Fool’s Gold.

Fools GoldApril Fools day had always been such a kick.  A little fun and whimsy to break up the late winter gloom.  But now, today, it’s just another day.  No fun and brightness, just more gloom.  You see, today, April 1st, 2014 is the first day of the rest of our lives without Eat24 on Facebook.

Please.  Just give me a minute.

Yes, you heard correctly.  The favorite startup of spoiled urban foodies with too much discretionary income and not enough energy to get off the couch (think of Uber for gourmet chicken and waffles )– the one most of us never heard of until yesterday – has very publicly broken up with Facebook.  In 1,312 snarky, self-referential words, Eat24 complained extensively about everything from Facebook’s changing algorithms to – horror of horrors! – its naked desire to make money.  (What the letter lacks in brevity and precision it makes up for with inclusiveness and incomprehensibility:  it includes a freakish LOL cat, a star wars reference and advice that Facebook needs to be more like the dormant 1996 website for the movie Spacejam.)  Bottom line: as of midnight, Eat24 was shutting down its Facebook presence.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Bionic Advertising Systems, an advertising technology company focused on delivering innovative software that streamlines and automates media workflow for marketers, their advertising agencies, and publishers.

Folks, this is the marketing story of the year!  But not for the reasons you might think.  The actual “dispute” about Facebook’s algorithms is a red herring.  Yet news organizations from The New York Times to CNN to Business Insider rushed to report on this “event” as a harbinger and flashpoint for the coming marketer rebellion against Facebook.  (Full disclosure:  in 2012 Facebook was a client of mine, and I have both a personal account and a company Facebook presence.  Further disclosure:  I have my own issues with Facebook, but who doesn’t?)

Here’s the real story.  Eat24 and many more “marketers” have simply been jobbing the Facebook system for years.  They may fancy themselves some kind of content producer, but they are really just another parasitic startup nesting in the social environment Facebook has created from nothing.  They claim that the ROI with Facebook just isn’t there anymore, which begs an interesting question:  how can you complain about ROI when there was no “I” in the first place?   So Facebook flipped the switch and Eat24 pulled the plug.  End of story, right?

Oh no.  Here’s why it’s the marketing story of the year.  Eat24 found another system to job:  the press.  The business press just can’t resist a juicy “story” like this, especially when it feeds a pre-existing narrative (in this case, the twin narratives of “Facebook is arrogant and clueless” and “Facebook is the new Yahoo!”)   As much as I want to hate Eat24 for its smug tone and superficiality (no one over age 12 should ever use the term “besties”) I must give them a tip of the hipster fedora.  They played their hand beautifully.  Their strategy ended up being native, viral and – based on the lockstep, uncritical response of the “business press” – virtually programmatic.

Happy April Fools Day.  We’ve all been punked.

Six Questions: Rishad Tobaccowala

Rishad TobaccowalaThe Drift is turning a new page this week.  We’re publishing the first in an irregular series of interviews with provocative media, marketing and communications thinkers.  This post features an edited interview with Rishad Tobaccowala, chairman of Digitas LBi and Razorfish and thought-leader within Publicis.  Rishad will be keynoting the Upstream Seller Forum on Tuesday October 29th in New York.

DOUG WEAVER:  What do you think of our industry’s talent level today?  What other disciplines or backgrounds could help us inform the work ahead?   

RISHAD TOBACCOWALA: We do not have enough talent that combines an awareness of business (IQ) and creativity/insight (EQ) and a digital mindset (TQ). As an industry…we need to a) invest in training, b) hire people who are good in one or two of these skills and expose them to opportunities to learn the others and c) aggressively hire folks without a college degree but who have taken courses in computers, or folks from Art Schools (who increasingly are very tech conversant) and d) place a real priority on minority hiring.

DW:  Is the idea of a “digital agency” or “digital specialist” already anachronistic?    

RT: In a networked world where people can speak with each other we have to invest in product and services and experiences more than just advertising. The mindset change is very significant, the processes are different and there is need for true tech and data expertise and a faster metabolic rate. In some cases digital groups will become part of what were historically analog agencies and in some cases digital experts will pick up offline/analog skills.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Evidon. Evidon produces new, accurate intelligence on how the digital marketplace really works, so companies can make more informed decisions for their businesses. Powered by Ghostery® data, Evidon solutions include unparalleled insight into the marketing technologies that underpin the commercial internet and the power to control their impact on business.

