Investor Alert

Jan. 2, 2011, 10:12 p.m. EST

Ad Execs Gaze Into 2011 Crystal Ball

By Suzanne Vranica

For decades, much of advertising has been a passive, lean-back experience. But ads have begun to make consumers work harder during the past few years, a trend Madison Avenue executives predict will accelerate in 2011.

More companies are incorporating technology into their marketing to make their promotions stand out. The changes are upending the ad business and forcing consumers to engage with pitches in new ways. Think virtual test-drives of cars and storefronts that let consumers interact with the screen.

Back to the Future 'There's going to be a renaissance for '80s actors.…The Brat Pack and other John Hughes alums will be shilling.' The 'Reagan '80s was a confident time.' -Rob Schwartz
chief creative officer,
TBWA/Chiat/ Day Los Angeles

There is no slowdown in sight for this year. Even print and TV ads are asking users to do something, such as scan ads with cellphones to pull up more information from a mobile website. Interactive TV commercials are expected to become more widespread.

Jacquie Corbelli , chief executive of BrightLine Partners LLC, an ad firm that specializes in interactive ads, says brands will turn to Internet TV to "entice consumers with everything from simple games, sweepstakes and coupons, to robust educational and entertainment encounters."

At the same time, nostalgia never seems to go out of style and some ad executives are forecasting retro trends. Can you get more low tech than a jingle? Here are some of Madison Avenue's predictions for 2011:

Souped-Up Mobile Ads

As marketers spend more on mobile ads, experts predict the ads will start to contain more elements beyond basic images and text.

"The big thing in mobile ads this coming year will be the ability to directly buy products from within brand ads," says Eric Litman , chief executive of Medialets Inc., a mobile-ad firm based in New York.

Last year "showed us that mobile ads can be sexy. 2011 will show us they have the brains to match," he adds.

Virtual Product Demos

Companies increasingly will introduce products with technology that creates a virtual feel for a product—such as test-driving a car—says Liron Reznik , co-founder of the Skinny. The ad agency, which is owned by MDC Partners Inc., last year created an interactive film to promote the Lexus CT 200h, a hybrid compact. The site let visitors navigate the car by controlling its steering. Mitsubishi Motors (TKS:JP:7211) Corp. created an online test-drive for its 2011 Outlander Sport.

TV Apps

Marketers have blanketed Apple Inc.'s app store with branded mobile apps, from store finders to games. For example, Charmin, the Procter & Gamble (NYS:PG) Co. toilet paper, offers an app that lets consumers find clean restrooms. This year couch potatoes can expect branded applications to make their way to the TV. "With the possibilities afforded by new cable set-top boxes, game systems, and GoogleTV, 2011 will be the year we'll start to see widely deployed apps for television, and brands will follow," says Trevor Kaufman , chief executive of Schematic, a digital agency owned by WPP PLC.

Brands Get Fit

More marketers will look to sponsor lifestyle activities, such as running, triathlons and yoga. "Those sports tie to a macrotrend in individual consumers being focused on fitness and wellness," says Kevin Adler , president of sports-marketing consulting firm Engage Marketing Inc.

Going Long

Over the past few years, shorter ads have risen in popularity as marketers trimmed their pitches to match consumers' dwindling attention spans. But longer ads will make a comeback, thanks to new technologies, such as Internet enabled TV's, Microsoft (NAS:MSFT) Corp.'s Xbox, Apple TV and interactive features coming from cable operators, says Alan Cohen , chief executive of the U.S operations of OMD, a media buying form owned by Omnicom Group Inc. "Creative agencies will be developing deep, long-form content as consumers engage in marketers brands as they do their favorite TV shows," he says.

Big Government

The ad business has seen plenty of legislation and federal oversight, including the Federal Trade Commission's recent call for the development of a "do not track" system that would enable consumers to avoid having their activities monitored online. There is more to come. Dan Jaffe , executive vice president of government relations for the Association of National Advertisers trade group, says he expects major legislation or regulation this year. Look for a tougher hand in areas such as Internet privacy and food advertising directed to children, he says.

Getting Real

Brands will be more honest and open about their products as companies seek to develop deeper relationships with consumers on sites such as Facebook, says Andrew Keller , CEO of Crispin Porter + Bogusky. Domino's Pizza Inc. with the help of Crispin took that tack last year, when the chain created a campaign centered on having consumers bash its product. Customers in a focus group compared the crust to cardboard. The company said it used the criticism to fix its pizza and the move helped generate buzz around Domino's remaking its recipe.

Return to the 1980s

"There's going to be a renaissance for '80s actors," says Rob Schwartz , chief creative officer of Omnicom's TBWA/Chiat/ Day Los Angeles. "The Brat Pack and other John Hughes alums will be shilling for their suppers." Why? Consumers are longing to regain their "American mojo" and the "Reagan '80s was a confident time" in the country, he says.

Ringing Up Jingles

Jingles—short songs used in commercials for decades—began to resurface last year, a trend that is expected to pick up steam this year. "Coming out of the Depression in the '30s, happy music became very important," says Susan Credle , U.S. chief creative office at Leo Burnett, a unit of Publicis Groupe (PAR:FR:PUB) SA.

"I think we are due for a really infectious jingle. As the Grateful Dead Song says: 'Let Me Sing Your Blues Away.' "

Emily Steel contributed to this article.

Write to Suzanne Vranica at suzanne.vranica@wsj.com

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