Do We Matter?

I am not one for cathartic moments, and have never seen the Virgin Mary appear on my breakfast, but at the moment I am open to anything.

I am writing this from my seat at the back of a 50-plus-year-old plane heading from Bogota, Colombia to Cartagena.  The pilot has spent the last 20 minutes shouting in Spanish and turning the fasten seat belt sign on and off. Every five minutes the engines go silent for what feels like an eternity, the plane begins to shake wildly, and then at the last minute, the engines roar back to life.

I would give anything to be safely on the ground right now, and I am seriously regretting having chosen to learn German rather than Spanish in high school.

In an effort to keep my mind off the idea of crashing into the FARC terrorist-laden jungles we are currently flying over, I would like to use this opportunity to talk about something I have been really concerned about lately: purpose.

Don't worry. This is not the start of a dialogue that ends with us holding hands and sitting in a circle, or naked in the forest covered with finger paint. Rest assured, I eat copious amounts of red meat, avoid yoga, do not own Birkenstocks, and have never, ever, listened to John Tesh.



I am talking about our industry's purpose: If, and why, we matter.

Like most of you, I prefer to think that I walk into the office each day to do something more than just make money and pass the time.

This discomfort with our industry's impact on the world lead me to ask several questions: How do we make the world better? How could we make a bigger difference? Most important, how do we ensure thatwhen we die, our tombstone doesn't read, "He handled a lot of insertion orders."

Our challenge of identifying a purpose is compounded because of the near-universal perception among consumers that advertising is annoying.

It does not have to be that way. Here are three things we can do to get on the right side of meaningful:

1. Stop fighting over user data. We need to stop sitting on industry panels and regurgitating the tired debate about who owns the data. If we do not come up with a consistent answer for this that clearly benefits the consumer and addresses privacy concerns, we are going to be regulated into oblivion. The user owns the data; case closed. Now we need to figure out how to give the user control.

2. Remember the user (experience). In the rush to plaster ads all over our pages, we seem to forget who we are delivering these ads to, and why. Study after study has shown that less ads produce a better result for both users and advertisers, yet we continue to inundate our pages with ads. If every conversation about ad placements began with a conversation about user experience, we would be much better off. It is really simple: click-through rates are so low because we have failed to deliver something the user wants to click on.

3. Put serious energy into optimization. While there is lip service paid to optimization, the reality is that today's optimization abilities are akin to voice recognition in the 1980s. It might impress your friends, but it doesn't actually get the job done. By optimization, I mean the ability to understand a user's needs at a given moment and fulfill those needs by delivering a relevant and useful ad. We need to apply large amounts of dollars, scientists, and research to this problem.

These three changes are clearly not a silver bullet, but rather steps in the right direction. We need the artists, the designers, the technologists, the scientists, and the entrepreneurs to push the thinking farther.

Most important, we need to elevate the collective debate and talk about how to deliver an iPhone-like user experience to users and advertisers -- to deliver a product that users want to click on.

What do you think would make our industry more meaningful? Please share in the comments below.

10 comments about "Do We Matter?".
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  1. Wendy Hidenrick from AwesomenessTV, August 20, 2009 at 3:48 p.m.

    I want my tombstone to say, "She handled a lot of RFPs but never got on the buy." :)

    Good article. However the word 'optimize' makes me cringe. It means different things to different people. I think once that term means the same thing to everyone, then it will make sense to continue using it.

  2. Jonas Halpren from Federated Media, August 20, 2009 at 4:27 p.m.


    I agree that publishers should do the 3 things in your post. 2 & 3 have always been true. However, I don't think that it makes sense to chase the click. Cory wrote yesterday about the need for maerkers to be weened from "click crack". Click may mean something to hard core DR marketers, but for larger brand campaigns, it is all about awareness and engagement. Clicks are merely a distraction.

  3. Stephen Bainton from Mr. Marketing, Inc., August 20, 2009 at 4:52 p.m.

    David, one or perhaps two intriguing/funny quotes/paragraphs is fine but not a freakin' page...get to the heart of the matter more can see how I get to the point in my article, Women Roar! at

    Internet readers scan...we want the info fast...