DW: Does the concentration of power and insight by Google concern you at all?   And do you see a credible competitor assembling their own “ad technology stack?”

 RT:  Google is an important partner for us and clearly a dominant player. However there will be many other players emerging as data/creativity/commerce begins to blend with each other. There are at least half a dozen key players in the US including Facebook, Adobe, Amazon, Ebay, Aol, Yahoo, Microsoft and Twitter that can morph in some very interesting ways since they have identity, data, scale and lots more. Of these Amazon and Adobe and Aol are all working on building stacks. Salesforce and Oracle are also approaching the space from a CRM and employee focus.

DW: Do exchanges, trading desks and “bidding” for audiences have the potential to change the fundamental scope of the advertising business?  It seems like the weight has shifted toward distribution and connectivity and away from creativity. 

 RT: Exchanges, Trading Desks and Bidding for audiences is a growing reality and recognizes that marketers want to reach audiences rather than underwrite space and they want to do it as efficiently as possible. Relevance with tight controls is what this is delivering. However in building a brand we need more than plumbing we need poetry. We still need to plan the interaction.

 DW: Name something you read or watch regularly that keeps you grounded in the present and something that keeps you thinking about the future.

 RT: I chair a foundation in India that helps 10,000 poor people and reading about what we are doing and their stories gives you a sense of perspective. For me the Arts is what makes me think about the future because the best artists start with blank sheet of paper or canvas or space and create/see/visualize/make happen things that were never there, which really is about re-imagining reality.

DW: You’re coming to speak at the Upstream Seller Forum at the end of October.  In 12 words or less, tell us what we’ll be hearing.

 RT: The Key Trends That Publicis is Betting On. How to re-invent yourself.

For a full, unedited transcript of the interview — including additional questions — click here.

The Web at 20: Assault on Page Mountain.

The Web at 20Raise your hand if you remembered the big birthday last month?  No, it wasn’t anybody in the royal family or any of the Kardashians. (Were any of them actually born or simply the result of a script development process?)  No, last month the World Wide Web turned 20!  I’d buy it a drink, but that won’t be legal for another year.  Anniversaries and birthdays are great times for reflection, so I’m using this week’s Drift to light some candles, illuminate and ruminate.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by The Media Trust, the leading provider of campaign quality automation (for creative quality assurance and campaign screenshots/verification), security (for malvertising and data) and transparency (third-party ads) services to the online and mobile adtech ecosystems. See what over 500 publishers utilize every day to ensure quality and drive revenue.  

In 2010 – when the Web was not yet out of high school – I gave a speech calling out a dozen “Dead Ideas” that were continuing to plague and hamstring the growth and development of internet advertising.  There’s one in particular that’s gone from dead idea to zombie curse:  it’s the idea that we’re going to continue dealing with “a web of pages.”  (See the video of this part of the speech or click here to view the entire 30 minute presentation.)  When the web first emerged (months after Tim Berners-Lee’s invention of hypertext) it was essentially a place where known individuals shared things with one another.  (Imagine a Flintstones era version of Tumblr or Instagram used only by Fred, Barney and their friends in Bedrock.)  Rapidly that model fell away and we started building hundreds, thousands and soon millions of websites.  To make money, we created an artificial construct in which consumers generated page views, which in turn begat a number of ad impressions, which then called out to multiple servers saying “feed me an ad.”  The whole thing got so ridiculous that we now call on futures trading technology to manage the vast ocean of commodity “impressions” we’ve created.  Margins grow ever smaller and consumers become ever more indifferent to the omnipresent , impotent banners with which we continue to carpet bomb them.

But now, at 20, web advertising has the chance to grow up.  And several gathering trends will force it to do so.  Call it the social-tablet-video Tsunami.

Social: Google may always have a far bigger market cap, but Facebook is the company that will have revealed the biggest idea of the digital age: the social graph. By connecting and illuminating “the web of people,” Facebook first established a parallel digital world for consumers and marketers, then reattached itself and began to retroactively change the web.  Once exposed to the ability to market to – and through – actual people, marketers won’t go backward to pages and impressions.

