!