  4. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, August 20, 2009 at 5:04 p.m.

    Did anyone ever consider that if those in charge so to speak stop BTing, maybe they would receive more click throughs? Think they could be digging their own grave?

  5. Britta Meyer from Loomia, August 20, 2009 at 9:36 p.m.


    I agree with your three key take-aways which in summary mean one simple thing: it's all about the user.

    Along those lines, I'd like to bring it one step further which is realizing that we live in a social world now!

    I strongly believe that most users (particularly those consuming free content) would actually appreciate ads, if they were just relevant to them. But because they are not, they become clutter. And clutter is annoying. The answer is not to put more ads up, which is just multiplying the clutter, it is about the right ad for me, the user, when i want it.

    Imagine publishers actually knew the type of products I was interested in and then could sell against that interest, instead of making me "a demographic" they decide should fit a certain set of advertised products. Why don't they just ask?

    Imagine they let me vote on ads (cudos to Facebook) and they would actually change the ads based on my feedback (sorry, not quite there, Facebook).

    Imagine the publication put me so much in control of my ad experience that eventually it would turn into a point of search when i look for certain products?

    Advertising's inherit problem is that marketers don't know where to draw the line between brand building (= reach) and targeting (= action), hence the whole obsession with CTRs, as Jonas pointed out very accurately. In our social world my bet is that we need to apply relevance to both, because the user is taking control, and that's a good thing. We need to look at users as individuals and not in aggregate, and cater to each individual's needs accordingly.

    It means lots of changes in the industry, from data collection and management, to how we sell ads (and networks could have a whole new meaning), to technology that lets the user manage their data, and optimization that is user-based.

    Lots of work, for sure, but making a meaningful industry going forward.

  6. David Koretz from Adventive, Inc., August 20, 2009 at 10:45 p.m.

    @Wendy, totally agree about optimization not being well defined. That is actually next months topic :)

  7. David Koretz from Adventive, Inc., August 20, 2009 at 10:51 p.m.

    @Stephen, my writing style is not that of a reporter, and I am not looking to serve people that want to scan headlines.

    I write a monthly column that offers my perspective on issues that I think would benefit from public discourse.

    The biggest reward for taking the time to write, is the often VERY insightful comments that come from the readers.

    The reason I ask for comments, and personally respond, is that I think we'll all get smarter from joining the conversation.


  8. David Koretz from Adventive, Inc., August 20, 2009 at 10:53 p.m.

    @Jonas, I think clicks are the wrong metric, but I think awareness and engagement are also wrong.

    Personally, I think it all ends with ROI (which was actually the point of my article that referenced Google, but I did a poor job conveying that point based on the comments).

    The key is how we give advertisers a clear path to ROI and how we measure it in a metric that everyone agrees on...

  9. Jonas Halpren from Federated Media, August 24, 2009 at 4:46 p.m.


    I agree that giving a clear path to ROI is the holy grail of marketing. I doubt that anyone would disagree. Unfortunately, no one has been able to deliver a clear path. Tracking the source of ROI is tricky one an advertisers employs more than one tactic, it is compounded when multiple ad vehicles and mediums are used. It bomes even more fragmented for business with multiple distribution channels. Take an airplane ticket for example. One may see a TV ad, Billboard, Taxi Top, a search listing, banner ad or a newspaper ad. Most likely it is a combination of the all of these. Ok, who get credit for the sale? Now think of how you can buy that ticket. I can click-through to the airline site, I can go to a 3rd party booking service, I can call the airline directly or I could even go to the airport and buy it in person. How do we track that?

    There for ublishers must use indicators (clicks, engagement, awareness, reach, frequency) as indicators as to their effectiveness. Marketers must look at their marketing mix holistically, using the metrics they have to extract ROI. The good one's know that the way to ROI is not always linear.

  10. Stuart Long, August 25, 2009 at 6:05 p.m.

    I’m a fan of the David Koretz writing style. Koretz comes across somewhat like Hunter S. Thompson without the pharmaceuticals and pyrotechnics. This was a great article and I’m looking forward to the one on optimization because it’s needed for those who can’t always grasp calculated refinement or discriminating detail. Britta Meyer provided a terrific response, great job.

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