IAB

Belief.


Less than five years ago, the Interactive Advertising Bureau had just tracked digital ad spending at $50 billion (with a B) dollars. They recognized and celebrated that milestone by subtitling that year’s Annual Leadership Meeting “The Next $50 Billion.” So, guess what? The same organization has just announced the cracking of the $100 billion mark. To a guy (me) who was on the Internet Advertising Bureau (yes, that’s what we called it then) board when the first million (with an M) dollar year was announced, this all still seems quite remarkable.

So why the long faces? Consolidation got you down? Latest tracking prohibitions making life tough for your tech solution? Old ways of competing for RFPs not working anymore? Yes, change and dislocation are what happens in a dynamic market that’s growing geometrically. Our inability to handle that change may be – in part – because we’re losing touch with our core beliefs. Into that void, let me toss out a few of my own.

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I believe that we must tirelessly align what we do and build with the creation of true value for marketers. The creation, distribution and enhancement of advertising is a means, not an end… a service to business, not a business in itself.

I believe that truth and delivery are not relative terms. When I buy a dozen eggs, it’s not OK if two of the slots are empty or half of them are occupied by ping pong balls. Everyone should get what they pay for, every time.

I believe that consolidation of power is inevitable in any open marketplace. I also believe that markets and societies will ultimately reject and create remedies to prevent hegemony. I believe that’s happening now.

I believe that the growth curve of digital media consumption and the corresponding shift in marketing behavior are hard trends that will not only continue but accelerate. For those creating real value and operating fundamentally strong businesses, the playing field is still wide open.

I believe that we are approaching the end of iterative thinking, and that very soon we will stop comparing and contrasting what we do with earlier forms of advertising and marketing. For that reason, I believe we need new models of value creation and commerce on which to draw, and new people who don’t share our common background.

I believe that in five years the current boundaries between publisher, agency and platform will dissolve, and that anyone threatened by that dissolution will either have left the business or will be looking to.

I believe that there has never been a better time to be in sales. In the asymmetrical world of today, selling becomes a creative profession, and the seller has more impact on outcomes than ever before.

I believe the future cannot be navigated by historical precedent or experience, only by imagination, ambition and the right questions.

I believe that values are the ultimate platform on which satisfying careers, good businesses and great lives are built. I also believe that there is no team too small or too temporary to benefit from a strong culture.

What do you believe?


Tear Down This Wall!


At yesterday’s IAB Annual Leadership Meeting in Phoenix, Chairman/CEO Randall Rothenberg doubled down (again) on the direct brand economy and how it’s flipping marketing models and gutting sacred cows of publisher strategy.  There was a ton of great information and examples, but there was one subtle point (Play #5 in the IAB’s new DTC Playbook: “How to Build a 21st Century Brand, Part Two”) that really grabbed my attention:

For Disruptors, branding must perform – and vice versa.

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This really spoke to me.  For all of the 35 years that I’ve been in media and 25 I’ve spent in digital, we’ve labored under the artificial and counterproductive divide between brand and performance advertising.  To performance advertisers (we were told), media was just so much raw material to be processed in getting to the number.  And brand advertisers (we were told) only cared about reach and audience and shooting beautiful commercials and visuals.

Now (we are told) the wall is coming down.  And disruptor/DTC brands are the ones holding the sledgehammer.  The myth that your solution must be either brand– or performance-focused has finally been exposed.   The answer to branding or performance is now – simply – yes.

In the same IAB Playbook (Play #3) we learn that Storytelling gets more acquisitions more cheaply.  Return on Ad Spend (ROAS) actually gets better in high quality, story-focused environments like podcasts.  It’s become clear that hybrid approaches – blending authentic storytelling, high engagement environments, and real performance – are the hottest vehicles on the lot.

But like William Gibson famously wrote, The future is already here. It’s just unevenly distributed.

We can still screw this up.  We can retreat to the brain-dead, self-defeating apology tour of attribution and discounting. We can focus on the wrong metrics. We can choose to serve the status quo of the advertising business instead of embracing directly the complex, nuanced needs of a new generation of marketers.

If we only do what we’ve always done, we’ll only ever have what we’ve already got.  There’s a new beginning taking shape.  The wall that’s always stood between brand and performance has been breached.

As media sellers, I suggest we confidently walk through it.


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.

 


Something Very Real at the IAB.


