The More Things Change, The More They Go Insane

By: John Stoneman - SVP Global Demand, TripleLift

“There is always someone who will take advantage of an opportunity.”

A prominent CFO recently said that to his staff. And he couldn’t be more on point. Except in the case of our industry, it isn’t “someone.” It’s all of us. While much of the economy fell off the cliff during the pandemic, digital marketing experienced a weirdly timed renaissance. With so many people stuck at home and glued to their TVs, phones, and computers, brands had a captive audience. Reliably consistent categories like home entertainment, food and beverage, even home and gardening achieved a windfall, more than making up for losses in areas like tourism(TripleLift ).

After all, if everyone is at home, you only need one place to find them.

There are always unforeseen circumstances to any disruptive event. What we did see was that our industry is remarkably agile and will always persevere. But there are headwinds that will influence our direction, and not where we want to go.

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The season of change is upon us.

The disappearance of cookies is the most pronounced soon-to-be-change and immediate threat. This has been the bread and butter for our industry for a long time. Perhaps too long. Has it made us lazier at times? Stymied our innovation? Creativity? Resourcefulness? Maybe at some moments. Now, companies are scrambling to find replacements, but that’s something we should have thought about long before.

Fortunately, companies like TripleLift have gotten ahead of the curve by discovering ways that we can achieve greater innovation and success that doesn’t need to rely on cookies at all. There’s a collective industry “wtf???” sentiment coursing through our water supply. The removal of cookies is largely an unwelcome change, but why? Don’t we welcome the challenges and opportunities that drive our industry to be better? Aren’t there ways to improve upon the cookie? Maybe bake something newer and tastier?

This is a change we welcome.

Another obstacle that has broader implications is privacy. Never before have consumers been more interested in who and what is tracking them, whether it’s a phone, desktop, car or Alexa. We’re seeing State after State pass legislation that will severely affect our ability to market to consumers. If we’re not seeing them, how will we know what they like? What do they want?

This is a change we don’t necessarily want, but will have to live with. The technology, programs and methods we invent and bring to market will have Byzantine laws and hurdles we will have to navigate. We just have to remind ourselves it’s for the greater good and will likely spark invention, innovation, and ideas. After all, penicillin wasn’t invented because everyone was healthy.

The cannibalization of journalism at the hands of social media is a dire change. There is a reason “press” is enumerated in the Constitution: it is vital to a healthy democracy and why journalism is often called “the fourth estate.” CPMs on news sites fell 20% during the pandemic at a time when people consumed more news than ever. Efforts like #HelpJournalism, which TripleLift and Group M supported, started with direct injections of ad dollars to platforms keeping the public informed at a dire time in our history.

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We as an industry have also dealt with the proliferation of bad actors in the digital space. There is a glut of misinformation, propaganda and hate speech flooding the information superway, on which we all travel. Programmatic publishing and advertising is especially susceptible to this given the scurrilous methods the shadow influences will go to evade detection. The onus is on us to weed this out of our ecosystem because this is the air we all breathe. NewsGuard is one organization that is leading the charge to clearing up low grade sites. They partner with programmatic entities, such as TripleLift, to grade news and information sites for accuracy and transparency. Together, we are using these ratings to purify the waters, so to speak, and prevent marketers and publishers from infection. It may be a Band-Aid, but it’s a start.

Finally, a more enlightening change to our industry is a more empowered consumer.

They are more informed than ever on how they are being tracked and studied.

Consumers also know their power to the marketplace, and are voting with their wallets. Not just how a product tastes, feels or how it functions, but who made it. Where was it made? How was it made? And what are the values of the makers?

Brands that embrace social change connect with consumers on a more intimate level. But it’s not a choice anymore. Consumers are looking under the hood to see how the parts work(TripleLift ).

As digital marketers, it raises good questions. What’s under our hoods? Are we looking at what and who we are promoting? Putting into the water supply? Are we using our collective powers to keep the ecosystem clean of fake news and bad influences? Are we respecting how consumers want to be reached and marketed to?

Change doesn’t have to hurt. Most of the time it helps.

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