Online Advertising

P&G’s Last Stand.

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Last January at the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting, I followed Procter & Gamble CMO Marc Pritchard on stage after his speech about all that was wrong with the digital supply chain – the first of his ultimatums to the digital advertising channel.  It was a very impressive speech, and he said a lot that needed to be said.  Ten years ago we used to joke that P&G shouldn’t get to make any public pronouncements about digital advertising until it actually spent money on it; and here was the P&G CMO – who’d spent a lot in recent years – having his say.

But then came the Ides of March.  In an instant P&G cut $100 million in digital ad spend, with the implied threat that until we got our collective act together on fraud, viewability, standardization and more, that money wasn’t coming back.  I know many sales reps who did land office P&G business in 2016 and who are now seeing a big fat zero in that column.

But I wonder….

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I wonder if this is all as clear as it’s meant to look.  All that money went away:  will it really all come back once MRC accreditation kicks in?  I’m starting to think that it won’t.  And even if it does, I’m not sure it’s going to flow through the same pipes or look anything like the spending we all got used to in recent years.

I wonder if P&G cutting $100 million from digital wasn’t just the least painful, most justifiable way they could make a significant move away from above-the-line brand advertising.  The world has changed dramatically for P&G and other packaged goods giants in recent years, and the change doesn’t have all that much to do with viewability standards on digital banners.  The simple truth is that the distribution chain has been completely upended.  Amazon has become a dominant channel for the sale of packaged goods, household and personal care products, and they will continue to press the P&Gs of the world for deeper and deeper discounts.  That money has to come from someplace.

I wonder if those working so hard to win P&G’s digital advertising money back might be fighting the last war….as if we all just assumed that the biggest TV advertisers would morph into the biggest digital spenders.  I wonder if advertising isn’t being seen now as a cost center to be managed and if the goal might be to buy less and less of it.

I wonder if we all need to think less about how we’ll help P&G spend its shrinking pile of advertising cash and how – instead – we might help them sell more product in a world where there’s a new normal for distribution and consumer behavior.

I wonder if we’re not all missing the story line here.

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Digital Experience: A Reality Check.

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Digital ExperienceDigital experience.  It’s pursued and prized.  Companies pay a hiring premium for it. Those who have even a couple of years of it get featured on panels.

There’s just one problem.  Digital experience doesn’t age like wine. It ages like fish.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by AppNexus. With AppNexus Mobile Solutions, you can access more demand partners than ever, gain precision insight into your inventory’s pricing and attract the ad spend of the world’s largest advertisers.

This may all sound a little strange coming from someone who’s been in digital advertising for 22 years.  But the secret – if there is one – to continued relevance and value in this industry is simple:  one must obsess about it every single day.  If, as Neil Young said, rust never sleeps, then change is an insomniac and irrelevance is a vampire.

Over the past two decades I’ve worked with thousands of sellers, executives and others in all parts of the digital media, marketing and ad tech landscape.  Frequently I’ll engage with someone who’s got it all figured out. The space they compete it is a fountain of money or the company they work for has truly built a better mousetrap, and it’s going to last forever.  Or their own knowledge, insights and talent have become truly unassailable.  Then something happens.

The emergence of ad exchanges makes the ad network irrelevant.  Facebook tilts the table on video and upends the entire video marketplace.  The entire ‘space’ where you once competed simply collapses and is subsumed by some full-stack solution provider.  The pace of mobile use and consumption shocks the world and turns desktop display into the rust belt of digital media. That same overly-confident digital exec finds him- or herself adrift and scrambling for a spot on a new boat.

Some will find the ceaseless march of change terrifying. Others will be exhilarated by it.  But it’s a fact for us all.  If you’re not questioning your current assumptions and business plan, you’re already starting to lose control of your future.

Stop obsessing about the latest micro-controversy about the details of attribution or viewability or header bidding.  Start paying very close attention to consumer behavior and media consumption. If it’s faster, more mobile, more video enhanced, more private, easier or cooler, consumers will adopt it.  And once they do, they never, ever go backward.

Change is relentless.  If you’re not part of the steamroller – or nimble enough to get out of its way – you’re part of the road

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The Full Service Publisher.

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Full Service PublisherFirst there’s understanding the client’s objective:  Which feature of their product do they need customers to better understand?  To which competitor are they trying to compare themselves favorably?  Then we’ve got to get busy with the message, the talent that’s going to deliver it and the actual drafting of copy and shooting of video.

Now it’s time to figure out how to scientifically distribute the message – media planning essentially – and how to measure and analyze the outcomes.  Round it all out with great customer service and the occasional look at important trends and big new ideas.

Sounds like a great recipe for a winning ad agency, right?  Well….

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by AppNexus. With AppNexus Mobile Solutions, you can access more demand partners than ever, gain precision insight into your inventory’s pricing and attract the ad spend of the world’s largest advertisers.

The top of this post might once have described the cadence of a full service agency.  But today this kind of soup-to-nuts delivery of service is just as likely to come from a publisher. The agency business today is an embarrassment of niches:  one shop does the planning, another the buying, a third the digital, a trading desk takes on the program stuff.  Within a given holding company, there are even more agencies for creative, multicultural marketing, events, shopper marketing and more.  There are even agencies to help the client navigate all those other agencies.  Full service?  Not in decades.