Something pretty terrific happened yesterday at the IAB’s Annual Leadership Meeting.  Leadership.

There are two moments in particular that I feel are worth calling out; one that I expected and one that I did not.  I fully anticipated IAB CEO Randall Rothenberg’s masterful illumination of the direct brand economy in which unencumbered upstarts like Dollar Shave Club, Glossier and Warby Parker soar at the expense of Gillette, L’Oréal and Lens Crafters.  Along the way he got very specific about the continued growth of these players, how they’ll reshape the businesses of the major corporations that compete with or perhaps acquire them, and how data becomes the new capital of the 21st Century.  R2 closed by committing the IAB toward adapting to and embracing the Direct-to-Consumer ethos.  That was big.

What was less expected was what happened next.  A 150-year-old multi-national marketer took the stage and gave what I considered one of the most important speeches in the history of the advertising business.  First, some background.

Last year at the same conference, Procter & Gamble’s Marc Pritchard famously called out the tainted supply chain that the digital ad business had built over the past decade, a set of institutions and practices that had promulgated fraud, waste, lack of accountability, shady content adjacencies and more. And then he pulled all his company’s money until very specific steps were taken.  Pritchard lit a fuse that sent shock waves of immediate change throughout the business.

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This year Unilever’s Keith Weed did him one better.  In a well-crafted, visually-arresting presentation, Weed raised the stakes and the temperature.  While our “sleepwalking through the swamp of the digital supply chain” may have once (like in 2017) been seen as an advertising problem, it is now a full-blown social issue.  “Now it’s about how it’s impacting society.”  As the events of the last year have shown, the digital advertising machine has become a dependable financial bulwark for internet trolls, hate speech, misogyny and political destruction.  And Weed’s unambiguous message was that since marketers’ money had fed the beast, only the future use of that money could kill it.

He went on to say that that marketers will be defined and rewarded based on whether they end up on the right side of history on several closely-linked issues.  Yes, the kind of content a brand sponsors and enables is a critical responsibility.  But so is the battling of gender stereotypes in advertising and packaging; so is the protection of children; so is indirect stewardship of the environment; so is the economic treatment of growers and farmers and others in the physical supply chain.  The marketing dollar can either support good or evil in the world, and Weed has committed that Unilever’s dollars will stand for good.

Over a decade ago, Unilever acquired Ben & Jerry’s, one of the original direct-to-consumer, socially-conscious brands.  Up near my home in Vermont there was a righteous fear that Unilever would change Ben & Jerry’s.  Maybe just the opposite has happened.


Steal This Post!


It may be just me, but the wind seems to be changing and radical ideas are afloat.

We’re now two weeks removed from the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting in Florida where President/CEO Randall Rothenberg blistered the crowd with a Jeremiad that was both bracing and very, very clear.  I’ll paraphrase:

This thing of ours has gotten pretty fucked up.  And if you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem.

This thing of ours, of course, is digital advertising and marketing.  And he’s right.  The very fact that the head of your industry organization is giving a speech called “Repair the Trust” tells you a lot.  Sure, we’ve had areas of disagreement and mushy standards for much of the last two decades.  But when the subjects were arcane things like terms & conditions, viewability and margin transparency, most of us just kept our eyes down and pushed our food around the plate.  Avoidance and obfuscation was a perfectly reasonable strategy.

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But no longer.  Because now the issue is fake news.  Remember that kid sitting in his kitchen in Macedonia pumping out fake news stories about Obama’s love child or the Papal endorsement of the Trump campaign?  Turns out we were collectively paying him.  Ouch.

The rotten system that blindly rewards page views and ad calls and shares has become the intravenous feeding tube for parasitic monsters who may realistically render the concept of truth itself irrelevant.  Fake traffic and fraudulent video numbers were bad.  Fake truth and moral relativism are much, much worse.

Randall made it very clear when he said “It’s time to get out of the fake anything business.”   Yes.  We are only as good and as moral as who our system pays and what it pays for.  Without ethical clarity, the next $50 billion in digital advertising revenue will be just so much drug money.  And each one of us has a part to play in making sure it’s not.

You see, our business is really just an average of the behaviors of our best and worst players.  It’s time to bring back the concept of shame.  If you employ the highest standards as a publisher, talk about them.  If you demand the highest standards as an advertiser, pay for them.  And whoever you are, get off the line and pick a side.

The world is watching.