LONDON: The moving finger has writ, according to the UK's Institute of Practitioners in Advertising  – the body representing British advertising, marketing communications and media agencies. And having writ moves on … etc.  

And this is what the finger writ: 'Web 2.0 is God and Social Networking His High Priest.' 

Unless that prophesy is heeded, warns the IPA, advertisers and agencies cannot "Lure it back to cancel half a Line, / Nor all their tears wash out a word of it".

Or, more colloquially, to quote the IPA's press release: "There's a revolution in the air that's transforming society. It's social networking and it's empowering the consumer; but the majority of agencies aren't getting it."

 But is it really empowering consumers? Or does it simply lull them into thinking so? And might the digital PR juggernaut be clouding the industry's collective judgement?

The IPA and the Future Foundation Group think not.

In their latest opus [Social Media Futures - The Future of Advertising and Agencies in a Networked Society.  A 10-Year Perspective]they warn that "the ad industry must get to grips with this changing marketplace over the next decade or it could face growth of only 1.2% per year by 2016".

The report explores in depth the consumer-led scenario in the context of social media (social networks, blogs, virals etc) and their likely impact on the ad industry.

The project which spans eighteen months of fieldwork and collation involved interviews and workshops with over 100 participants from among the IPA's membership.

Only a third of those interviewed about their readiness for a socially networked future were in the so-called Ready and Waiting group.

Yet the report warns that as consumers increasingly mediate messages between brands and other consumers in the social media arena, the power and influence of paid-for advertising could diminish. [The press release does not spell out the evidence for such a sweeping assumption.]

Nearly 95% of this same panel agreed that "more brand messages would be passed on informally from one person to another by 2016", and 90% agreed with the statement: "Some advertising campaigns will be built entirely on messages being passed from individual to individual."

In the preceding (2007) Future of Advertising Report, the consumer-dominated scenario predicted ad expenditure by 2016 to be only £36 billion ($52.21bn; €39.63bn) and average growth rates of 1.2%.

But this latest report explains how agencies can create new opportunities out of social media to counteract that scenario.

Marketing activities which were previously difficult, expensive and slow can become easy, cheap and fast (in the area of consumer research, for example, online bulletin boards provide the opportunity for real-time qualitative feedback.

So while it is likely that expenditure on paid-for space will decline by 2016, the report argues that if agencies (and in turn clients) can adapt to this changing marketplace as well as innovate, expenditure could increase by an additional £16bn.

Says IPA President Moray Maclennan:  "Social media has been a phenomena for some time, but the industry is only beginning to come to terms with it as a medium.

"Its potential is undoubted, but the risks are equally clear. This report helps give a clear understanding of social medias' impact, how to approach it, it also gives a common set of guidelines to bridge old and new communication models”.

Data sourced from IPA (UK); additional content by WARC staff