Media Is Hard and We Suck at It; And, How to Be Better in 2018

ReceptivSo we survived another “Year of Mobile,” another “Year of VR” and another “Year of Big Data”. And where did it leave us? We still aren’t designing for the mobile medium at scale, VR adoption remains at a snail’s pace and we have more data than ever and seemingly even fewer ways to activate against it.

As it turns out, doing media the right way, even at the most basic level, is hard. With as fast as space grows, it’s imperative we pay close attention to the things that matter most and not get distracted by passing fads. But, once again we spent this past year falling in and out of love with new technologies/concepts/ideas, allowing the gap in transparency and trust to widen between publishers, brands, and agencies.  First, let’s address some of the things we let distract us in 2017…

What I Learned in 2017

AR is DOA…

Another in a long line of technology that was not a solution to any true user need.

Look – Augmented Reality is fun. I’m not going to pretend it’s not. I also won’t pretend that SnapChat didn’t have some interesting applications leveraging the technology. But ultimately what we learned is that there are very few practical applications for AR that add any true value to media buying.

But, let’s examine what it did to us – we created a new creative type with additional expense, little to no direct ROI correlation and introduced yet another non-standardized measurement.

Also Read: Meet the App That Just Made Augmented Reality Accessible to Everyone

We played with AR Kit. We built some ideas out that was interesting and press release worthy. But we aren’t in the business of press releases; we are in the business of delivering impactful experiences for brands. It’s tech for tech’s sake. And it’s not worth the investment for publishers or brands. Curated AR environments can, and I hope will continue to have fun and leverage the technology, but I believe they will need to be self-contained creation, production, and delivery houses, removing the burden from the agencies and brands to support, ideate and build out additional creative.

Can We PLEASE Exit the VPAID Struggle Bus…

After another painful year where VPAID continued to be forced on publishers. We need to move away from VPAID. What VPAID really offers is the ability to track whatever a brand needs, which is paramount to media and a totally fair expectation of any advertiser. However, as a standard, it’s a nightmare. Between VPAID Opt-outs, the complete lack of control of the player and zero visibility to the publisher, it needs to make a hasty exit in 2018.

Ideally giving way to a new standard that allows for the kind of transparency and tracking advertisers need and deserve while not handcuffing the publishers. Presently the on-deck solution looks to be SDK based solutions (another developer nightmare). Regardless of what it is, it needs to be better, because when you talk about “waste” in programmatic, VPAID is part of the problem.

The Death of 1st Party DMPs

With the consolidation of larger DMP’s (Data Management Platforms) and those remaining to have such firm relationships with the agencies the idea of building, maintaining and activating against first-party data becomes a zero-sum game for publishers.

It is incumbent on publishers to have data that is trustworthy, and with the way the term “DMP” is thrown around, it is clear the agencies do not have that trust. So instead we agree to use data with ominous collection methods and less-than-stellar accuracy supplied by third parties.

Also Read: Is Data Slowing Down Your Sales Rep?

Activating against an audience is the currency, and no one knows their audience better than the publishers. Yet we continue to use 3rd party segments. It’s truly baffling to me. But the operational cost will eventually outweigh its use. To be clear, the best of the best will stand up DMP’s for internal use to optimize their network whether the agencies want it or not.

But, it makes little to no sense to continue “operationalizing” segments for consumption that will never be consumed. The lack of trust has turned us into a “Bring Your Own Data” kind of world, so let’s stop the hype and focus on making the 3rd party data better.

We Will Continue to Misuse the Term AI…

There are very, and I mean very, few instances where anyone in media is actually leveraging Artificial Intelligence. Machine learning, sure. But not AI. And the more we allow people to use the term, the more we dilute it, the worse it is for the future of actual AI.

Media is far behind in sophistication to almost any comparable industry (finance, travel, manufacturing etc)  and it’s for reasons like this. It’s time to hold people accountable for their words, teach them when they are wrong and, as an industry, receive and heed the feedback. AI will one day play a role in media decisioning. That day is not today. In anything other than real-time addressable TV, it won’t be in 2018.

Also Read: AI-Powered ‘Intelligent’ Marketing Will Keep It Real

What I Hope for 2018

The Year of BlockChain

2018 will be the year of BlockChain. And, as we love to do, we will associate the term to literally anything we can, regardless of whether it makes sense or not. However, this is a conversation we need to have.

The promise of decentralization and transparency theoretically solves many of the issues that we have in media. BlockChain technology is exactly that, so it deserves our attention. Simply put, BlockChain is a digitized, decentralized public ledger. What that means is that theoretically as a member of a BlockChain you will get timestamped transaction data that is immediately added to the ledger, making it near impossible to change, manipulate or forge any data. You can imagine why that would be very useful in media. But the key to that is that everyone needs to be a member of the chain. That will require cooperation and coordination from Publishers, Agencies and Brands. Because for BlockChain to truly make an impact, everyone needs to be in the pool.

Using it partially will be technology for technologies sakes, ultimately creating more work and requiring companies to build and support multiple technology stacks; an issue that already plagues our industry.

So, 2018 needs to be the year where the industry get’s together to discuss and collaborate on the idea of Blockchain and what it could do for everyone involved. This means open and honest discussions where large players need to open the hood and shed some light on some of the mystery that is AdTech.

And, if in the end everyone doesn’t want to participate or cannot align on participating in the same way, we need to walk away from it entirely.

Also Read: Technology and Transparency: The Growing Horizon of AI, Cybersecurity, Blockchain and the Battle Against Ad Fraud

Back to the Not-So-Basics

The only true way for media and advertising to get better is to stop being distracted by the shiny new object (s). The directive is clear. Mark Pritchard from P&G laid down the gauntlet.   What matters:

  • User Experience – The work being done by the Better Ads Coalition and Google saying with great specificity it just won’t serve certain ads needs to be a wake-up call. But not just to publishers. This is a clear message being sent to agencies as well that buying at scale with no thought to the UX is not a best practice. Everyone needs to participate in making the ad experience meaningful, and buying trash, non-viewable, poorly formatted inventory is as much the fault of the agencies as it is the publishers who allowed it.
  • Viewability/Transparency – The fact that this is still a discussion point is painful. The fact that there was, and is, as much rampant fraud in our industry is disgraceful. And again it’s on the shoulders of both publishers and agencies to hold themselves, and each other, accountable. Whether it be a new standard or technology (SDK or BlockChain) or just honest and near-real-time accounting, we need to act as other industries do and share this data openly and honestly. The longer we don’t, the more clutter we create, the further behind we will fall.
  • Standardized Performance Metrics – In the world of GRP’s, CPM’s, CPE’s, CPA’s, CPCV’s, Impressions, Views and God knows how many others, it’s time we build a dictionary that clearly defines what we are talking about across the industry. Not guidelines – rules. Call it out early, often and demand clarity. No one is winning the shell game right now so let’s all be adults and agree on some real standards.

Also Read: Facebook & Google: A Media Duopoly Under Scrutiny

In Conclusion

I hate that the tone of this is bleak because that’s not how I think of our industry. I believe in media and think we are getting to a tipping point where we will turn the corner from having the wool over each other’s eyes to seeing clearly a path to success. But we need to be better at focusing. We need to spend more time picking the course we chose to stay on. The users deserve better, the publishers deserve better and the brands deserve better. It’s time to consolidate and focus – and there is no time like the present.

Recommended Read: Tech vs. Touch: 4 Marketing Trends to Watch in 2018

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