I just returned from Digital Hollywood where I moderated a panel on contextual media and advertising. We had really good feedback from the crowd as we channeled our discussion toward marketing to consumers in the hosted attention economy. More later in a subsequent post.
Throughout the conference, there was a consistent theme among content producers, ad networks, and agencies. Interesting side note-- few if any major brands made the conference. I think this says a lot about the state of digital media and perhaps serves as a reminder that Digital Hollywood needs to become more inclusive to brands. The theme, actually it was more of a gripe, was that major advertising dollars are still not flowing from conventional media-- print, TV, radio-- into digital alternatives after 10 years of digital media and web advertising.
After participating in lots of discussion both in and out of the presentation sessions, I wanted to dig deeper into what's going on. My conclusion is that there a still a number of legitimate barriers that are holding back the significant flow of advertising spend. However most everyone seemed too quick to conclude that TV buying is still too strong, in light of overall ratings declines in broadcast TV, because of people issues: the brand-agency-buyer-network machine is staffed with too many old media types, unwilling to make the transformation to digital media marketing. This is a sort of "They're all comfortable/lazy/stubborn to change" type of argument that masks more serious factors facing marketers in digital media. Let's dig into those.
The first issue facing brands is the explosion of content taking many different and as-yet un-standardized forms. In conventional media, print, radio, TV forms are well understood, with known parameters defining what it is-- it's a sitcom; when it's produced-- 22 weekly installments; how long it is-- 30 minutes with 6 slots, and so on. With internet content coming in all forms, standards don't exist-- how long is a blog post, what is 3 minute short, how long is the average sudoku game, etc. This means that advertisers have to completely start from scratch when thinking about the opportunities for brand promotion.
Going hand in hand with new forms of content is the challenge of defining advertising units. Other than for sites like Hulu, the net offers banners, widgets, sponsored players, pre-roll, post-roll, interstitials, pop ups, etc-- a vast and growing array of vehicles to reach the consumer. When compared to the analog world of 30 or 60 second advertising spots, digital media advertising is a veritable galaxy of medium choice. Further, most major brands do not think net advertising is big enough for their expansive stories, messaging, and brand character. In a subsequent post, I will revisit this and explore how authenticity is the next big hurdle once brands make the leap to internet advertising. For the time being, it's clear that creative directors and their brand counterparts still really love making commercials for broadcast TV.
Compounding the content-producer-medium challenge is the avalanche of content producers, mostly unknown, vying for their slice of advertising dollars. Again, though offline media content comes from a vast array of content producers, centralized outlets such as broadcast TV, cable, syndication networks, etc represent a manageable portfolio of content brands. In digital media, content is exploding onto the net from all corners of the globe from an entirely new, and rapidly growing supply network of producers, all looking for sponsorship. Advertising networks-- linked syndicates of publisher sites and their ad inventory-- try to help the cause by bundling targeted, semi-targeted and un-targeted ad buying opportunities. Aside from the sheer number of networks, brands are also forced to reckon with much more fragmentation of their audience, and the need to make intelligent decisions on demographics. There's even the new element of what to show which person at what time on a dynamic basis. For example networks like Turn and Drivepm offer targeted access with the added blessing (curse?) of auction pricing and just in time delivery of ad units based on the demographic of a consumer who shows up on a site. It's like the game of let's herd the cattle has been replaced with 300 simultaneous games of whack-a-mole.
So, we have an avalanche of content, publishers, and networks. New forms of content, ad units and demographics. Manage it all, and you win a place on Letterman keeping the plates spinning on the sticks. Unfortunately, there's still one more issue facing brands, and it's a biggie: tools and metrics to measure efficacy.
I can only describe it as the gulf of accountability. That is, in digital media, there's massive potential to engage your consumers in a brand conversation (see my post on Eqal), but at present no one has a universal understanding of how, what, when a marketer should measure the effectiveness of their brand to consumer dialogue. Cookie tracking is now more than 10 years old, and marketers are beginning to understand-- it is not about simply knowing who's on the other end of the conversation, rather it's about where they stand in their conversation with you. So, cookie tracking is like using a megaphone for school guidance counseling. You'll get a message across, but it wont be the one that will work for everyone.
The good news in all the above? Automation and technology will be the only means by which all of the above can be solved, and the pace of development continues unabated. This is great news for all the bright, hard working technology builders and analytics pros that have the power to transform the digital media space from top to bottom.