Interactive Advertising Bureau


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?

The Wolf of Madison Avenue.

The Wolf of Madison AvenueBack on February 10th I wrote a post from the floor of the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting all about “The F Word.”  That F Word, of course, being “Fraud.”   Seemingly out of nowhere, the topic came to dominate the conversation.  We stopped using polite-sounding code words like “transparency” and “openness” and finally started calling our shared addiction by its real name.  But that was just one industry insider conference, right?  Not much could come of that.

Until this week.  Now Fraud is the new black.

On Sunday, Suzanne Vranica’s article (“A Crisis in Online Ads:  One Third of Traffic is Bogus”) hit the pages of The Wall Street Journal.  And just yesterday, Ad Age published “Digital Ad Fraud is Rampant.  Here’s Why So Little Has Been Done About It” by Alex Kantrowitz.  Can a spirited debate on The View be far off?

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But lest we think this is just a bad news cycle or a problem we can conveniently blame on Russian mobsters (Seriously:  they’re in the mix.  Really!) it’s time we all grew up and admitted to the gravity of the problem and what got us here in the first place.  Sure, one could argue that this little Internet of ours has done pretty well.  $50 billion is nothing to sneeze at.  But it’s an empire built at least in part on drug money.  We may not be in the dacha with Ivan and Dmitri, but we’re the ones who have turned a blind eye to the situation; the ones who politely avoided the hard questions.

And our collective margin call couldn’t come at a worse time.  With brand advertisers, things are just starting to tip, and the future of video advertising is very much a jump ball.  At just this moment we give every one of those marketers a reason to hold back a few years longer – or maybe forever.

What to do?  Read the articles. Educate yourself.  Have an opinion.  And realize that a line is being drawn between those who are the problem and those who are the solution.  If you buy from thieves – wittingly or not – then you are on the wrong side of that line.  We’ve met the Wolf of Madison Avenue, and too often he is us.

The F Word.

The F WordI’m writing this from a center row at the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting in Palm Desert, where President/CEO Randall Rothenberg is lighting the place up. The conversation – no, the manifesto – is all about the F Word:  Fraud.   After years of politically safe, antiseptic dialogue about transparency, brand safety and other largely-meaningless terms, we’re finally calling our problem what it is.  It’s fraud.

According to Rothenberg, digital advertising will soon surpass broadcast as the biggest single line item on the marketers budget;  “Our challenge is no longer about growth; it’s the distribution of that growth.”  It’s raining hard, but not everybody is getting wet.  And the reason is all about our “porous, plug-and-play supply chain.”  The fact that any company – no matter how shady – can find its way into the ecosystem with relative ease.  “There’s plenty of blame to go around,” according to Randall:   from the publishers buying impressions from uninspected sources to marketers turning a blind eye to the whole issue.  Or as it was put so memorably in last week’s article in Business Insider:  “Our Industry has to stop having unprotected sex.”   I couldn’t agree more, and as one of the IAB’s earliest board members, I love the sound of leadership that I’m hearing!

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by PubMatic, the technology platform that powers the programmatic advertising strategy of leading publishers and premium brands. Our innovative solutions help content providers drive the highest value for their digital media assets and provide consumers with a more personalized advertising experience across display, mobile, and video.

I’ve previously written about this issue in The Drift, most notably last year in light of the IAB’s full-throated defense of the third-party cookie.  I learned then, and know now, that there are a lot of complex dependencies within the ecosystem.  Unless the IAB defends the third party cookie, they cede the whole data pie to Google and Facebook; but in defending it, they keep the borders open for the potential bad actors.  Hard problem….much work ahead.  But the IAB has a sense of urgency.  More importantly, a sense of real leadership and purpose.

Language matters.  When incoming IAB Chair Vivek Shah put the word “F-R-A-U-D” on the screen yesterday afternoon that mattered a lot.  We can only deal with a problem when we leave behind the polite language of ambiguity and call it out in plain terms.  We’ve done that now.

I’ll close with something I wrote in The Drift way back in 2002“On the one hand, we have ‘the prime time Internet,’ awash with fresh content, clean environments and strong brands. On ‘the other Internet’ it’s always 1:30 in the morning and there’s nothing on but F-Troop reruns and per-inquiry spots for the Garden Weasel.”  The technology, the complexity and the stakes have all grown geometrically.  But we’re still making the same choice today.

Want to discuss these issues in a small group environment with Randall Rothenberg?  He’ll be appearing at The Upstream Seller Forum on Tuesday March 4th at the Hearst Building.  If you’re a CRO, EVP, SVP or VP of sales from a qualified company, reach out to us today for an invitationOnly a handful of seats remain. 

The Big Tent, Revisited.

Big Tent RevisitedI love the Interactive Advertising Bureau.  And I love Randall Rothenberg.  As someone who was among the early board members back in the mid-90s, I’m gratified and more than a little amazed at the scale and effectiveness of the organization on Randall’s watch.  Lobbyists, standards, tests, thousand-attendee conferences….the IAB is in every way a big-time trade organization.  But for whom, exactly?

Like 16th century Christianity, the IAB has reached an existential moment where it must account for the diverging visions and interests of internal factions if it’s to avoid a schism. The Anne Boleyn issue of today is the decision by Mozilla to block third party cookies by default in upcoming releases of the Firefox browser.  The IAB’s full throated defense of third party cookies —  IAB General Counsel Mike Zaneis called it a “nuclear first strike,” — has now evoked a mini-firestorm with some publishers, a flame that is being stoked by the publisher-only OPA.

You see, rightly or wrongly, some publishers believe that a world of only first-party cookies – those set by (or in direct coordination with) sites – would help them counteract the dominance of networks, resellers, exchanges and ad-tech companies.  Meanwhile, the networks and other third parties credibly argue that they are a vital accelerant and lubricant in the flow of marketer dollars onto the web and into the hands of small-medium sized websites.  And just in case the situation wasn’t complex enough, layer on the fact that publishers — the ones who would ostensibly benefit from third party cookies going away – have come to rely on those same networks and third parties for a big chunk of their monthly revenue.  “The IAB represents the sellers of interactive advertising inventory — publishers, in the parlance — plainly and simply, with no nuances attached,” according to a recent post by Rothenberg on the issue.  But every seller is not, in fact, a publisher.  So nuance still abounds.   The problem – a thorny one– is that every company who pays dues to the IAB thinks it’s their IAB.

So what’s a trade organization to do?

Perhaps  the answer – and the bulwark against further fraying of the coalition – is for the IAB to claim a more neutral mantra.   I personally have no dog in this fight.  My clients run the gamut from the biggest, most data-protective publishers to the most cookie-dependent third-party networks.  My business is about helping them sell more effectively regardless of their data position, customer base or competitive set.  I only care about the continued flow of more and more marketing dollars into digital media; I want it to keep raining so that things will grow.  I know that’s what the IAB cares most about too.  Supporting the growth of all digital spending means not having to take a hardline position on something as specific as third party cookies.  And that may ultimately be the only way to keep all the partisans fighting under the same banner.