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Web 25: News, Speech and Advertising


Late October will mark the 25th anniversary of advertising on the Web. Having been part of the team that ushered in those first primitive digital ads in 1994, I’ll be using this space in the intervening weeks to explore the fulfillment, failure and future of the web’s marketing and social promise. This week: News, Speech and Advertising.

It seems that we’ve been talking about the web’s role in the demise of the news business from day one.  As the familiar narrative goes, more consumer time, attention and news-viewing migrated away from printed newspapers and news magazines while simultaneously the three advertising pillars of print journalism – auto sales, classifieds and real estate – were reinvented by digital entrepreneurs. Through the lens of gauzy nostalgia, it’s easy to see this as a two-character tragedy.

It’s more accurate, however, to view it as a much more complex three-character drama. While the web was taking its first tentative steps as a commercial news and information medium in the fall of 1994, OJ Simpson’s white Bronco had just been brought to a stop, Fox News was just about to be invented, and the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was being busily drafted and lobbied. The mid-90s was when the full-time media spectacle, the idea of news as entertainment and the end of rules preventing consolidated media ownership all converged.

Kind of makes you stop thinking of the web as the wrecking ball of newspapers and more as the savior of actual news.

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Two of the promises of digital technology and web publishing were the democratization of news gathering and the preservation of transparency. To a significant degree, these promises have been kept. But it’s complicated.

It’s legitimate to mourn the demise of so many print newspapers and the thinning of their staffs (and closing of bureaus) as they’ve moved to digital distribution. And we can also lament the devolution of cable news into a bottomless pit of rancorous talking heads stoking the partisan furnace. At the same time we can see a generation of young – and not-so-young journalists building their own identities and news credentials via blogs, Twitter, self-publishing and story updates no longer dependent on print deadlines. Somewhat ironically, those same correspondents are increasingly sought out to fill open hours on cable news programming, thereby amplifying the signal on what they write and report.

But is advertising revenue – what you and I do for a living – making a positive contribution to the present and future of news and speech? That’s even more complicated. While brands are often willing to sponsor big, high-profile publishing projects along with news organizations, day-to-day media buyers are blacklisting news related content. In the name of brand safety, we’re saying no to the climate change adjacency and yes to another cat video.

Advertisers aren’t necessarily responsible for the direct support of journalism and free speech. But blanket avoidance of content that’s so persistently important and present in the lives of the customer is a moral and strategic failure. Bringing brands and advertising budgets back into natural, healthy alignment with news and journalism is an unfinished job. Here’s hoping our greatest brands step up and step in.


Web 25: Did We Change Advertising?


Late October will mark the 25th anniversary of advertising on the Web. Having been part of the team that ushered in those first primitive digital ads in 1994, I’ll be using this space in the intervening weeks to explore the fulfillment, failure and future of the web’s marketing and social promise. This week: The impact of digital on the practice of advertising.

As Internet Advertising started to find its legs in 1995-96, there was a fair bit of handwringing among those who took it’s still-uncertain future seriously. Like the re purposed radio shows that comprised early 1950s television programming, advertising on the web was derivative of its predecessor forms. The first banners were tiny outdoor ads. As bandwidth expanded and boxes got bigger, on-page ads started to resemble magazine advertising. Streaming ushered in progressively longer, faster, higher-fidelity TV ads. But to re-purpose the inimitable Peggy Lee, Is that all there is?

Yes and no.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Permutive, the data management platform built for publishers. When Entrepreneur Media realized their existing data management platform was only targeting 20% of their audience, they switched to Permutive. Find out why they switched DMP before their existing contract ended in our upcoming webinar.

As it turns out, the sight/sound/motion of TV Ads…. pretty….pretty good!  Staying within the classic definition of advertising, video seems to make everybody happy. The consumer appetite for digital video – ad supported and otherwise – seems bottomless. It doesn’t replace the mythic reach of the Big 4 Network/TV age, but it’s as significant as most anything out there today. And advertisers have stepped up.  Aside from the occasional YouTube/brand safety kerfuffle, they seem to want to buy just about whatever is available.

So did we change advertising?  Yes, we took the historic TV model of video ads accompanying content and made it more targetable and accountable, and put it – literally – in the hand of the consumer via the mobile device. Have we yet fulfilled the potential that digital technology enables?

Not yet.

While the popularity and profit of the video advertising model will keep us all well-fed for many years, the ultimate change in advertising will be its full immersion in, and submission to, business and commerce. Digital technology and communication have rendered the old barriers between hearing, learning, considering, choosing and buying obsolete. And while we’ve made some brief nods toward blending ads and commerce, our goal has always been more accountable advertising… an improved status quo.

The real change will be when we don’t think of it as advertising at all, but rather as just an early stage in the commercial relationship. The tech is there. So far, the will is not. But real change is inevitable.


My Mother’s Son.


I was holding my 91-year-old Mom’s hand when she died on Saturday.  And today I’m going to use my tiny bit of weekly attention to make her just a little more famous. She deserves that. Of course this has nothing to do with digital advertising or sales; just a whole lot about real greatness and the resilience of the human spirit.

Pat Weaver was born during the first years of passenger aviation and commercial radio and died during the age of paid space travel and YouTube celebrities. She was a child of the Great Depression, a World War II teenager and an 18-year old bride and mother of five during the postwar years of the baby boom. She did what needed to be done, often at the expense of her own personal opportunities, but always with a sense of joy and optimism. The wife of a Sheriff’s deputy, she always worked at least one job – often two – and was the stable daily presence in the lives of her sons.

