Q&A: What ZenithMedia’s Head of Innovation Is Excited to See Happen in 2019

Tom Goodwin looks into the crystal ball

'I’m really excited about how advertising can make our lives easier,' Goodwin says. - Credit by ZenithMedia
Headshot of Josh Sternberg

Tom Goodwin is not a futurist. However, as the head of innovation for ZenithMedia, he does get paid to see what’s coming around the bend. As we close out 2018 and get ready for 2019, we talked with Goodwin about which “innovations” caught his eye—for good and bad—this year and what he’s excited about for next year.

“Generally, we’re way too keen on everything new and tangible in advertising,” he said. “We tend to want to innovate around things we could buy from a SkyMall catalog, not around business challenges or opportunities. We assume what is old is boring, not proven.”

Adweek: Biggest fad of 2018 you think should have died on the vine?
Tom Goodwin: Innovation today is too gestural and gimmicky; it’s facing the wrong direction; it’s about signaling to the trade press or to win awards or to show the financial markets you’re busy. It needs to face people, it needs to be about making better products, experiences and services. This means often it’s going to be more like therapy. It will take time. It will be hard work. It won’t be visible. Yet the world craves boob jobs and teeth whitening, fast cover-ups for existential issues.

VR typifies this. Our industry has never cared that much about the 1.2 billion people who are gamers, but for some reason is deeply excited about the 15 million or so VR headsets that are lying dusty in drawers around the world. I’d like us to keep in check with reality.

My other big one: influencer marketing. It’s a remarkable tactic for a select few categories, but it’s fast descended into hot people holding things. There are insane levels of fraud and fake traffic, way beyond what is reported, and we need to understand it’s never going to work with most categories. It’s great for visual tangible products. Influencers may get someone to buy a push-up bra with a discount code, but people are not changing bank accounts or insurance providers this way any time soon.

Trend in 2019 you are most excited about?
I’m really excited about how advertising can make our lives easier, how it can allow me to buy things directly from ads. That may involve using my face to pay. It may use QR codes or image recognition to allow me to interact with posters and TV ads. It may even include voice.

I can now buy a 65-inch screen more cheaply than printing out a photo, so I’m excited about what happens when digital screens spread around our world and free us from our phones more.

Concept/behavior you wish brands would deploy more?
We have to stop being obsessed with technologies and instead focus entirely on people and what serves them better, which is more often design and empathy. The thoughtful use of personalization, or at least decreasing irrelevance, is a part of this. As is making ads that are shorter and that build over time. I’d also love to see more brand-building ads. We’ve assumed that because digital ads can be interacted with, that they should be used for performance ads, when in fact brands can be built anywhere.

What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the following words:
Innovation: A meaningless trendy word, too often used for signaling rather than actually making a change. It’s like “reimagination.” It’s actually a very powerful word that should be empowering and exciting and it’s just become press release filler.

Futurist: Someone who speaks at conferences as a dramatic entertainer with no concept of humankind and change in context. They exist to create intrigue rather than be helpful.

Never-been-done-before: I like this a lot. We need to strive to experiment, to be bold, but newness shouldn’t be the driver. It should be the quality of the idea.

Strategy: It’s been watered down to mean little, but I wish we could focus less on being busy and more on thinking and consideration and a long-term vision. Few things are more powerful than strategy, and yet it’s often considered a luxury.

If you were starting a business in 2019, what would be the first five things you do to get up and running?
1. Know why you exist and what your core mission is. Ensure everyone knows this.
2. Create a strong culture, but one rooted in diversity in all ways.
3. Understand and employ best-in-class technology to ensure the company can act fast and be efficient.
4. Create a process to ensure we understand people as best as possible.
5. A data strategy that runs at the core of the company and allows access to all.

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This story first appeared in the December 3, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@joshsternberg Josh Sternberg is the former media and tech editor at Adweek.
Publish date: December 3, 2018 https://dev.adweek.com/digital/qa-what-zenithmedias-head-of-innovation-is-excited-to-see-happen-in-2019/ © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT