Online Advertising News

The Presence of Joey G.

It seemed like Joe Gallagher had a million friends.  And logic tells me that, while I was his friend, I was certainly not his best friend.  Yet somehow, he always made me feel like I was.  If you knew Joey G at all, I’m sure you can identify with this feeling.

To those not lucky enough to have bent an elbow or shared a laugh with Joe, he was a presence in our business over the last 20 years, most recently leading sales for Digital Remedy and before that in a half dozen high profile media jobs.  In late July, while on vacation in Wisconsin, Joe was the passenger in a single car accident and died.  Suddenly, shockingly, and – needless to say – far too soon.

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I wanted to find some way of honoring and remembering our friend.  The best way to do that is to talk about the man’s presence, which his absence calls into such stark relief.  Joey G had presence, and he had it in spades.  First, let’s talk about the sport coats — loud, bold and a little off color, much like the man himself.  Joey G talked a little louder, laughed a little harder and hugged a little tighter than one might anticipate.  His jokes and stories were more animated and drawn out than we often see in today’s world of ironic tweets.  And he smiled with his entire face – the happiest most welcoming smile imaginable.  Presence.

But there was another important aspect to the presence of Joey G. He was always present.  It didn’t matter if you hadn’t seen each other in a year or had spoken 30 minutes ago, Joey G was always completely there for you.  Attentive, interested, focused.  When you talked with Joey G, you were the only person in the world in that moment.  He didn’t just listen, he listened generously.  In an age where we’ve all got one eye glued to our phones and are paying half-attention to one another, perhaps the best way to honor Joey G is to follow his example.  We can all decide to listen and be present for those in our lives.  We can decide to put away our phones and truly hear and understand those who are important to us.  And we can live our decisions.

Joe leaves behind his wife, Patty, and three children.  His colleagues at Digital Remedy and the IAB are hosting a tuition fundraiser for Joe’s kids next week at Ben & Jack’s in Manhattan, his favorite haunt. Space is limited at the event, but you can still make a donation to support the family of a great man, a man who was one of our own.   If you’d like to make some other kind of donation to the cause, just email me and I’ll be happy to put you in touch with the right people. 

The last time I got to feel the presence of Joey G was at our Seller Forum event back in June.  We shared a drink and more than a few laughs at the post-Forum networking reception, which we’ll be informally renaming “The Joe Gallagher Happy Hour” in his honor.  Well also be donating part of the proceeds from the event to the scholarship fund.

Joe Gallagher may no longer be with us, but the presence of Joey G can live on through each of us. Just listen a little longer, laugh a little louder, and hug a little tighter.


Right Hand…Meet Left Hand!

I’m not generally inclined to comment in this space on the decisions of any particular company, but the events of the past two weeks at Microsoft have left me anxious and mystified.  But it turns out Microsoft probably already knew that and may soon be sending me ads for drugs to combat my anxiety and mystification.

Let’s start at the beginning.  Microsoft was among the scores of companies who were shoulder to shoulder with the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) on the issue of consumer “tracking.”  Oversimplifying the seemingly shared position, these groups were opposed to any legal or technical imposition of a “Do Not Track” function on browsers:  the preferred remedies for protection of consumer privacy were self-regulation and education of the consumer around the choice they could make about whether or not to “opt out” of having their behavior observed and saved by websites and advertising companies.  Everything was hunky-dory until Microsoft went off the reservation and announced that the next version of Internet Explorer (IE10) would have “Do Not Track” as its default setting.


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The pocket protectors in Redmond seriously blindsided online ad companies (including perhaps their own MSN division) with this swift 180 degree turn.  Damage control by the IAB and others was just as swift:  Disappointing but not fatal….IE is only a portion of the market…etc. To me it seemed like a calculated business and policy decision:  by seizing the flag of consumer privacy protection Microsoft gives its flagging browser – and new Windows 8 platform – a much needed competitive boost.  If that’s the case, I understand the move (even though I’m deducting style points for their handling of the decision.)

