Today’s column is written by Lung Huang, vice president of digital advertising and global partnerships at dunnhumby.
“Every company in the Valley has lowercase letters,” says Erlich Bachman from HBO’s “Silicon Valley.” “Why? Because it’s safe. We aren’t going to do that. We’re going to go with Chuy.”
I share this quote not only because this is great dialogue, but because it is analogous of the state of ad tech. Yes, you can do what everyone else is doing in the media-buying world, using metrics that have been around since the first report created by Harry Crane on “Mad Men” with his new “computer” and dot matrix printer.
Yet in the last year we have seen many advertisers make great strides to move beyond the talk of using big data for media attribution by actually putting it into practice. Dare I say it? Perhaps the marketing world heard the call on this website last year. As I said then about big data: The Time for Talking is Over.
On the buying side of the digital media industry, we have moved beyond thinking about whether we should use more data to ask ourselves, ”To how many different channels can I apply this data?” The rate of change happened so fast that I think many of us in the industry forgot to take note and appreciate the speed with which this occurred.
But those who must do this type of work are responding by adapting their products to handle all of this new data. Few days have passed without another ad tech consolidation or acquisition being announced, another significant startup investment being talked up, or another dreaded “pivot” to serve a new client base being hyped. In 2014 alone, there has been more than $1 billion poured into buy-side advertising technologies, with the likes of LiveRamp and BlueKai leading the way.
And we are not even halfway through the year.
Not to be left out, the sell side of the business is starting to do what we expect them to do. They are moving first to define what metrics should be measured. They are buying up companies to help them control and set the metrics provided to advertisers based on attribution. With AOL’s and Google’s acquisition of these media attribution companies, many fear the thought of a publisher being the arbiter of this kind of data.
I am less fearful. There are three reasons why.
First, the critics of these types of deals are questioning the ways attribution will be measured, but not the very fact that we shouldn’t introduce attribution to digital. It is not for the industry to decide which metrics will be universal for attribution, but instead will be dictated by every buyer and seller. This is the very reason why many flocked to digital media: flexibility and the realization that there is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Innovation waits for no one, especially if you are still buying an ad target of people aged 25 to 54.
Second, the IAB 2013 report says that in the United States, Internet advertising revenues grew 17% to $42.8 billion in the past year. I am not sure what is more shocking: the continued double-digit increase or the claim that the Internet is now the largest media market in the US. More accountability is needed for this ever-growing revenue.
Finally, we have Procter & Gamble aiming to buy 70-75% of all digital media programmatically, according to reports from Ad Age. You can bet that with a reported $3.2 billion spend on all measured media, P&G will increase that share, as will all of its competitors.
Let those media dinosaurs of the traditional media world worry about the validity of their legacy ratings report on media audiences. Let them debate endlessly how they should keep adding features onto their sample-based methodologies to keep up with the consumer’s expanding media habits. Let them stand on their soap boxes to cry out about a lack of impartiality by two major media networks that will start providing media attribution, yet not acknowledge that they have no idea how to provide an alternative. These are the same people who find it acceptable to serve up the same consumer experience for one advertisement to everyone in the US, without the flexibility of creating a way to cater to many specific audiences at that moment in time. If I see one more national TV spot for Chick-Fil-A in the New York ADI, I will collapse from the sheer cruelty.
So what should a digital marketer do? Put simply: Do what we do best. Keep working toward the goal where performance and insights trump all other noise. Continue to show how automation can actually help the buying and selling of media by keeping costs low and transparency high. Keep telling advertisers that there is another, more meaningful and valuable metric of performance than a simple exposure. Tell them about the flexibility inherent in digital when you are not locked into one type of performance metric. And do not be afraid to say that if you look at the résumés of the top executives at most major agencies, the heads of media investments and acquisitions are our people. The ones who sit in those seats are not from any other industry but digital.
So the only questions left are: Are you going to be the marketer who plays it safe and waits until everyone else is doing it? Are you satisfied to wait so long to take the plunge that, by the time you do, what you deemed as the next big thing has become something different and even more valuable?
The tough choices are coming to your next marketing budget meeting. You don’t have to go so cutting-edge that you go with Chuy, but you should definitely jump out of the sinking ship of massive traditional media budgets before you’re thrown out.
Follow Lung Huang (@Lung_Huang), dunnhumby (@dunnhumby) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.
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