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There’s a great scene in the movie Amadeus where the flabbergasted court composer Salieri tries to come up with a critique of the music of the new prodigy, Mozart. “Too many notes!” he proclaims to the sagely nodding members of the court. Well, at least when it comes to advertising, it seems like maybe Salieri had a point after all. The ad industry has gone all roccoco on us.
With today’s focus on accountablity, ROI and…frankly, it’s still mostly clicks… we’re really chasing a bunch of rabbits down dead-end holes. All the ad networks, data aggregators, DSPs, etc. promise ever-greater efficiency and returns – but each year the chorus “advertising is broken, advertising doesn’t work” grows louder. How can this be? Post-modernist thinkers like Doc Searles and Terry Heaton argue that the world has changed, “the people formerly known as the audience” have fundamentally changed, and you can’t just throw ads in front of people anymore. The traditional advertising model is broken beyond repair, they say (what exactly will replace it not so clear).
I actually agree with a lot of the critiques, but respectfully disagree with the fundamental conclusion. The real problem is a lot simpler and practical, less philosophical. The issue is “too many notes”, or in other words, CLUTTER. If a new targeting technology yields 30% response lift, while the supply of inventory grows 200%, that’s a net decrease in impact/effectiveness of 170% (I wasn’t so good at math, so the formula may be wrong but you’ll take my point).
If you’re typical web page had one big display unit (instead of 5-10), the impact and effectiveness of that ad would be orders of magnitude higher. Advertisers could invest more in the creative, and pay premiums for premium context (one of the biggest myths is that “audiences matter, content/context doesn’t”. Bullshit.). Audiences would not only not resent such an approach, we could actually start to revisit the days when ads were a valued part of the overall content experience. Win-win-win for audiences, advertisers and publishers.
I don’t know how we get there, but we have to slow down and reverse the explosion of supply and downward commoditization of online ad inventory. I’ve socialized the idea amongst fellow publishers that if the top 500 online publisher’s inventory and audience data were only available via direct deals (no networks), CPMs would skyrocket. Most agree. And as I’ve argued, audiences would also be big beneficiaries. So that leaves the advertisers (and the huge cottage industry of intermediaries and arbitragers that continues to grow and feed off the backs of publishers), as the skunks at the picnic. If only the advertisers would realize that this trajectory we are on serves no ones interests.
Audience data should facilitate effective advertising, not drive the whole process. When it comes to advertising, at a certain point, less becomes more. Reduce clutter. Understand the whole purchase funnel. Pay for real value…build partnerships with premium publishers. Think twice before adding inventory in urinals – let a guy take a piss in peace, for heaven’s sake.
Advertisers and publishers have to work together on this. We publishers aren’t blameless…we’ve allowed ourselves to become hooked on the heroin of remnant. But because $ are driving all of this, I think advertisers have to ask themselves harder questions about what they’re really investing in from a long term perspective. I would contend that at this point, they’re essentially investing in poisoning their own well.