But then there was today’s news:  “Microsoft Files Patent to Serve Ads Based on Mood, Body Language.” The story in Advertising Age states that this amounts to an “…advertising engine that gauges people’s emotional states based on their search queries, emails, instant messages and use of online games, as well as facial expressions, speech patterns and body movements.”  At this point I’m starting to back slowly out of the room.  But what’s actually in the patent application itself is even more over the top:

Weight-loss product advertisers may not want their advertisement to appear to users that are very happy. Because, a person that is really happy is less likely to purchase a self-investment product that leverages on his or her shortcomings. But a really happy person may purchase electronic products or vacation packages. No club or party advertisers want to appear when the user is sad or crying. When the user is emotionally sad, advertisements about club parties would not be appropriate and may seem annoying or negative to the user.

Ew. I think I just threw up a little bit in my mouth.

I’m not an online privacy zealot, but it’s impossible not to find this more than a little creepy.  But to see these ideas in print from a company that’s also presenting its browser as the consumer privacy standard…that’s hard to stomach.  I’d love to hear reader thoughts and also to hear from someone at Microsoft on how they square these two seemingly conflicting ideas.

Don’t Be Evil, Revisited.

Like just about every other conscious human, I’m passionately ambivalent about Google these days.  So yesterday’s New York Times Article (“Google to Face Congressional Antitrust Hearing”) caught my eye.   Because while consumers, congress, and the business press like westerns featuring white hats vs. black hats, Google has become the kind of anti-hero that Sam Peckinpah would have loved.

First, the stuff that Congress is starting to notice.  The Times article made comparisons to the long-ago Microsoft anti-trust action.  While that would make the kind of neat storyline (“They’re spiking the search results to favor their own businesses!”) that Congress and Cable news anchors love, this mid-90s melodrama doesn’t play the same anymore.  For one thing, while companies like Yelp may be be crying foul, there are both other search options (seriously) and a behemoth competitor to act as a counterbalance (see “Facebook.”)

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This is not to say, however, that both consumers and players in the online advertising ecosystem shouldn’t have very serious concerns about Google’s battle plan for hegemony.  They absolutely should.

Recently at an event hosted by Evidon, I moderated a panel featuring actual civilians — consumers — about issues relating to privacy.  In preparing for the discussion, I pre-interviewed and polled the panelists about their level of paranoia about various companies.  Concern about Google was middling — mostly 3s on a 5 point scale.  But when I later pointed out that Google also owned DoubleClick, one of the principal companies that helped direct the placement of ads on the web, most panelists wanted to restate their scores and raise their level of concern.  How long before consumers start to connect the dots between Google/Click and G-Mail (knows what I write), YouTube (knows what I watch), Android (knows where I am and what I’m searching for locally) and Zagat (knows what I want to eat)?   Does a nation in love with conspiracy theories really just keep blowing kisses to Mountain View?

There’s a corollary agenda of concern for those engaged in online marketing:  the linkage of Google-Adwords-Adsense-YouTube-DoubleClick-Invite Media-Motorola-…??   Are the value of monthly Adsense checks and predictable DART ad deliveries fair compensation for a world in which Google’s control of “the ad stack” is virtually absolute?  Google’s now famous (and famously ironic) watch-phrase “Don’t Be Evil” is irrelevant now.  They are a corporation and corporations for better or worse perpetuate their interests.  And those who would expect government action to level the playing field are living in a fantasy realm.  Google’s hegemony will only be checked by smart companies making active decisions about their own options and choices.  And that’s probably as American and capitalist as it gets.

I will be keynoting two important events next month.  On Thursday, October 6th, you’ll find me kicking off Admonsters’ OPS New York event.  And on Thursday, October 13th I’ll be hosting PubMatic’s AdRevenue 4 Premium Publisher Conference at the Times Center in Manhattan.  I hope that you’ll look into both.

Agency, Heal Thyself.

This week a good friend sent a provocative Ad Age article around to several people in the industry; the topic was marketers’ new-found tendency to throw their agencies under the bus.  (“In Pressure Cooker, Marketers Lay Blame on Advertising.”)

As I read through the many complaints about this or that client publicly dissing the work of their agencies, a thought occurred to me:

This wouldn’t be happening if Hal Riney were alive.  Or Martin Sorrell, for that matter.

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The simple truth is that in the relentless pursuit of margin growth and short term victories to drive cash flow, agencies long ago stopped defining themselves.  No, the good old days were never really as good as we remember them, but you can’t dispute that in past decades ad agencies had personalities.  Some were defined by the “strong man” who led them:  Riney, Jerry Della Femina, Jay Chiat, Bill Bernbach. (In at least one case – Mary Wells Lawrence – a “strong woman.”)  McCann Erickson was “Truth Well Told” and Doyle Dane Bernbach regularly put out strong, stark creative messages that were – for the time – rather shocking.

