It has certainly been an interesting 12 months in ad-land.
Brand safety and transparency have dominated the conversation; marketers' imaginations have been fired up by new smart devices, while the importance of quality and ground-breaking creative was highlighted by some truly spectacular campaigns.
But what does 2018 hold for the ad industry?
Well, ready to usher in the New Year, I've been gazing into my crystal ball to predict the trends and developments that will shape the ad industry over the next 12 months.
1. Context is king
With the latest round of brand safety concerns rocking the industry, the need for a diverse digital video strategy that includes contextually relevant professionally generated content, has been thrown into sharper relief.
Professionally generated, contextually relevant content offers advertisers a lot of advantages. For a start, ads appearing in context lead to higher rates of engagement. Recent research by Unruly found that video ads placed on thematically similar sites delivered improved engagement rates of up to 13 per cent (vs. non-thematically similar sites) while consumer research company, Neuro-Insight, found that premium sites offered levels of engagement 16 per cent higher than social media platforms (MediaPost). A study conducted earlier this year by Nielsen also highlighted the importance of context. Their findings indicated that context has a meaningful impact on a brand's campaign performance, in some cases positively shifting brand metrics by up to 50 per cent (Nielsen).
This by no means detracts from the importance of audience targeting, which remains paramount, but there is a growing body of evidence that suggests combining audience targeting with contextual relevance on trusted sites, delivers the best performance. 2018 will see more and more marketers coming to the same conclusion and utilising this powerful weapon, rather than chasing scale and reach no matter the cost.
2. The battle against brand bypass begins
As smart devices, focused on auto-replenishment, increasingly make purchasing decisions for us, advertisers need to act smart and fast to find new ways to keep their brand on the tip of consumers' tongues and avoid being 'bypassed'.
In a world powered by voice search, when a customer tells their device "Add shampoo to my shopping list" without any mention of a brand, algorithms will determine which products are ordered, regardless of customer loyalty or preference.
So, in 2018, we expect to see brands doubling down on emotional brand-building campaigns across traditional channels and we'll even see the resurgence of jingles and audio logos, given that companies that use musical branding are 96 per cent more likely to be remembered (source: Leicester University).
Additionally, in 2018, we'll see more and more advertisers using voice-specific marketing strategies that provide consumers with useful tips. For example, laundry detergent brand, Tide, has built an Alexa-skill that talks you through removing stains.
3. Blockchain begins to block ad fraud
Blockchain appears ready to revolutionise the fight against ad fraud in 2018.
The central tenet of blockchain technology - decentralised ledgers and data storage - has the potential to allow far greater transparency along the advertising supply chain, ensuring all parties have visibility on whether an ad has been seen, who it was seen by and what actions were taken.
With this opportunity up for grabs, the ad industry is already seeing an influx of blockchain-based exchanges and a number of industry bodies creating working groups. We also expect to see a number of high-profile mergers and acquisitions take place as the dust settles.
However, if blockchain exchanges are going to pave the way towards a fraud-less ecosystem, speed will be a big factor. Currently, blockchain-enabled exchanges can only handle approximately 20 transactions per second, which is far slower than real-time bidding.
4. Augmented Reality becomes sales reality
In 2018, brands will rush, en masse, to create AR apps that let consumers engage with virtual versions of their products - from testing whether a product might fit in their home and then immediately purchasing it, to virtual cosmetics and fashion apps that allow customers to 'try before they buy'.
Developments in mobile AR tech will allow brands to quickly adopt new techniques. This enables brands that previously used aspirational advertising to bring their customers inside stores and showrooms to now provide an easy way to immediately visualise what that one big purchase, such as a new car, might look like.
AR - a market expected to reach $61.3 billion by 2023 (source: Research & Markets) - will also unlock a new treasure trove of data for advertisers, allowing brands to test and create 'concept products and gauge interest from real consumers engaging with virtual items.
5. Brave brands wow fans
Brave and bold marketers will wow fans with unconventional, agile campaigns and messages attached to the year's upcoming sporting tentpoles like the World Cup and Winter Olympics.
Growing concerns around the FIFA World Cup in Russia will mean big brands will be unlikely to sponsor major sporting events in 2018, leaving the field wide open for challengers and hijackers to follow the example set by Nike, which has been tagging onto major sports events for 20 plus years.
Instead of expensive sponsorship packages, brands will leverage audience data and programmatic video distribution to reach engaged audiences at scale across premium sports media. Non-sponsors and hijackers will have to be careful though, ensuring they produce campaigns that are authentic to the brand and the narrative of the event in order to avoid being snubbed by passionate fans.
6. Virtual Reality captures actual adspend
In 2018, as more affordable VR devices drive higher adoption rates, new disruptive platforms will battle for an increasing pool of ad dollars reallocated from other media.
We've already seen the growth of start-ups in this space and 2018 will see a number of agile tech companies plant flags in the ground as advertisers rush to reach engaged users.
In order to monetise this growing audience, brands will continue to experiment with experience-led content, producing games and 360 films where the viewer is at the heart of the action. All this while ad-tech companies simultaneously develop supply-side platforms that inject ads into virtual spaces and serve video ads in dynamic and innovative ways.
(The author is commercial director, ASEAN and India, Unruly, a video ad tech company)