Keep It Simple

One of the challenges in writing this blog is keeping myself comparatively up to date. When I originally came up with the name Cog Blog, ‘COG’ stood for Cynical Old Git. Today’s post focusses on the ‘O’, the old bit.

I honestly don’t believe I’m alone in thinking ‘what on earth was all that about?’ when reading certain pronouncements from the adtech industry. I don’t think I’m particularly dumb, but I really struggle to understand what the end-benefit is from so many of these tools and systems. And by end-benefit I mean benefit to the end client – the advertiser.

There are two things about most adtech that irrationally annoy me. First, that they attach the word ‘ad’ to what they do. These systems may be connected to advertising in that they measure something to do with audiences – numbers, or behaviours.

But they have nothing to do with the ad business – the business of producing commercial messages that persuade real people to do real things.

As I said, quite possibly irrational.

The second less irrational element is how complicated the purveyors of these things make them sound.

Don’t get me wrong – in many cases what they do is clever beyond my understanding, but true brilliance lies in making the complicated appear simple.

At Aegis and subsequently at Carat I had the great pleasure to work with Jeremy Swinfen Green. Jeremy was a digital expert before such people existed. I’m sure he remains supreme at what he does, but back then in the 1990’s he wasn’t far off being unique.

Jeremy was particularly good at making things sound simple (he had to be with me around, let’s be honest).

One story he used to tell to illustrate the commercial power of the internet was around a guy in the middle of nowhere, with just a phone line, a neighbour and a hunger for a pizza.

Imagine, Jeremy would say, this guy could go online, search for pizza delivery companies within a 5-mile radius, download their menus looking for his favourite pepperoni, compare ingredients and prices, waiting times, delivery costs, read the reviews, download his credit card details, and order his pizza.

Or he could ask his neighbour for his recommendation, phone the pizza guys and place his order.

The point is that just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

I’m from an era when media in agencies was of little interest to advertisers. We can all moan on about irresponsible clients not caring how their money was being spent, and we can draw straight lines between then and the transparency wars of today.

But we rarely ask ourselves why clients didn’t engage.

One reason was that we were so terribly boring. We talked in a language only we understood. We confused.

You might ask why, and the best answer I can give you came from Irwin Gotlieb, Global CEO at GroupM. To paraphrase from the wisdom of Irwin: ‘In confusion lies margin.’

That policy did indeed work for a good while but look where it led us. To a place where media agencies are not trusted by their clients, where clients would rather handle their own negotiations than risk being fleeced and where our obsession with meaningless metrics like clicks, impressions and the rest has driven creativity into the background at the same time we convince ourselves ‘we’re being accountable’.

And – worst of all – to a place where consumers actively dislike ads, especially online ads.

I’m with Bob Hoffman in loathing how tracking is used and what it’s done to the industry.

But what is far more important than what Bob and I think is what consumers think.

The proponents of online tracking talk a lot about relevance, but there’s a fine line between relevance and stalking. We cross that line far too often.

If advertisers knew the half of what goes on in adtech, how much fraud exists, how disliked excessive frequency and retargeting is amongst their customers they would spend an awful lot less.

Just as well for the adtech business that we don’t understand it, isn’t it? And that we’ve come too far to admit it by asking the right, the simple questions.

The trouble is, history tells us that eventually the paying customer asks enough of the right questions to understand enough about what’s going on to work out what to do.

And what to do involves ensuring that value is added, at a price worth paying.

If you truly add value, then say so, clearly and simply.

Talking in tongues doesn’t work. Take it from an old, oft-bitten git.

  1. Ordering a pizza online now is rather easier than it was 25 years ago!

  2. Indeed. And not only ordering one but being given the valuable opportunity to order the same one over and over again within moments of ordering the first one!

  3. It’s so great to hear you let go and rant a bit – great article

  4. Thanks Julian – good for the soul!

  5. In ‘98 I set up Quantum Digital as part of BLM. Our first client was Dominos Pizza who’s ongoing brief to us was “tell us what to do next and we’ll try it”.
    We built a store on Sky Open, sold the first pizza online in the world and they built on that and became a £1bn value digital first brand in a matter of a few years.
    Happy days!

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