In his classic East of Eden, John Steinbeck described a new age of advertising:

Joe has gone east to invent a new profession called advertising. Joe’s very faults were virtues in this field. He found that he could communicate his material daydreaming – and, properly applied, that is all advertising is.

Fast forward roughly 100 years and Joe’s daydreaming had been displaced by banner and search ads. As early Facebook exec Jeff Hammerbacher lamented, “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads. That sucks.”

Indeed it does. Though Google and Facebook have built massive empires advertising against personal data, we keep getting farther away from Joe Hamilton’s world of “material daydreaming” and the potential for a brand to resonate with potential customers. If Forrester is to be believed, however, advertising is about to get a whole lot better, because it’s finally going to become a lot more personal.

It’s the end of advertising as we know it…

In a new report, The End Of Advertising As We Know It, Forrester posits a very different way to connect with customers. Insisting that “People have less time for interruption-driven media,” Forrester proposes an advertising age that could eviscerate $2.9 billion worth of display advertising.

And that’s just for starters.

While advertising has served a variety of useful purposes in the past, digital has transformed how a brand can reach its customers, and measure the impact. To Hammerbacher’s point, the first wave of digital advertising more or less extended traditional advertising to the web, with the real innovation being ever more sophisticated methods for getting consumers to click ads.

SEE: Satya Nadella: Software bots will be as big as mobile apps (TechRepublic)

Unfortunately for brands (and consumers), those display ads have never been all that effective, as Forrester calls out. To wit:

  • Advertisers blew $7.4 billion on poorly-placed ads in 2016
  • Display ad click-through rates generate a meager 0.35% success rate
  • 40% of ads aren’t viewed by a living person at all (fraud is rampant)

Part of the problem has been that advertising hasn’t become any better in terms of its impact on customer experience. In TV and print advertising, ads regularly interrupt the viewing or reading experience, prompting more consumers to flee to platforms (like Netflix) that allow them to trade cash for an ad-free existence. Online, Google and Facebook interrupt search and social with ads (that really aren’t all that tailored, anyway, despite all the data they collect). In response, 38% of US adults have installed an ad-blocker to reclaim their online experiences.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that digital can be so much more than catchier display ads, as Forrester advises.

Speak to me (just to me)

Consumers, Forrester notes, are happy to engage with a brand they like. Rather than interrupting their browsing or social experience, however, savvy brands are starting to find ways to connect with consumers in more natural ways, using chatbots, messaging apps, and other one-to-one communication technologies.

Take Dunkin Brands, for example.

As Melanie Cohn, Senior Manager of the company’s digital and social media, has written: “At Dunkin’, we’ve embraced the philosophy of choice-based media versus interruptive, unwanted experiences. The new brand opportunities within iMessage allow us to provide exactly that. We’re able to develop rich tools our fans actually want instead of unexpected ads they do everything in their power to avoid.” In practice, this means that Dunkin Brands has enabled consumers to create stickers and other iMessage experiences that augment a consumer’s communication, rather than interrupting it. In the process, an “advertisement” for Dunkin is passed along.

We’re at the front end of chatbots’ potential, given their relative immaturity. Even so, 33% of US adults already interact with a voice-activated assistant like Siri or Alexa, Forrester pointed out, and the 6 million Alexa-enabled devices in the US are expected to swell to a population of 26 million (powered by Alexa or similar solutions) this year. That’s a big increase, and it provides a training ground for brands to learn how to talk with customers on their terms, rather than interrupting the flow of their lives.

SEE: AI chatbots are overhyped and unimpressive, say developers (TechRepublic)

To be clear, we are very much in the experimental stage, and there’s potential to get it wrong. As Nike senior director of global marketing, Kelly McCarthy, cautioned, “Not every brand can be humanized in a natural way, and this may end up hurting your brand rather than helping it.”

Even so, the rewards for those enterprises that learn how to engage with consumers in a one-to-one fashion is worth the risk. According to Forrester, “Consumers are ready for deeper relationships with the companies that matter to them.” For businesses, that means it’s time to start test-driving chatbots and messaging app engagement.