Today I think it would be difficult for many agency employees to accurately and simply describe the DNA of the place they work.  What are the true hallmarks of an OMD, a UMI, an MEC?  Perhaps Digitas and Razorfish and Starcom all have well-defined characters – but how many of us understand them? Indeed, it’s now the rare shop that rises above the sea of anonymity and sameness.  Like, for instance, Crispin Porter Bogusky.  Say what you will about the creative excesses of the place (the creepy Burger King dude, e.g.), but CPB has a sense of swagger….and they don’t ever seem to be hurting for work.

If agencies allow themselves to be seen as temporary commerce hubs – routers for ad messages and billings – then they are complicit in their own commoditization.  I started my career at an agency (albeit early in the first Reagan term) and have spent many years prowling their halls.  And I can’t help but think that a shop with a strong sense of itself would not be so easily pushed around.

I welcome and encourage all the comments I’m going to get about how I’m wrong about this or that agency, or how my views are hopelessly naïve and dated.   But all I ask is that my agency friends circulate this post internally and allow it to provoke an important discussion:  Are you, in fact, only as good as the accounts you have on contract right now?  Or is there something more you to which you can aspire?

A Very Good Thing.

Those who’ve been in one of my workshops may remember me saying that three qualities make for a very effective seller:  focus, impact and generosityFocus helps you understand where your time and efforts are best spent – where you really can make a difference.  Impact is something you lay out as a challenge to yourself – I want to do enough to really make a difference.  And generosity is one of those counterintuitive notions that turns out to be truly liberating; the best sellers (along with the best executives and, for that matter, the best people) don’t tally the score after every action – they know that doing good for those you serve always comes back.  These three are the major components of a great career…and a very good life.

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Today on a golf course up in Westchester County, Upstream Group and a dozen other companies from the digital media and technology worlds are gathering to raise funds for the TD Foundation, and I’m thinking a lot about focus, impact and generosity.  For those unfamiliar with the cause, TD was founded by good friend and fellow industry veteran Tom Deierlein, who was recalled to service as a Captain in the Army Rangers in 2005 after more than a dozen years of civilian life.  For the first several months of his deployment as a civil affairs officer in the slums of Sadr City, Tom saw need and brought focus, impact and generosity to the situation.  It started with the e-mails:  These Iraqi kids could really use school supplies, soccer balls, vitamins…. Instantly Tom was the personal link between our high-flying industry and the realities of service and horrors of war.   He was to become so much more.

In September 2007 Tom and his unit came under sniper fire and he was seriously wounded.  When I visited him at Walter Reed Medical Center a few weeks later, one of the first things he said was “Doug, we’ve got to keep this thing going.”  After weeks of being totally immobilized and many months of painful and difficult therapy, Tom never stopped thinking about the school children and families in Iraq who still needed help getting through the day.  The TD Foundation was created with a mission to provide medical transportation and family support to wounded and critically ill children in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and to continue providing the day to day necessities – school supplies, soccer balls and vitamins! – that make life better in an immediate and measurable way.

The generosity part of this story is self-evident.  But what I really love about being involved with Tom and the TD Foundation is the focus and impact they bring to so many life-changing situations.  Recently Tom got a call on his cell phone from a relief organization desperate to get medical transportation to the United States for a badly burned Iraqi child. “Great…no problem.  Where should I send the check?”  No layers, no committees, just help right now.  This is a good thing.  A very good thing.

So I’m using today’s Drift to raise both money and awareness for Tom and the TD Foundation.  There are several thousand people who receive content notification of this blog every week, and at least half again as many who are getting it through syndication or referral.  Take $10, $20 – the amount doesn’t matter – and put it in an envelope to TD Foundation, 38 Hamilton Place, Garden City, New York, 11530. (Be sure to write “Drift” on the notation line.)   Or donate online.  Or send me a personal e-mail and I’ll make sure you get connected.

I’m handing Tom a check today and I’m going to feel really great about that.  I hope you’ll enjoy the same feeling.  Thank you.