Nature abhors a vacuum and so does a marketer.  The space where client/agency ‘partnerships’ used to grow is increasingly being harvested by media companies and platforms.  The idea isn’t new:  I wrote about it in this space back in 2010.   What’s changed, though, is the urgency and speed with which erstwhile sales organizations are stepping up to the plate.  Not surprising, though.  The availability of ad “inventory” has broken wide open and its relative value has fallen dramatically. To make a living – to stay alive – publishers had to find new ways to create value.  And those new ways look a lot like the old ways that agencies used to do it.

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Asking Y!

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Asking YI try not to spend too much time looking back at history in The Drift (unless you count the arcane references to jazz legends and ex-presidents).  But this week I want to use the space talking about the period of time during which Yahoo! ruled our world:  not out of a sense of gauzy nostalgia, but rather because the history illuminates very current truths about our business today and tomorrow.

I’m now in my 23rd year in the digital advertising and marketing business: I sold my first web ads the year Yahoo! was born but before it actually launched as a website.  So I’ve gotten to watch lots of cycles unfold, many companies rise and fall.  Those whose perceptions of Yahoo! were shaped during the Marissa Meyer era can’t imagine the sheer domination that the company once enjoyed.  Watching Yahoo! compete back then with the likes of MSN and a pre-Armstrong AOL was like watching the Harlem Globetrotters dismantle the Washington Generals for the umpteenth time.  (Yes, Yahoo! was at the same time providing a cozy incubator for Google’s nascent search business, but few in the business really imagined Google as a threat to Yahoo! at that point.)  Yahoo! was the center of gravity, the single most heavily trafficked page on the web.  It was hegemony writ large.  So what happened?

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by AppNexus. The AppNexus Publisher Suite helps maximize monetization for Publishers today with tomorrow’s technology through integrated, intelligent, and open ad serving and programmatic selling solutions.

Books have been written (and more surely will be) about the rise and demise of Yahoo!  So here, during the week of Yahoo’s fire-sale to Verizon, just a few thoughts.

The Founders Chose to Live in Middle Earth.  Jerry Yang and David Filo – but mostly Jerry Yang – neither fully committed to running the company forever (like Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook) nor ceded real control of the business operation to a competent outsider (as Sergey and Larry did with Eric Schmidt at Google.) This prevented the company from ever forming a real vision and started a parade of half-empowered CEOs and ambivalent decision making.

They Watched the Money and Not the Consumer.  In terms of advertising revenue, Yahoo! crushed it year after year.  This gave senior management too much freedom to muse and obsess about pet projects and the now-lost search battle with an emergent Google.  Had the company been under existential financial pressure, perhaps they would have gotten closer to their consumers and where they were really going in the near future.  A good crisis might have really helped.

Yahoo! Believed Tomorrow Would be a Bigger Version of Today.   Each generation thinks the next will be a slightly different version of their own:  a little more entitled, a little better with tech, a little less respectful, yada yada.  And at the height of its dominance during a business era, it’s natural for a company to see the future as a little more mobile, a little more social, a little more video-driven, yada yada.  Perhaps Yahoo! saw things this way? Perhaps they never considered a radically different world that ignored desktops and page views?

Yahoo! is now, in almost every sense, history.  But in its wake, let’s consider whether our own companies might be unwittingly walking the same path.

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Hidden Fees.

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Hidden FeesSo the ANA just dropped the other shoe.  But it looks like it’s falling right on the toes of the marketers themselves.

Last month in this space I posted “End of Days,” about the scathing 58-page report the ANA commissioned and released on the bad behavior and lack of transparency across ad agencies.  Now comes the second phase of the report, with a title that had to be written by a committee:  “Media Transparency: Prescriptions, Principles, and Processes for Advertisers.”  Since the name of the report sounds like such a snooze, let me sum it all up quickly:

#caveatemptor – let the buyer beware.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by AppNexus. The AppNexus Publisher Suite helps maximize monetization for Publishers today with tomorrow’s technology through integrated, intelligent, and open ad serving and programmatic selling solutions.

The inescapable conclusion here is that it’s up to the marketers themselves to police what they’re paying for and what they’re getting.  As AdExchanger put it so succinctly, “While advertisers believe their agencies are obliged to act in their best interests, agencies largely see their duties within the scope of a contract.” In other words, you can forget all that “partner” bullshit: the agency is running a business and does not infer a fiduciary responsibility to the customer.

The inclusion and emphasis on “fiduciary” is mine, and it’s an intentional bridge to the currently-broken relationship between consumers and financial advisers.  In case you missed it, national treasure John Oliver served up a breathtaking analysis of the hidden fees that are loaded into the typical investor relationship on HBO’s “Last Week Tonight.”  Most consumers wrongly infer that their financial analyst (or financial adviser or financial consultant or wealth manager or…there are a bunch of these) has a fiduciary duty to act in the investors best interests.  But when you read the fine print, only a very select and legally explicit subset of these advisers do.  It’s up to the consumer to ask hard questions, never assume anything, and ultimately take responsibility for what they are buying.

And so it is with marketers.  Who is going to help those marketers buy, inspect and verify the true and valuable audiences in which they’re investing their shareholders money…now that’s another story.  Will it be the same agencies and buying groups they savaged just four weeks ago?  Or is there an opportunity for publishers, technology and service companies to step into the void?  The answer may characterize what the buying of media looks like for at least the next decade.

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