We fixate on the stream of bad economic news flowing from the media, like a car crash on the side of the road. It is terrible to watch, but we cannot take our eyes off it.
As publishers, we have fretted over the free-fall decline in CPM pricing, as article after article attempts to dissect the trend with a slightly different angle. We have lost sleep over Congressional attempts to regulate our industry with a complete disregard for common sense. We have been inundated with news. Bad news.
Everybody is sick of bad news.
Unfortunately, bad news is only the start of the problem. The really scary part is that every major crisis brings the nutcases, freaks, whack jobs, and the merely uninformed bubbling to the surface. They stand ready to give their misguided opinions on how we got into this mess, and then quickly shift focus on who or what to blame.
We all need to stand up and refuse to be scared.
Fear motivates survival, not creativity. If we expect to exit this downturn stronger, we need to innovate through the crisis, not run from it.
Every problem needs a scapegoat, and recently the target has been technology. I have read articles where people blame the ad networks, the search engines, the optimization technology, the targeting capabilities, and countless other collections of bits and bytes that are unable to defend themselves. So I will.
Einstein once said that "it has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity."
We are the only species in history intelligent enough to blame the inventions we create for the problems they cause. It is we who are to blame.
We got greedy when ad network executives came calling and promised us they would sell our remnant inventory. We never stopped to think about how that would change the value of our premium inventory. Worse, we believed salespeople that told us they would sell that inventory as "generic" inventory. We forgot that ad network salespeople were equally greedy.
The monster we created was not technology. It was enabling two salespeople to sell the same product with conflicting interests.
We got greedy again when behavioral targeting companies came to us with a promise of taking our data to drive up CPM prices. We were blinded by the prospect of dollars and never stopped to think about what the long-term ramifications of giving away our data were. We did not spend enough time or energy to own the public policy conversation about data privacy, and ensure everyone was educated to make wise decisions. Instead, we allowed propaganda and fear to lead the day.
There will always be charlatans in our industry who play on the fringes and push the limits of both ethics and good taste. To blame technology would be to obfuscate the problem.
Perhaps the pundits are right, and ad networks need to go the way of the telegraph. We respect their place in history, but respectfully move on.
Regardless, technology will be a major part of the future of our industry. We desperately need technological innovation for ad formats, interactivity, performance-based capabilities, and tracking brand influence.
We need to embrace technology, but promise to be smarter about how we use it.
I was reminded of the impact of technology on our collective psyche during a captivating presentation at the TED conference in Long Beach, Calif. A doctor from Stanford demonstrated a new technology that makes a single incision on your stomach small enough to be covered by a singleBand-Aid®, and removes cancer using a micro robotic arm. She said that one day this technology will enable us to remove many forms of cancer on an outpatient basis.
She closed the talk with an incredibly provocative and intriguing idea: the new technology performs surgery so gracefully, it could eliminate the fear of death. She refused, however, to allow us to skip the danger, because in her opinion, nothing in the world teaches us more about life than seeing our own mortality.
A bad economy coupled with bad decisions has made us feel our industry's mortality.
We should not be fearful, we should not be greedy, and we should not be quick to blame the very technology we created.
Technology can save lives and revolutionize industries. I just hope we are smart enough to use it wisely.
GOT SOMETHING TO SAY?
We'd like to add more regular contributors to Online Publishing Insider. If you think you can write insightful commentary and analysis on the state of the industry, please send a sample idea and your credentials to Phyllis Fine, Columns Editor, at email@example.com. (Please note: We ask columnists to avoid self-promotion.)