False Choices.

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This week’s Drift was prompted by Andy Atherton’s recent post on the Brand.net blog (“An Inconvenient Truth”) in which he explores the polarity that remains between “brand campaigns” and “audience buying.”  One phrase in particular caught my eye:

In order for the real-time digital ad infrastructure to be complete, it needs native support for branding that is sadly lacking today.

It occurs to me that being asked to support one approach over the other is just one of many false choices we are confronted with in digital marketing today.  As Andy so rightly points out, real-time bidding, trading desks, demand platforms and all the rest will fall short if they’re not able to perform within the kind of brand relationship content environments that marketers really crave.  If, on the other hand, all we do is pick through the content sludge with ever finer grades of mesh to find the occasional “targeted customer” then we will quickly lose the hearts of brands.

A client of mine who’d formerly been a brand manager shared with me the top misconceptions that advertising people have about brand managers.  Chief among them is that the brand manager doesn’t really care about the brand, only about the short term performance that will get them promoted to the next brand.  Not true, says my client:  brand managers care deeply about brand health, vitality and credibility.  They rightly understand that the durability and perception of that brand is it’s value….it’s what will make a consumer pay a premium for it over a generic competitor.

The other false choice that presents itself is the choice between “brand safety” and “scale.”  In fact, “brand safety” is too low of a bar and has the potential to become a haven for scoundrels.  Agencies, instead of simply trying to filter out ‘objectionable content,’ look instead to help lead brands into a redefinition of content value.  Instead of counting cuss words, we’d be taking stock of things like environmental loyalty, vibrancy of social interaction, portion of the content that’s original (or audience generated) vs. licensed.   “Brand safety” panders to fear;  environmental power serves so much more of what a brand needs to truly thrive in the digital age.

It’s time for even the staunchest advocates of “brand” to rethink the language and refocus the debate.  And it’s time for all of us to stop offering the marketer yet another set of false choices.

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