advertising

Adaptation.


The world has already changed. The scientists have invented, the consumers have decided, the marketers are voting with their checkbooks. It’s only us – those who sell and buy advertising – who cling to anachronistic systems and practices.

Reading that first paragraph you may think I missed the programmatic decade. I didn’t.

Programmatic automation of commodity media buying was the asteroid that struck our genteel, structured world, forever changing the climate for agencies and publishers alike. But a dozen years after the big programmatic strike, most agencies and publishers still have the automation walled off and operating in its own island ecosystem. Meanwhile, the principal members of the tribe – the expensive sellers, buyers, creatives, account managers and others – have resisted the kind of radical species adaptation that the altered world demands.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Bionic for Ad Sales, which automates ad sales lead generation with software that pitches your ad inventory to hundreds of media planning teams while they are making media buying decisions. To learn more, go to bionic-ads.com/seller.

For one thing, we still – for the most part – rely on the anachronistic rhythms of a rapidly disappearing business. Languid planning cycles, RFPs, campaigns and annual upfronts were relevant in a world of closing dates, air dates, a fixed number of media providers and a predictable pool of available inventory. Today, everything that’s standard, known or predictable is transacted by machines – or soon will be.

Challenged to now manage more strategic and complicated marketing services – content creation, influencers, content marketing, events – many media shops have simply gone back to the much-maligned RFP. And while simultaneously railing against it, many publishers build their entire strategy – a strategy of waiting and responding – around this archaic system. Add to this our collective failure of imagination about how to integrate programmatic and high-touch solutions into harmonious programs. It’s not a pretty picture.

To radically adapt our professions as buyers and sellers would be to abandon the campaign mentality and embrace a perpetual cycle of problem solving and iteration. It would lead us to dismiss the illusion of budget stability and the silos and swim lanes it fosters. It would drive us to create and commit to new processes and structures for operating in what’s now a mostly-unstructured world. Our professional lives will be spent proactively, left of budget and in service to marketers, the products they sell, and the customers they serve.

Adaptation is hard. But extinction is permanent.

We are currently booking a limited number of team workshops for late Q4 and Q1 2020. To discuss what you might want for your team, reach out to us today. The consult is free.

 


The First Week of the Next 25 Years.


As we began the second quarter-century of digital marketing on Monday, I’m choosing to republish an essay I was invited to write for the University of Florida’s “Captivate” program 5 years ago. Only the date context has been edited. It’s a longer read than you are used to in The Drift, but I hope you’ll feel it’s worth it.

It’s an interesting wrinkle in time for the colliding worlds of advertising and digital empowerment.

Exactly 25 years ago I was part of the team that sold the very first banner ads on the World Wide Web. On 10/27/94, Wired Magazine flipped the switch that lit up HotWired, the “cyberstation” that ushered brands like IBM, Volvo, MCI, Club Med and – famously – AT&T into the digital age. From the humble origin of a dozen brands paying $15,000 per month for static banner placement with zero analytics, web advertising is closing in on $50 billion in annual spending.

At precisely the same moment, the banner ad (and related forms like the 15-second video pre-roll and the mobile display ad) has become a social touchstone that evokes a firestorm of condescension and condemnation at every turn. Indeed, the 20th anniversary of web advertising has mobilized the kill-the-banner crowd like so many pitchfork-wielding peasants out to stop Dr. Frankenstein. To the casual observer this all may seem a bit schizophrenic: Can the digital ad business really have been built and sustained on top of such a flawed delivery vehicle? And if web advertising techniques are really so ham-handed, why are they now being co-opted by the behemoth of television in the forms of screen overlays, dynamic ad serving and programmatic distribution?

Interesting questions indeed. But they are also the wrong questions.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Bionic for Ad Sales, which automates ad sales lead generation with software that pitches your ad inventory to hundreds of media planning teams while they are making media buying decisions. To learn more, go to bionic-ads.com/seller.

