Will It Get Worse Before It Gets Better?

Maybe its because the days are getting shorter and it’s getting colder out, but I’m starting to get a little cranky. I’m starting to think we are going to have to get whacked on the side of the head a few more times before we wake up and do things right. I’m starting to think it might get worse before it gets better.

Why am I thinking this way? Well, maybe it started this morning when I made my 9th or 10th call in so many days to the company that hosts my Web site. It is a pretty well known company that was recently acquired by a bigger company. And ever since it was acquired, my Web site has stopped reporting accurate statistics. I’m not talking about a little discrepancy here or there. I’m talking about the fact that it is underreporting by 90%. And it has been like this for 2 months. And they still don’t know what the problem is. And this is what they do for a living.

And (and this is the most maddening part) I have to re-explain the problem every time I call. In last week’s call I explained the problem once again to the bored technician on the other end of the wire and I asked to speak to a manager. I was rudely refused. “There is nothing he will do that I can’t do.” I explain that everyone I have spoken with has not made the proper notes so that I have to keep explaining the problem over and over and it never gets fixed. He assured me that HE would make the proper notes and that he understood my problem and I needed no stinking manager.



Guess what: this week I had to explain the problem – again – not once but twice: the first guy left me on hold for 20 minutes and then just transferred me to someone else. The second guy understood the problem. He saw that it had been going on for 2 months. He had no explanation. He had no ETA for fixing it. And - did I say this before? - this is what they do for a living.

Or maybe it started when an agency professional that I respect was telling me about the recent layoffs his company faced. The next day much to his chagrin, the people who were left came strolling in at nine thirty or quarter to ten.

Or maybe it was when the representative of the large Internet publishing company was bragging about the success they were having with plain gif banners that were made to look like they were interactive so that people “clicked through” when they thought they were “pulling down”.

I don’t know when it started, all I know is that I’m cranky.

More than that, I’m worried. I’m worried that the exuberance of the last few years has masked a basic incompetence in our industry. I’m worried that we have become accustomed to a certain complacency in the work that we do.

Agencies and publishers seem to be still debating the same issues that they were debating years ago, and still no common ground. Fiddling while Rome burns, arranging deck chairs on the Titanic: pick your metaphor. No one seems to believe that if you make it hard for advertisers to spend money that they will just walk away. Sometimes it seems that we’ve been smoking our own dope for so long that it’s now become an opium den and yesterday’s visions are today’s pipe dreams.

It came to me last week when I was sitting at an online advertising conference: It’s the Wild West. In the old days we had Hearst: easy to set standards when the players are few. For TV it was ABC, CBS, and NBC. Is it any wonder why buying media for print and TV is easy? The Web has no equivalent. It is the Wild West and every man and woman for themselves. Can advertising survive in such an environment?

I think so. But I think it has to get worse before it gets better. Like alcoholics in denial, we haven’t hit bottom yet. We are still coming in 45 minutes late and we think it won’t matter. We are still letting problems slide for two months even though our jobs depend on it. We are still keeping our cards close to our chest long after the game is over.

We still think we can get away with it.

-- Bill McCloskey is Founder and CEO of Emerging Interest, an organization dedicated to educating the Internet advertising and marketing industry about rich media and other emerging technologies.

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