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It may be just me, but the wind seems to be changing and radical ideas are afloat.

We’re now two weeks removed from the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting in Florida where President/CEO Randall Rothenberg blistered the crowd with a Jeremiad that was both bracing and very, very clear.  I’ll paraphrase:

This thing of ours has gotten pretty fucked up.  And if you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem.

This thing of ours, of course, is digital advertising and marketing.  And he’s right.  The very fact that the head of your industry organization is giving a speech called “Repair the Trust” tells you a lot.  Sure, we’ve had areas of disagreement and mushy standards for much of the last two decades.  But when the subjects were arcane things like terms & conditions, viewability and margin transparency, most of us just kept our eyes down and pushed our food around the plate.  Avoidance and obfuscation was a perfectly reasonable strategy.

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But no longer.  Because now the issue is fake news.  Remember that kid sitting in his kitchen in Macedonia pumping out fake news stories about Obama’s love child or the Papal endorsement of the Trump campaign?  Turns out we were collectively paying him.  Ouch.

The rotten system that blindly rewards page views and ad calls and shares has become the intravenous feeding tube for parasitic monsters who may realistically render the concept of truth itself irrelevant.  Fake traffic and fraudulent video numbers were bad.  Fake truth and moral relativism are much, much worse.

Randall made it very clear when he said “It’s time to get out of the fake anything business.”   Yes.  We are only as good and as moral as who our system pays and what it pays for.  Without ethical clarity, the next $50 billion in digital advertising revenue will be just so much drug money.  And each one of us has a part to play in making sure it’s not.

You see, our business is really just an average of the behaviors of our best and worst players.  It’s time to bring back the concept of shame.  If you employ the highest standards as a publisher, talk about them.  If you demand the highest standards as an advertiser, pay for them.  And whoever you are, get off the line and pick a side.

The world is watching.

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Ad Blocking and True Things.

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Ad blocking and True ThingsI’m not in Cannes this week, but I’m following the news and views from here on the rocky coast of Maine.  Like this recap of the ad blocking panel led by IAB President and CEO Randall Rothenberg.  I paid particular attention to this one because in the recent past I’ve admired Randy’s full-throated call-out of ad blocking companies as pirates, parasites, extortionists and worse.  In defense of publisher revenues and security, he goes full Heisenberg, and that’s as it should be.

The Cannes panel — “Block You: Why World Class Creativity Will Obliterate Ad Blocking” – focused not so much on the miscreants of ad blocking, but on how the Don Drapers of the world will begin rendering ads that are so targeted and creative and desirable that ad blocking will be rendered moot.   The tipping point – highlighted in the article’s headline – is the abomination that is the current state of mobile advertising.  Whatever problems we had on the desktop will only get much worse as attention and time shift to the smallest screen.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Krux. Krux helps more than 180 of the world’s leading media companies and marketers grow revenue and deepen consumer engagement through more relevant, more valuable content, commerce, and media experiences. Industry analysts have repeatedly named Krux a leader and visionary in the data management space, citing its agility, innovation, and independence. Download the reports today to learn more.

Two things can be true at the same time:  yes, ad blockers are opportunistic d-bags and yes, we also need to do a better and more imaginative job of helping marketers engage consumers regardless of what screen they’re glued to.  But since we’re doing all this truth-telling, let’s add a couple more.

True thing number three is that ad blocking is just one of the many symptoms of a digital ad business built on the flawed premise of unlimited supply – the idea that more ads in more places is always part of the answer. As I posted in this space last October, we’ve had 20 years of infinite growth in page views, ad calls and impressions, and today none of it’s all that impressive.  Today’s business is plagued by non-viewable impressions, fraud, ad blocking and the perception of agency sleight of hand that drove the recent ANA/K2 Transparency report.  It might just be time for us to consider a business that leverages scarcity instead.

The final true thing is that the answer to too much advertising isn’t just better advertising. I’ve argued that we’re entering a fundamentally new era in which ‘advertising’ has become a low-value cost center – a commodity whose expense is to be managed by unsentimental procurement people.  It’s not time to fix advertising; it’s time to reinvent our approach to creating value for marketers and consumers…to work with the entire palette of marketing disciplines and tools.

The day we all embrace post-advertising strategy and creativity is the day ad blocking becomes completely irrelevant.

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The Four P’s of Excellence.

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The Four P's of ExcellenceWe naturally exalt success. Another great quarter…another deal won…achieving one more big number after another. But even as we congratulate one another on ‘crushing it,’ we can’t see that it’s crushing us. Success can be thrilling, but in the end it taxes and burns out and disempowers the sellers and organizations we count on.

On Sunday I spoke at the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting about what might help our industry achieve the next $50 billion in marketer spending. I focused on creating cultures of sales excellence, and I broke it down to the four characteristics those cultures must include. We all know the four P’s of marketing – price, place, product and promotion; I’m suggesting the four P’s of digital sales excellence:

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Krux. Independent research has named the Krux DMP industry leader in strategy, citing its agility, innovation, and independence. Krux helps marketers, publishers, and agencies deliver more valuable consumer experiences, growing revenue and deepening engagement. More than 160 clients rely on Krux worldwide, achieving 10x or higher ROI. Download the report today to learn more.

Process. Every one of our companies has detailed processes for engineering, workflow, finance and more. But we cling to the idea that sales is somehow different; that just getting in front of the customer and talking is enough. It’s not. Process makes average sellers productive and helps great sellers soar. If you don’t have a uniform process and order to the way your people sell, you are handicapping them.

