Think the Unthinkable.

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If we’ve learned anything from the events of the past few months, it’s that nothing is inconceivable.

For those of us in digital marketing and advertising, the received wisdom has been that the march of ad tech would be relentless, inevitable and total; that we’d keep tracking and parsing and coding until we’d achieved targeting nirvana –a blissful utopia that combines the best aspects of Wall-E, Minority Report and The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.

But it’s time to consider a different scenario.  Perhaps everyone in the ad tech world should question our own inevitability. It may not play out this way, but staring at this alternate future may be the healthiest thing we can do right now.

Want to confront the dead internet marketing ideas and dated thinking that continues to plague our industry? That’s just what we’ll be doing at The Seller Forum on Wednesday, June 7th in New York. If you’re a qualified sales leader or manager, request your invitation today.

Lately it seems like our industry has been caught up in a tornado like the one in Wizard of Oz. Massive winds and floating debris…hey, there’s the advertisers who are pissed at YouTube!….more wind, more dust…publishers fuming about the Facebook/Google duopoly….shingles and farm animals flying past….there goes Pewdiepie giving the Nazi salute!…dust, wind….fake news!

What brought the whole mess into sharp relief for me was the masterful screed on Doc Searls Weblog, “Brands Need to Fire Ad Tech.” If you’re a publisher who feels like you’ve been taking it on the chin for a long time, this guy is a populist arguing for a return to a better time. If you’re an ad tech true believer (or someone who’s bet a lot of money on ad tech winning) you may dismiss him as a dinosaur or a dreamer or the guy talking to himself on the street. But in any case you’ve got to read this. And then read it again. Among the key points:

  • Adtech sucks at branding. Hundreds of $billions have been spent on adtech so far, and not one brand known to the world has come out of it.
  • Yes, it works, about .0x% of the time, on average. The other 99.9x% of the time it produces nothing but negative externalities, including lots of tendentious math by agencies and platforms to justify the expense. Among those externalities are subtracted value from brands themselves.
  • Adtech’s rationalizations are all around putting the “right message in front of the right people at the right time,” and aiming those messages with spyware-harvested Big Data. Both of those are direct marketing purposes, not those of brand advertising. The difference is stark, absolute, and essential for everyone to understand.

Ouch! Hard to read. But Doc has seized the high ground. And there are plenty who will rally to this flag.

Do I think we’re going to see some kind of apocalyptic Day After scenario, where the whole ad tech machine comes crumbling down? No. But I think we should consider the Atlas Shrugged scenario.  What if all quality news organizations, publishers, reputable entertainment companies, and brand marketers simple dropped out? What if they circled the wagons and said “We don’t want that internet anymore…we want our own?” What if they left the rest of the web to its own devices — and vices — and simply let it run its course?

Or maybe it will be like A Christmas Carol: Confronted with a bleak future, we change for the better.

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