The Spoiled are from Venus; the Passionate are from Jupiter
My first shock was how few exhibitors attended this year. The hall was a shell of its former self, graced primarily by the usual suspects - the 600-pound gorillas (they've shed a few pounds of late). By the way, Yahoo! and DoubleClick, where were you? I walked around the entire hall in about 45 seconds and resisted all urges to take a tchatchke for the road.
The second shock was the number of attendees. Down radically from previous years. In 1999, the hall was packed to the rafters (along with nose-bleed seats and oxygen masks to boot); this year, it felt a lot more intimate.
The third was the parties. Only two: a Dynamic Logic party at St. Bards and a Google shindig at Bryant Park. In previous years, it was close to impossible to show your face at all the events - each one trying to outdo the other with live music, prizes and the like.
The fourth - the souvenir bag. You're getting the picture: Tumi was not the sponsor this year.
Doesn't reality bite?
Gone are the days when everything fell into our laps; when we were courted by publishers; wined and dined; perked and Prada'd...
This is the new reality and like many dot-coms before us, we're being tested to see if we're going to be in attendance next year or if we too will fade away and be forgotten.
If we are to stay the course, we're going to have to work hard. Real hard. We're going to have to go back to basics, oftentimes to humble beginnings and essentially start again. This industry is hard work. Its "CPM" considerably outweighs the other media - more hours of effort and work per $1000 media spent. Kevin Ryan referred to parts of it as "friction costs" and urged us to decrease these costs.
Think about it. Versioning one idea and one creative execution 100 ways from Sunday for those messianic IAB new standardized units and "added value" buttons; another 100 ways for optimization purposes (because clearly there's some reason why a blue background gets clicked on more than red in one month, but not in the next). Then there's the "real time" optimization, which essentially means that we kill the work we've just created after just one week (because clearly we can predict consumer behavior - with respect to intent to purchase all the way through to a purchase itself - better than any other medium, and in a 468x60 space). And finally the report and analysis, which in 99 out of 100 cases, is filled with a regurgitation of numbers that totally flummoxes and confuses our clients.
Like the failed business models of the past year or so, we too need to be able to monetize our offering and reach a path to profitability sooner rather than later.
It might taste bad going down, but it's worth it. This is hard work, but it all WILL pay off - literally and figuratively. The reason why they call it a shakeout is because it's the process of extracting the bad from the good; separating the proverbial men from the boys; weeding out all those dollar-eyed "entrepreneurs" and leaving behind the truly passionate, dedicated pioneers.
I'd like to believe these pioneers - the same ones that will continue to shape and define this industry - were those attendees at this year's conference. I'd like to imagine that they visited all the booths for the right reasons and discussed unique and breakthrough ideas with the vendors on show.
I'm certain they appreciated spending quality time and speaking with their peers at the parties this year, compared with trying in vain to scream over the booming music from previous years.
And as for the bags, no worries there. I doubt anyone came for them anyway. They did however, come for the content, the discussion and to pick up on what's next to come: Full screen ads. Digital Marketing. The Death of Free. Email. Advergaming. Branding support on the Net. Relevance. Broadband. I'm licking my lips.
I for one look forward to my fourth conference next year. I hope I'll see you there.
- Joseph Jaffe is Director of Interactive Media at TBWA\Chiat\Day in New York. His primary focus is to highlight interactive's value and benefit to meeting his clients' business and branding objectives.