She started adult life with a high school diploma, a marriage license and a one-way train ticket from her native Louisiana to Los Angeles. (That’s the trip she’s on in the picture at left.) Perhaps because of this, she became a lifelong learner, earning college credits for decades and writing out copious notes and journal entries on what fascinated her. And everything fascinated her. She faced down cancer and battled clinical depression and mental illness. And though she came age when such things were not to be discussed, she became an advocate for and friend to others who struggled to heal. Nobody suffered alone on my Mom’s watch. Nobody.

During an age that was not particularly kind to women, my Mom was unfailingly kind. In the face of adversity and loss, she chose resilience and optimism. During the final years of life, when many become isolated and despondent, Pat decided to embrace her life and every new person who came on the scene. Anonymous for three quarters of a century, she made her first movie at the tender age of 88. Through resilience and optimism and unquenchable joy, she won. She won big.

If something I’ve written or said to you over the years has made you feel more hopeful or confident – if I’ve helped you somehow – that’s all her. Her being there for me gave me the strength to be there for others.

As anyone would, I love getting awards and hearing praise. But the best thing that will every be said about me is that I was my mother’s son. Living up to that would be my greatest accomplishment. I’ll let you know if I ever get there.

If you are so moved, please consider donating to Mental Health America in the name of someone who inspires you.  And thanks for reading a little bit about my Mom.


So Long, My Friend.


While I always write The Drift from a very personal point of view, over the last 18 years I’ve perhaps only used this space three times to speak about something truly personal. This is one of those rare occasions.

I invite each of you reading this post to think of someone in your career who somehow changed its course. For me, that guy was Ed Gazich, and he died last Friday. I wish you all could have known him.

As a 22-year old college student I interned at a regional ad agency south of Los Angeles where I met Ed, 25 years my senior but with the outlook and enthusiasm of a teenager. On my very first day at the shop, Ed took me under his wing and – quite simply – made me fall in love with the advertising business. A seasoned “account guy,” Ed started his career in the halcyon days of the 1960s, working legendary campaigns for Volkswagen at Doyle Dane Bernbach. When we met, he and his wife Barbara were the kind of fully-committed Californians that only ex-New Yorkers can be. But he was my connection to Madison Avenue and the golden age of creative. Before advertising was a science – perhaps even before it was a business – it was a creative playground informed by art and Hollywood and commerce and real-world experiences. It was all bigger than life, and so was Ed Gazich. The stories of legendary pitches melded into celebrity commercial shoots and always seemed to end with side-splitting laughter. Our business could use some of those stories today.

Like many kids in their 20s, I was adrift and wondering what the hell I would do with my life. Ed and Barbara’s house in Laguna Beach was my second home, and over cold Dos Equis (our account) we’d talk about the future and what might be. On one of those endless evenings, Ed was the one who told me I’d be a very good magazine rep – the exact conversation that started me on the path that brought me here. Without Ed Gazich and his kindness to a clueless kid from suburban LA, maybe I don’t end up here, writing and sharing with you. There’s no way to know. But I do know that my life is less interesting and my passion for advertising is less intense without him.

In recent years, our friendship continued mainly over email. To the end, Ed never stopped sharing his humor and stories and railing about what was not right in the world. He talked too loud, told jokes that were not always appropriate, laughed from the bottom of his feet and shared anything and everything he had.

Why am I telling you all this? Because not all who make a difference end up recognized and eulogized. Because this was a life that mattered, and that had a profound and lasting influence on mine. Because as I try to share completely with those I teach and mentor, I know that I learned some of that from a guy named Ed Gazich.

You should have known him. He’d have loved you.


The End of ‘Advertising.’


Accountable direct response ad sellers would often say “Selling is like shaving: if you don’t do some of it every day, you’re a bum.” It was a handy way for DR sellers to contrast their work with that of the ad sellers out there peddling branding – which they dismissed as no more than a con.

But today the slogan takes on a deeper meaning for all ad sellers, publishers, tech and marketing service providers. The jig is up, the news is out, the fatted calf has been picked clean. For generations, we’ve organized our businesses and revenue models around helping advertisers and their legion of agencies spend their money… perhaps a little more accountably, responsibly, efficiently or viewably than the next guy. We’ve all been citizens of ‘the Capital-A-Ad Business,’ and we spoke its language and observed its customs. But no more.

Is your sales team describing instead of selling? You win business one serious, well-planned meeting at a time. Can your team do that? A strategic digital sales workshop with Doug Weaver and Upstream Group is easier and more cost-effective than you’d imagine. Reach out now. The consult is free.

Fundamental change doesn’t always break down the door. Often it creeps in on tiny cat feet. And while we were busy arguing and negotiating over how much of that big pile of ad money would go to digital or TV or something else, marketers have been under siege from direct-to-consumer competitors, a collapsing retail channel, online shopping and more. In the face of this existential crisis, they’ve fallen out of love with advertising.

Well… to put a finer point on it, they’ve fallen out of love with advertising for the sake of advertising.

Which leads me back to the new premise. Today we must all help the marketer sell – we must attach ourselves to business outcomes, become co-marketers…lest we be dismissed as bums. To survive and thrive in what used to be called the ad sales business we must all go back to school and become fluent in the language and customs of marketing. Someday soon our talk of rating points, viewability and attribution will sound as anachronistic as the Latin mass.

The 21st century ad seller is a business problem solver. She doesn’t wait for budgets, she helps create them. She avoids the watering hole where the herd gathers for RFPs and planning cycles. She hunts alone. She knows more about how the client’s business works – how he sells his products, who he sells them through and what gets them bought – than anyone but the client.

She sells. Every day. But she doesn’t sell ads. She helps the customer sell product.

Lightly edited, this post originally ran in 2017. Perhaps more relevant still today.