The Millennial Reach.

The Millennial ReachI’m moderating an Advertising Week panel next Wednesday called “Breaking Through:  Media Strategies that Impact and Reach Millennials.”  I didn’t name the panel:  If I had, I’d probably have left the word reach out of the description.

As I’ve told many customer groups over the last few years, reaching millennials is not the problem.  There are a hundred programmatic strategies to put an ad message in front of a critical mass of millennials. Heck, a reasonably well-designed cable buy will get you the reach, if that’s what you care about.  But reach is not the point.  In fact, for publishers and media companies it can be a fatal distraction.

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When reduced to the concept of reach, millennials are the new adults/25-39. It’s just math. When it comes to impact, however, there’s a lot of good work to be done.  Most of what we think we know about millennials is made up of stereotypes and bland generalities.  But one thing is true:  they are the first generation to grow up in a world of constant connection and unlimited media and communication choice.  And that fact informs the ways in which we can truly help marketers.  We need to give them solid guidance on three factors:  distribution, form and tone.

Distribution:  To the cable programmer, the connection has to be made on its own channels; to the web publisher, it’s all about who comes to my site or spends time with my app.  But that’s becoming a fool’s errand.  We must understand and offer strategies based on how young consumers will really experience, participate in and share the conversation.

Form:  Is the banner ad a dead issue in persuading millennials to do anything?  Pretty much.  And the canned 15 or 30 second pre-roll ad is not far behind.  And the kind of typical social posts executed by many marketers today are also headed for the boneyard.  The question we need to help marketers answer is, “when it comes to millennials, what will replace the ad unit?”    In the short run, we can advise them on things like ad size and video length, but that’s really just kicking the can.  Millennial consumers reject ads.  We need something else.

Tone:  Perhaps the best way for publishers and media companies to make a difference for marketers is to become their millennial translators.  Too often, the marketer’s attempts and native content, social participation or influencer marketing have the same effect as your dad showing up at the bar where you and your friends hang out.  And if he’s grown a hipster beard and tosses out cliché buzzwords, all the worse.  Finding an authentic and legitimate voice in the millennial conversation is what is most imperative to the marketer.  You can help with that.

Care to join the conversation?  Post your comments below and plan to join us on Wednesday, September 28th at 4:30 at the Liberty Theater on 42nd Street.  Walker Jacobs (Fandom), Kathy Kayse (Yahoo!), Andrew Capone (NCC) and Ben Dietz (VICE) will help us unpack the issues.  If you’re not registered, go here. See you next week.

Asking Y!

Asking YI try not to spend too much time looking back at history in The Drift (unless you count the arcane references to jazz legends and ex-presidents).  But this week I want to use the space talking about the period of time during which Yahoo! ruled our world:  not out of a sense of gauzy nostalgia, but rather because the history illuminates very current truths about our business today and tomorrow.

I’m now in my 23rd year in the digital advertising and marketing business: I sold my first web ads the year Yahoo! was born but before it actually launched as a website.  So I’ve gotten to watch lots of cycles unfold, many companies rise and fall.  Those whose perceptions of Yahoo! were shaped during the Marissa Meyer era can’t imagine the sheer domination that the company once enjoyed.  Watching Yahoo! compete back then with the likes of MSN and a pre-Armstrong AOL was like watching the Harlem Globetrotters dismantle the Washington Generals for the umpteenth time.  (Yes, Yahoo! was at the same time providing a cozy incubator for Google’s nascent search business, but few in the business really imagined Google as a threat to Yahoo! at that point.)  Yahoo! was the center of gravity, the single most heavily trafficked page on the web.  It was hegemony writ large.  So what happened?

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Books have been written (and more surely will be) about the rise and demise of Yahoo!  So here, during the week of Yahoo’s fire-sale to Verizon, just a few thoughts.

The Founders Chose to Live in Middle Earth.  Jerry Yang and David Filo – but mostly Jerry Yang – neither fully committed to running the company forever (like Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook) nor ceded real control of the business operation to a competent outsider (as Sergey and Larry did with Eric Schmidt at Google.) This prevented the company from ever forming a real vision and started a parade of half-empowered CEOs and ambivalent decision making.

They Watched the Money and Not the Consumer.  In terms of advertising revenue, Yahoo! crushed it year after year.  This gave senior management too much freedom to muse and obsess about pet projects and the now-lost search battle with an emergent Google.  Had the company been under existential financial pressure, perhaps they would have gotten closer to their consumers and where they were really going in the near future.  A good crisis might have really helped.

Yahoo! Believed Tomorrow Would be a Bigger Version of Today.   Each generation thinks the next will be a slightly different version of their own:  a little more entitled, a little better with tech, a little less respectful, yada yada.  And at the height of its dominance during a business era, it’s natural for a company to see the future as a little more mobile, a little more social, a little more video-driven, yada yada.  Perhaps Yahoo! saw things this way? Perhaps they never considered a radically different world that ignored desktops and page views?

Yahoo! is now, in almost every sense, history.  But in its wake, let’s consider whether our own companies might be unwittingly walking the same path.

Stream On.

Stream OnIn late 1995, Yahoo! had just been born and mobile phones had recently shed their pull out antennas.  I’d been selling digital ads for just over a year at that point and was being courted by a small MIT Media Lab spinoff called Firefly, which I would ultimately join.  Part of the wooing process included several trips to The Lab, where I’d meet with amazing scientists and brilliant, entrepreneurial grad students.  I knew they were amazing and brilliant because I understood about every third sentence.

But there was one project that stuck with me over the past 19 years, even though I’ve long forgotten the identity of its developer.  I recall sitting in a small windowless office peering into a large monitor, which reminded me of the view from the bridge of the Starship Enterprise.  I had the distinct feeling of hurtling through a galaxy as stars and planets flew past to my left and right.  Only they weren’t planets and stars:  they were words, phrases, images and brief bits of rudimentary video.  This, I was told, would be the future of the web interface; the way we would navigate information someday in the future.  A perpetual feed would wash over us and we’d simply grab, sort, file, save and view what interested us with the clicks of a mouse.

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Keep in mind that the web had just been invented less than four years earlier, Google was still a nascent grad school project and Mark Zuckerberg was 11, so this was pretty heady sci-fi stuff.  But after nearly 19 years of clicking from page to page to page, it seems like perhaps we’re finally coming around to the vision of that anonymous MIT researcher.  And I think it’s happening because of the convergence of behavior and interface design.

Let’s start with the fact that 2014 the watershed year where far more web access comes from mobile devices, specifically those new-fangled, antenna-less smart phones.  Page after page after page just doesn’t work for the mobile viewer, and mobile interface design is quickly becoming the default.  That means a consumer who’s coming of age today will expect all of his web access to mimic his mobile experience.  Enter “Responsive Page Design,” the new school of UI design that presents the desktop web in a long continuous stream of consciousness.  (Early examples include sites like ESPN, Quartz and Yahoo! Food.)  We’re still not on the bridge of the Enterprise, but we’re getting there.

The question – and the point of this post – is what this all means to the currency of the display web ad business?  For two decades we’ve built our financial assumptions on top of lots of clicks generating lots of pages generating lots of ad calls generating lots of revenue.   Now, with the consumer enjoying elegant, streaming design and rolling over and expanding what she wants to view when she wants to view it, what will we count?  It may seem like an academic exercise today, but it becomes a vital economic question very quickly.

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.

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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.