Practice. I’ve written about this concept before. Culturally, we are an industry that focuses almost exclusively on the games, and almost never on the practices. Sales managers are not patiently walking reps through the structure and content of client conversations in advance. The worst place to hone your skill is in front of the client. It’s what we do when the crowd’s not watching that matters most.

Pathos. This is the Greek word for ‘emotion’ and it’s missing from far too many of our client discussions. Embracing pathos means that we’re speaking to the important business situation facing our customers: the missing customer, the encroaching competitor, the ticking clock. Without an urgent business narrative, our products and stories have no immediacy or weight.

Point-of-View. Culturally, we are all very client centric. We ask our customers what they need and we fill out their RFPs. But in the name or service, we’ve become servants. As sales organizations, we’ve got to start taking positions. What we think and what we want for the customer are the beginning of account leadership. And in wide open era of digital marketing that’s ahead, our customers very much want to be led. If we don’t’ accept the challenge, someone else will.

Process. Practice. Pathos. Point-of-View. Simple, elegant and critical. I believe 2016 must be the year of digital sales excellence if we are ever to approach the levels of success that are ours for the earning.

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The Next $50 Billion.

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The Next $50 BillionNext month I’ll be speaking as part of opening night at the IAB’s Annual Leadership Meeting in Palm Desert, and I’m particularly intrigued by the theme of the conference: “The Next $50 Billion.” Having been on the IAB board back when we celebrated our first million (with an m) dollar year, I can tell you that $50 Billion was not something any of us could have visualized. Yet here we are.

No doubt there will be talk about how the industry prepares to ingest all that new money and about where it will come from. We’ll debate how much will be run programmatically and how data and personalization will drive and shape the spending. But I’ve got a simple question to overlay on the theme: How will we earn the next $50 Billion?

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Krux. Independent research has named the Krux DMP industry leader in strategy, citing its agility, innovation, and independence. Krux helps marketers, publishers, and agencies deliver more valuable consumer experiences, growing revenue and deepening engagement. More than 160 clients rely on Krux worldwide, achieving 10x or higher ROI. Download the report today to learn more.

Anyone who is simply counting on the realignment of advertising budgets to create that number will be sorely disappointed. While many of us romanticize advertising by binge-watching MadMen and staying glued to all the Super Bowl commercials, the reality is that to marketers advertising is a cost center: that’s why procurement gets called in to help manage that cost down. As I wrote earlier this year in my essay for the University of Florida’s Captivate program, we will unlock the next $50 billion “…only by confronting the truth that advertising in a digital world matters most when it least resembles advertising.” Brand want to come in out of the cold, damp world of ‘advertising’ and to bask in the warm sunlight of the consumer’s full attention. We have the keys in our hands to unlock that scenario. But first we must unlock our own imaginations.

The other thing I believe about the next $50 billion is that it will be spent with the companies and individuals who consistently operate “left of budget.” As the perceived importance of advertising shrinks, those waiting to feed at the trough of the ad budget will go hungry. Those who organize their work around major business, marketing and sales issues will be fed by a wide variety of budgets: sales promotion, CRM, public relations, research and more. To paraphrase Alec Baldwin’s soliloquy in Glengarry Glen Ross, “There’s money out there gents. If you earn it it’s yours. If you don’t, I got no sympathy for you.”

Are you a sales leader going to the Annual Leadership Meeting? Save your spot at the first ever Sales Leadership Summit at IAB ALM, Tuesday January 26th, lunch through dinner. Then save your company’s seats at each of the 2016 Seller Forums by purchasing your season pass. Put the wisdom of the crowd to work for your company and your sales team.

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The Wolf of Madison Avenue.

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The Wolf of Madison AvenueBack on February 10th I wrote a post from the floor of the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting all about “The F Word.”  That F Word, of course, being “Fraud.”   Seemingly out of nowhere, the topic came to dominate the conversation.  We stopped using polite-sounding code words like “transparency” and “openness” and finally started calling our shared addiction by its real name.  But that was just one industry insider conference, right?  Not much could come of that.

Until this week.  Now Fraud is the new black.

On Sunday, Suzanne Vranica’s article (“A Crisis in Online Ads:  One Third of Traffic is Bogus”) hit the pages of The Wall Street Journal.  And just yesterday, Ad Age published “Digital Ad Fraud is Rampant.  Here’s Why So Little Has Been Done About It” by Alex Kantrowitz.  Can a spirited debate on The View be far off?

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But lest we think this is just a bad news cycle or a problem we can conveniently blame on Russian mobsters (Seriously:  they’re in the mix.  Really!) it’s time we all grew up and admitted to the gravity of the problem and what got us here in the first place.  Sure, one could argue that this little Internet of ours has done pretty well.  $50 billion is nothing to sneeze at.  But it’s an empire built at least in part on drug money.  We may not be in the dacha with Ivan and Dmitri, but we’re the ones who have turned a blind eye to the situation; the ones who politely avoided the hard questions.

And our collective margin call couldn’t come at a worse time.  With brand advertisers, things are just starting to tip, and the future of video advertising is very much a jump ball.  At just this moment we give every one of those marketers a reason to hold back a few years longer – or maybe forever.

What to do?  Read the articles. Educate yourself.  Have an opinion.  And realize that a line is being drawn between those who are the problem and those who are the solution.  If you buy from thieves – wittingly or not – then you are on the wrong side of that line.  We’ve met the Wolf of Madison Avenue, and too often he is us.

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