Industry Arrives at a Consensus on Online Advertising

It seems that the industry has at long last come together. We can all agree on one thing. There is a lot wrong with online advertising.

I paraphrase from multiple sources, but most creative work sucks; too many consumers are installing blockers rather than put up with being interrupted/having their phone batteries drained; advertisers have worked out that agencies and adtech businesses are siphoning money off all over the place; no-one believes the data; and publishers are losing their shirts.

Not a pretty picture. Even if you’re Google or Facebook you can’t be happy with the situation. If things don’t improve it doesn’t bode well for the future, even for them.

Of course online communications (including advertising) has great potential, it’s just that we seem not to have worked out how to unleash it.

You can trace what has been a series of mis-steps back to the not-so-good old days when clients didn’t bother themselves with the media side of the business. That might have been sort-of understandable when the ad agencies housing the media people didn’t bother either, but once media agencies got going this client indifference was always going to be exploited.

One way was to focus on the buy prices. Lower those and the client was happy, and anyway all mainstream media were largely acceptable (even interchangeable if you limited yourself to looking at the numbers) so who knew (or even cared) if the agency made money on the side by pushing budgets in this or that direction.

Then there’s the evolution of the sales side. Media people in agencies have always had a built-in bullshit filter that activates when they meet sales people.

The bullshit filter might have worked well when most agency media people knew most sales guys; but things have changed. For one thing salesmen now regularly meet clients, and not just for a handshake and lunch. Now they talk business, they form partnerships, they (gasp!) go around the agency.

Secondly, since the media world exploded and we all started talking digital gobbledegook the BS filter gets clogged, and all sorts of rubbish gets through (and all sorts of good stuff gets blocked) when that happens.

Then there’s the ads. Sad to say they’ve become ludicrously irrelevant, the province of the luddite creatives, those guys who always used to be mocked for going to Cannes – that is until the adtech people turned Cannes from an ad festival into a tedious trade fair.

Far too many digital guys have little idea what the ads they’re placing even look like.

But what they do understand is numbers. And the bigger the better.

On the commercial side of things, the large holding companies have long worked out that their continued future success lies with the media ‘mathmen’.

Media agencies’ trading arms duly forget the ads, focus on turning largely meaningless numbers into cash and, voila – here we are.

Just in time clients have woken up. Credit to troublemakers like Jon Mandel, the WFA, the ANA, ISBA, The AdContrarian, ID Comms, Nick Manning and the rest for shaking the trees. Somebody had to do it and it wasn’t ever going to be the large network agencies.

Clients needed to reclaim their primacy and there are signs they are at last starting to do so. Mind you one well-known digital expert has posted that Marc Pritchard’s IAB speech was designed with only one thing in mind – to get better prices for P&G on FB.

There’s always one; the truth is the gravy train has hit the buffers.

To switch metaphors, when you’re in a hole, first stop digging, then start to clamber out. Time for the men with the ladders and a plan.

  1. I think you should add yourself to the list of ‘troublemakers’, Brian. You have ploughed this furrow for some time and with very good effect.

  2. Brian I would also add that the challenges facing clean transparent data technology providers looking to serve the industry positively are immense. Not conforming to providing kickbacks or serving to maximise arbitrage opportunity is often seen as something to suffocate, not support. Indicative of the mess we find our industry in.

  3. Thanks Steve – modesty forbids!

  4. I know that’s true Steve, but we have to change as an industry if we’re to get out of what is as you correctly say a huge mess. It’s time for all those hard conversations agencies have for years been putting off to take place.

  5. I agree Brian. I actually think the tipping point is for all parties (Clients, agencies and providers) to admit collective responsibility for the problems and collective accountability for putting them right. I think there were clearly positive moves in that direction at the ISBA conference this week.

  6. Yes I agree. This emotion is present in the Marc Pritchard speeches too.

  7. Mind you the silence from the holding companies doesn’t bode well for any cross industry initiative.

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