Tablet: According to Venturebeat, tablets will outsell laptops 6-1 by 2017.  That’s a whole lot more swiping, tapping and pinching, and a whole lot less clicking and scrolling.  The physiology of navigation is changing.  Does anybody think the structure of search, content and viewer experience won’t change with it?  And this is not even taking into account the true mobile consumption via smartphones.

Video:  Once you go video, you never go back.  Nuff said.

Am I predicting that individual sites or media companies won’t be able to run great businesses on the web anymore?  Of course not.   That would be foolish.  But not nearly as foolish as believing our 20-year-old assumptions about the economic structure and value equation in digital media will continue to hold.  They won’t.  And I, for one, am excited to see what’s on the other side of page mountain.

Being Grateful.

It’s a short week at the close of a busy, hectic year.  It’s also the time when many of us take our last breath before the sprint to make Q4 numbers while simultaneously shopping for the holidays.  So during this all too short breather, a quick note about the people, ideas and values for which I’m really grateful. Thanks go out to…

The 3-4 sales people in every workshop I teach who are truly dedicated to the profession of media sales.  I recognize your ambition and commitment, and they inspire me to keep doing what I do.

Those who read, comment on and forward The Drift to others in their companies.  Because of you, meeting this weekly deadline has become something I look forward to.

Ad:tech and the past recipients of the Industry Achievement Award.  To be recognized by such an amazing group last spring was humbling and inspiring.  I feel like it’s something I have to continue to live up to in the years ahead.

My wife Sharon and my daughters, Lucy and Madeline.  I’m grateful that such amazing women choose to keep me around so that I can see  the great things you each do for the world.

The people at iMedia, ad:tech, the IAB, AdMonsters, Evidon and Business Insider who’ve all given me the chance to speak or moderate at their events this year.  I hope everyone who ascends your stages feels the same gratitude and commitment that I do.

Enduring, enriching friendships with people like Wenda Harris Millard, Scot McLernon, John Durham, Dave Morgan, Larry Kramer, Rick Parkhill, Tom Deierlein, Charlie Thomas and Mark McLaughlin.  Through inspiration, support  and advice, you’ve all contributed so much to what I do.

The advisors who continue to guide The Seller Forum into its tenth year, and the sponsors — Collective/Amp, PubMatic and Mojiva — who continue their commitment to this unique and valuable environment.

Tamara Clarke and Christina Ross who work hard every day making sure the experience of working with Upstream Group continues to be a great one.  None of this would work without you.

All the companies who’ve been our customers this year  — for training workshops, Seller Forum events, Drift sponsorships, consulting and more.  33 Across, A&E, About.com, AccuWeather, Adap.tv, Adara Media, Adconion, Adobe, AdoTube, ad:tech, Amazon, AOL, AT&T AdWorks, BabyCenter, bizjournals, Bizo, Blue Kai, Bonnier Corp., Brand.net, Burda, Burst Media, Business Insider, Buysight, BuzzLogic, Cars.com, CBS, Centro, Collective, Comcast Interactive, comScore, Condé Nast, ContextWeb (PulsePoint), D&B Digital, deviantART, Discovery Communications, Disney, DMG WorldMedia, eHarmony, ESPN, Everyday Health, eXelate, Facebook, Fairchild, FOX News, FOX Sports, Gawker, Google, Grab Networks, Halogen, Healthline, Hearst Digital Media, IAB, IGN Entertainment, iMedia, InflectionPointMedia, Interclick, ITN Digital, Jingle Networks, Jumpstart Automotive, Kontera, Krux Digital, Lotame, LucidMedia, Martini Media, Meebo, Meredith, Microsoft, Mojiva, Monster Media Networks, Move, Inc., MTV, MyWebGrocer, Nature Publishing Group, Navteq, NBC Universal, NCC Media, The New York Times, Newspaper National Network, Orbitz, PubMatic, quadrantONE, Quantcast, Reader’s Digest, Remedy Health Media, Resonate, RMM Online, RTL Netherlands, Seeking Alpha, Sojern, Sugar Inc., TechMediaNetwork, The Daily, Hollywood Reporter, Weather Channel, TheStreet.com, Thomson Reuters, Travel Ad Network (Travora), Tremor Video, Triad Digital, Turner, TVGuide, Us Magazine, Undertone, Upromise Inc., Vertical Acuity, Washington Post, Weatherbug, WebMD, WhitePages.com, Yahoo! and YuMe.

