We’re Overpromising And Underdelivering Again

joelniermannew“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 Joel Nierman, vice president of digital and media strategy at Liquidus.

I only remember a few things from back when I started in this business a decade ago as an eager and innocent media coordinator at a real agency. My first solo vendor lunch was PotBelly. I didn’t really know what the non-media strategic planners did (and I still don’t). In most of our client meetings someone from our agency said, “Digital advertising is the most measurable form of advertising you could possibly ever do.”

Invariably sometime after we convinced an on-the-fence marketing director to run some ad campaigns she’d ask me a completely legitimate question like, “Well, if _____ network is so much better than the rest, why don’t we put 100% of our budget there?”

How could we explain that the others were contributing to the process, but that particular network just won the cookie fight, and we can’t really measure that but we already told you we can measure anything? Thank goodness my boss was around to bail me out with some clever talking points and article links.

This matters because we, as an industry, are doing it again as we sell programmatic to the world.

One example conversation goes something like this:

Agency: We are going to move a giant portion of your budget to our trading desk. Using those machines will allow for your agency team to work on much higher-value strategic work.

Client: Sounds great. Let’s do it.

The client has visions of real-time, one-to-one, organically native user conversations spurred via programmatic cross-device and cross-channel owned, earned and paid messaging that was brilliantly created by the army of strategic-thinking agency staffers that were just freed from the gulag of faxing IOs.

The problem is that the agency isn’t really doing higher-value work, because when we do programmatic, we are like Neolithic knuckle-draggers banging rocks together until one shatters, then moving on to another rock.

We, as an industry, still spend most of our time simply making programmatic work, replacing faxing IOs and phone calls with other tasks, such as creating campaigns, makings tags work, reconciling reporting, troubleshooting and trying to figure out why site analytics and our ad servers don’t match. And it seems like no platform ever can figure out how to automatically insert cash busting click macros. If I could spend 50% less time implementing and troubleshooting click macros, I would have finished writing this article by now.

The above are not complaints without context. I am a fervent supporter of programmatic media in all its forms – just not the context of the story we tell everyone else. Clients, VCs, analysts, the press and our families all believe our story as a picture of total marketing ascendancy while the reality is probably quite a bit different. Half of geofenced lat/long data on mobile, for example, is faked data to fill empty fields where no data exists in the ad call, yet geofencing is portrayed as the brick-and-mortar savior. Meanwhile, video verification doesn’t work with video players in iFrames, or on VAST, if you want to really go there, yet it is portrayed as the solution to finally win all those television brand dollars that are so rightfully ours.

No doubt a loyal reader will comment that their capabilities actually have lat/long data, or their verification works better and they are aghast I would publicly posit such outlandish claims. But that is the point. Does it really? In the hours of the night when the shadows are long and honesty is your only resistance to the demons of your mind, how would you answer that question?

I am confident someday programmatic will be much less labor-intensive and will truly deliver on the promises we make. But today is not that day. When a client asks why all the newly liberated media strategists are explaining away the bottom 5,000 sites on the list instead of delivering them to marketing nirvana, you’d better hope your boss is around to come up with a really clever answer that involves buzzwords and a link to an article. If not, those clients might get suspicious and take things in-house for more transparency.

Be careful about what you tell people to make a sale, win a pitch, increase your margin or realize your ad tech fantasies. It might come back to bite all of us.

Follow Joel Nierman (@FozzieBuyer), Liquidus (@Liquidus) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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1 Comment

  1. When I was working at an ad agency, we were looking at in-store geo-fencing technologies that use cell towers, GPS and Wifi and Bluetooth and it was definitely framed as something to help brick & mortar stores increase “engagement”. You have someone in a store, you have coupons and labels everywhere, they’re going to be engaged if they choose to be engaged. Mobile apps and tracking data in store won’t be the game-changer that the ad agencies are building them up to be. They’re quantifiable but they aren’t going to save your brick & mortar store from losing customers to Amazon or other online-only stores.