Over my 22 very active years serving media companies other digital and traditional advertising players, I’ve had a front row seat for a show that is consistently mistranslated, misdiagnosed and misunderstood. Digital advertising was born to an internet that people read and watched. During that seminal period of tiny gif images and narrow, scrolling columns of type we started calling those who put content on the web “publishers” – a role that was even then retiring to a world of hagiographic nostalgia. And advertising – well, that was a science to be grafted onto the web from other forms of publishing and broadcasting as technology and bandwidth allowed. Those first crude banners were nothing more than outdoor ads writ small. That they gave way eventually to larger, more picturesque ‘magazine’ ads and then to TV-style video spots meant more and more growth, but it also continued to miss the larger point that defines the true value of digitization – and lights our path for what happens now.

Let’s be honest in admitting that we haven’t really been all that much of a literary culture for much of the last 50 years and the internet doesn’t change that. You’re now just over 400 words into this essay: statistically, it’s already one of the longest things most American’s will read on the internet today. Over these two decades, the web has become something everyone does – not something they watch or read. We look for answers, we pass jokes back and forth to one another, we settle arguments. We preen and strut, we compare and buy, we “snack” on short bits of video. We organize things, we plan projects, we opine. Does this mean that content no longer matters? Or that it matters more than ever? The maddeningly simple answer is that it matters when it matters; when it’s closely aligned with the experience the consumer is living at that moment in time. And not for its own sake.

This leads me to the crossroads confronting those who aim to create the next $50 billion of revenue through “digital advertising” and for the advertising industry as a whole. The rocket ride from 1994 to 2014 has been driven by a combination of shifting consumer behavior (the increased time spent on browsers and devices is inescapable even to the staunchest traditional media die hard) and our ability to efficiently “tag along” with the experiences consumers are choosing to create for themselves digitally. Always on, always in our hands, the internet has become an extension of us as people. But advertising, mostly, has not kept up.

Two dominant trends in digital advertising today are data optimization and the programmatic trading of advertising display opportunities. In the first, we are overlaying information to identify and make decisions about those who we might show our ads to. In the second, we are building the technology and functionality to trade “ad futures” with one another. Both of these are critically important, “hard trends,” and they’ll continue – to some point – to usher more dollars into digital channels. But they are also both exercises in division and reduction: help me show my ad to fewer of the people who don’t matter; help me buy fewer of the ads that don’t work or don’t’ matter.

So what, then, will create the next great wave of growth for the advertising business? I believe it will happen only by confronting the truth that advertising in a digital world matters most when it least resembles advertising. Google and (to a lesser and less consistent degree) Facebook start the value creation at the point of consumer action and intent. The form that “advertising” takes is malleable and built into the experience: a helpful suggestion via some text as they answer my search query; a post from a marketer on a topic around which I’m already active. Buzzfeed has made a huge splash by helping marketers create just the kind of snackable content-McNuggets that we already like to trade with one another across the very platforms — Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr – where we already trade them.

But this is the tip of the iceberg. Many current techniques will look as archaic in 2024 as the earliest banners look today. But the companies and leaders who will endure and thrive are those who consistently answer a different set of questions:

What is the consumer doing today with digital tools and how can I help her do it better?

How might we create new value by blending discovery, commerce and productivity into a new experience shared by consumer and marketer?

If there were no such thing as an “advertising budget,” how would we create a connection between consumers and brands, companies and products that can bring new value into the consumer’s life?

These are the questions to be confronted not only by “digital advertising” leaders; after all, what advertising will not be digital by the time we reach our next ten year milestone? No, this is the existential moment for all of what used to be called Madison Avenue and “the Media.” Because when Wired flipped that switch 20 years ago they also set in motion a chain of events that prompts the re-imagination of all advertising.

From this point forward, don’t call any of it advertising. It will either be something much, much bigger – or it will be background noise.


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.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Permutive, the data management platform built for publishers. Permutive gives you visibility of your entire audience, allowing you to increase audience match rates, win more RFPs and grow your data-driven advertising revenue. Meet us at Seller Forum on October 23rd to learn more.

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.


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.