This is the most exciting time in the history of media advertising. Everyone is somehow confused and confident at the same time.
Unlikely new alliances are forming
Last week in Cannes, Bank of America, Pinterest, and Vice entered in a partnership described as an “unholy matrimony”. Not long ago, Vice would have been on the very strict do not buy list for any bank. For the second consecutive year, the Cannes Lion jury awarded no Grand Prix for branded content, despite the category only being launched in 2012. While Jury president David Lubars clearly explained that none of the work rose to the level of immortality needed for a Grand Prix, it seemed that at least some of the blame could be attributed to confusion about the category itself. “The thing about this category to me is that it’s not even a category anymore – it transcends. It’s just how the world is now,” said the Jury president.
WPP, Snapchat, and The Daily Mail created an advertising agency called… Truffle Pig. This new agency will focus on branded content and perhaps they will win the Grand Prix. NY Post Cannes edition will certainly lead with “Pig takes down elusive Lion”. All this despite Snapchat only beginning to accept ads in the fourth quarter of last year. That same day at the Festival, I had consecutive meetings with two agency heads. One focused exclusively on our digital creative resources, the other on video and data. On paper, these two people have the same job and we went to both meetings with the same agenda.
Labels – and goals – are shifting
Earlier last week, Cadreon declared it is no longer a trading desk, but now an “ad tech incubator to push data-driven marketing culture” through the rest of IPG. So, step one if you don’t like the bucket you are in, is to simple redefine it for yourself. Sometimes it isn’t that simple.
Is Yahoo! a media company or tech company? When asked, CEO Marissa Mayer said this month, “We’re the biggest tech company that understands media, we’re the biggest media company that gets tech.”
AOL has been pitching itself as “unleashing Culture and Code” for advertisers.
NBCU says their “mission is to deliver great content to consumers through collaboration with our advertising partners. With our gigantic portfolio, we amplify it all.”
Twitter wants Facebook’s money, Facebook wants YouTube video budgets, YouTube wants Network TV budgets, and Network TV wants a lot of this to go away.
In a previous role I worked with a great team to transform an extremely traditional and decentralized radio company into a media and entertainment powerhouse. And even after the transformation, no one could agree about what actually defined the “radio” part in the first place. My current company, Undertone, bristles at being labeled an Ad Network. That term evolved over a decade to mean something fairly specific and does a disservice to what we do now for brands.
Everyone’s revenue bucket is up for grabs
All of this is an amazing mélange of creativity, hubris, arrogance, confusion, fear, innovation, and competition. If you don’t like your neighborhood, then move. If you don’t like your revenue bucket, then go after someone else’s. Some of these revenue attacks are legitimate and based on truth, creativity, and new ideas. Some of them are just based on great marketing and some slick new positioning. Ultimately, the dust may never settle, but it won’t be this dusty forever. At some point the value will always sit with whoever has the engagement and who has it at scale. I do know that the days of letting a planner decide “what you are” and waiting for an RFP from your designated bucket to show up are gone. It is okay to covet they neighbor’s revenue bucket, it was never really theirs to begin with.
At Undertone, we are completely focused on high-impact digital advertising, across screens, at scale. We want to engage actual humans with beautiful creative. We do things that cross several standard RFP revenue buckets. As do people like AOL, Google, NBCU, iHeartMedia, and a dozen others. Interesting times ahead for sure.
One dust storm that has calmed down a bit is the data and programmatic issue. While it’s no less important, it has been absorbed into its rightful place in the ecosystem. While metrics and data are crucial, the creative itself has begun to fight back. The message needs to be great. Imagine if you went to a first meeting with a potential architect and he spent the first forty-five minutes talking about the plumbing in your future home. Seems a little backward not to first talk about things like the design: cape or modern or colonial? Kids? Kitchen? Sure, you need the plumbing to be perfect, but it’s probably not why you pick an architect or a builder.
It is a great time to be in this business. I, for one, will try and focus on creativity with a humbling dose of confusion and as much confidence as I can generate.