Trade-offs: The Reality No One Wants To Accept In Digital Advertising

Data-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by David Doty, digital publishing consultant. 

As I sit here in Cannes and listen to rosé-fueled frets around the digital advertising industry issues du jour, I’ve been thinking about how I’ve watched this business solve problems since its early days.

One insight that many leaders haven’t applied to their long game is this: Every solution that addresses a problem involves trade-offs, which create shortcomings in other areas.

Like many in the industry, I wake up in the morning wondering which brouhaha will be next. Which shiny new problem will the industry furiously work to solve with tunnel vision? We zig and zag from one most-pressing issue to another, not recognizing that this behavior is perpetuating the myth that these issues are mutually exclusive and can be solved without impacting one another.

Not so long ago, advertisers, ad agencies and trade associations all made it clear that they, their clients and constituencies insisted on brand safety first and foremost. Who were all these players in publishers’ and advertisers’ extended data chains? Were they safe spaces for a brand?

One result was that many advertisers calculated they could reduce risks by moving toward familiar big-brand platforms and sites – “safe” places. Then the same voices began protesting that the walled gardens made it impossible to measure user response to ads across all placements. The push for data sharing eventually led to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Too much data was being shared!

In response to questionable – even extreme – content, YouTube announced earlier this year that it would tighten its rules for monetization, increase the number of real humans monitoring content and train algorithms to identify no-go content. There was an immediate outcry from mostly smaller YouTube creators that the new rules narrowed their freedom of expression and cut off their livelihood.

Facebook faced similar blowbacks. When Facebook announced it would change its news feed algorithm to prioritize posts from friends and family, media and agency professionals bristled because they would potentially lose visibility and income.

Then Facebook announced that any political advertising would carry the same “I paid for this” announcements used in radio, television and print political ads. News publishers complained the rules  were too broad and didn’t create a fine enough line between reporting on and promoting a candidate. It would affect how their content appeared.

The reality of co-dependence in this industry makes any ripple even more intense. With a minor change, the entire public digital universe is affected, for good and bad. Trade-offs are a principle in economics and have opportunity costs – and opportunities.

It is critical to acknowledge the reality of these trade-offs within digital advertising. We must realize that, as with many complexities in life, there is no simple solution, but rather pros and cons to be considered. The key is to stop focusing on the crisis of the moment and instead shift to another, more fluid management style.

Leaders need to pursue balance and be guided by what consumers want. With all of this internal industry discussion, consumers’ interests tend to get lost in the flurry. Let’s not forget that without consumers, there is no one to advertise to.

The General Data Protection Regulation is merely the latest example of industry change, except this one is the law, not a choice. It, too, has trade-offs.

Good brand marketers have always identified the critical issues of the moment and taken tactical action against them. Great brand marketers conceive on a strategic level, fitting all the pieces of a puzzle together and knowing that pieces from one puzzle can’t be borrowed to complete another.

It’s time to understand that we need a collaborative vision that moves the industry from playing whack-a-mole to putting in place long-term, sustainable balance, for the benefit not only of the advertisers and publishers but, more importantly, for our clients: consumers.

Follow David Doty (@daviddotynyc) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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  1. David, thanks for your insightful sharing! You’ve hit the nail on the proverbial head; when strategy is eschewed in favor of hopping from one crisis to the next, nothing really gets accomplished. I wonder when it became acceptable to put the interests of the media, advertisers and agencies ahead of the consumer? Advertising used to be something we did FOR the consumer; nowadays, at least in digital media, the prevailing wisdom I witness is that it’s something being done TO them. I don’t know that as a species we ever get back to service-first. Money-first seems to have become the rules of our Wild West.

  2. Nicolette

    This is why I see the ad exchange/ad buying motions to ultimately move to Blockchain.