And last but not least, I’m grateful that none of this is even close to being finished.  That there are so many ideas yet to be conceived, so many mysteries yet to be framed, so much of the future left to be invented.  Here’s to being grateful for what this year has brought us, and to remaining excited about what the years ahead will offer.  Happy Thanksgiving.

The New Old Look of Power.

Tomorrow I’ll be at ad:tech in New York, where for the second time I’ll be leading a discussion about “The New Power Brokers: How Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon Are Changing the Game, and How Brands and Agencies Should Respond.” Since we started this discussion at ad:tech last April, the topic seems to have taken on even greater urgency and focus for those in the online marketing world  (Witness the coverage in last month’s Fast Company).   If anything, we should be paying even more attention than we are:  these four may be defining the business and consumer worlds we’ll all be living in very soon.

The Drift is proudly underwritten this week by PulsePoint, the digital technology company that helps publishers gain deeper visibility in to audience and content, increase first party ad sales revenue and access new opportunities to drive greater business results.

There remain differences among these four companies, of course.  But thinking of Apple as a device maker, Amazon as a retailer, Google as a search company and Facebook as a social network is anachronistic to the point of delusion.  Today all four have blown away the intellectual and market borders that once defined them and are each aiming for hegemony and ubiquity in the life of the consumer and in the way we (in publishing and marketing) speak to them and sell to them.  And while Fast Company tried to sell magazines by offering predictions about why each of these players could “win,” I believe that “victory” is irrelevant:  the mere fact of their competition is enough to make us care.  Here are the scenarios that should stoke our curiosity:

The Web Itself Becomes Less Relevant: Apple, Amazon and Facebook are all in the process of creating walled gardens.  Your Apple or Amazon device connects you directly to iTunes or Amazon.com.  Facebook sits on the web, but it is not of the web.  It’s an unsearchable, closed environment, notwithstanding the ubiquity of “like” buttons all over the web.  Google remains heavily engaged in the web, but with the purchase of Motorola it too will soon be a device maker.  With so much consumer time, money and attention siphoning into these four ecosystems in the next several years, will marketers and agencies start crafting five separate strategies:  one for the web and one for each of the big four ecosystems?

The Data War Becomes a Rout: So much of the talk (and investment) in our space has centered on consumer data.  We gather it, process it, apply it and sell it to one another.   But doing battle over data with these four is like fighting a gas war with OPEC.  In fact, most of us are actually contributing every day to the data war chests of Google (DoubleClick, AdSense, AdMeld, Gmail, etc.) and Facebook (Facebook Connect).  Not to mention the sheer volume of data-rich transactions that Apple and Amazon touch every minute of every day.

Credit Card 2.0: An interesting scenario painted in the Fast Company article is the specter of these companies becoming direct players in finance.  You already carry an iPhone or a Motorola/Droid which you use to check in at airports:  why can’t the same device be an instrument of payment?   If Amazon can close the loop even further and accept direct payment via your Kindle Fire (and even offer financing) why wouldn’t they?  Facebook already dabbles in “credits:” Not much of a leap to think that they too will want a piece of the consumer transaction.

This may sound like an apocalyptic vision, but it’s really more of a wake-up call.  If consumers end up trusting the big four with ever more of their time, attention and dollars, how should the rest of us respond?  Marketing, advertising and publishing all require well-populated environments.  And if your marketing, advertising or publishing strategy isn’t starting to focus on the big four, maybe it should?

Want to discuss this Drift with your team? Here are some topics:  “How can we begin to use Facebook  today as a driver of value for our customers?”  “As we establish our mobile strategy, are we taking into account the ambitions of the big four?”  “Is our overall strategy too dependent on the current economics and thinking of ‘web advertising?’”  And if you’re at ad:tech, stop in at our session, 2:45 to 3:45 Wednesday afternoon.