Content Is The New Creative

Throughout the week of hosting the three OMMA Display shows in L.A., I pretty much burned through my Woodstock analogies: three days of peace, love, banners, data and targeting. So I will ride the image one last time into the ground. The three-day event was uniquely comprehensive, in that we really traversed the range: from premium, high-impact display one day, to the data and targeting underpinnings of tech-driven advertising, to the emerging hyper-automated methods of real-time bidding. As I red-eyed it back East last night, I pored through my notes and memory for the issues and themes that stuck.

It was great to have a forum for the premium display category after much of that world has been overshadowed by the tech-driven targeting side. There was considerable enthusiasm among the agency creatives for high-impact ad units like the Rising Stars and OPA units. There was a lot of Woodstockian love and understanding around the idea that brands do want to align themselves with prominent, trusted media. There was general agreement that these brands were willing to pay premium prices. Which was all well and good.  But there was a tendency to swat away too blithely all of that “DR” stuff many associated with tech-driven display -- as if that wasn’t precisely the place where much of the money and growth is to be found.



There was not enough discussion about the economics of premium and whether these showy, storytelling, brand-heavy executions can occur on a content site with enough frequency and at high enough price points to really support it. Mike Rich of comScore tossed a bit of cold water on the premium ardor by reminding everyone how far south CPMs are headed as inventory skyrockets. He argued convincingly that the trends are not sustainable and that some kind of scarcity needs to be introduced into the market. The trajectory is not sustainable, and it would be folly to think that these pricing pressures (which some may think are confined to networks and remnant) aren’t affecting premium pricing.

As Magna Global’s Brian Monahan underscored in his keynote at the final day’s OMMA RTB, we are in a highly bifurcated world when it comes to display. The premium world is quite apart from the tech- and data-driven world of volume, performance-based display. That came through clearly in the three shows. And yet as one speaker at OMMA Premium display admitted, the premium players have to get beyond talking “squishy metrics,” because increasingly the conversation is being driven by data elsewhere.

One really interesting theme that emerged across the three shows was the need to integrate social media more creatively into display. While there was considerable uncertainty voiced from the buy side about the effectiveness of putting advertising into social environment, including Facebook, there was much interest in finding ways of getting social content into display itself to adapt creative to conversational contexts.

Deanna Brown of Federated discussed at length her company’s focus on “conversational” advertising that finds and in some way participates in user exchanges around specific topics. But there was also discussion about how premium publishers ultimately could be the stewards for advertisers’ presence in the social networks. If branded media can effectively use these networks as new publishing platforms and establish a trusted dialogue with users there, then the media can be a comfortable host that brings together brand and customer.

This intrigues me, as I'm still doubtful most brands really are good publishers. In fact, on both premium and tech-driven sides of the display world, one of the themes that started pressing through all around was content-as-creative. This notion that advertisers have to start thinking more like publishers, even in their display placement, came through loud and clear. It was not news that just about all of the market prognosticators we had with us were predicting a continued decline in traditional media buying. But what was more intriguing was the subtle way that realization may be taking hold in one of those areas of media buying: display advertising. At Premium Display there was repeated mention of pulling social media into the display space itself. At OMMA Data & Targeting, Deanna Brown’s idea of conversational advertising often revolved around sharing content. And even at OMMA RTB there was a persistent recognition that there was untapped potential for using all of that targeting and audience harvesting data to serve much more personalized messaging so well tuned to users' current needs it is information, not an ad.

Having the ability to make ads bigger and louder stories, even in premium environments, or having the technology to target an ad to a user at a precise moment of need is still not enough if the consumer just doesn’t want to be pitched to – no matter how big or relevant the message gets. As a couple of panelists mentioned across the three days, consumers know full well when they are being targeted online. There is nothing subtle about this anymore.  If that is the case, then the consumer should be expecting a fair exchange of value.    

I will be highlighting pieces of the three-day fest when I have more time to recoup from the red-eye back. But I do want to link to three of the brand marketers who were generous in sharing their insights with us about how they view the display space and are responding to the potential here.

Colette Dill Lerner’s keynote conversation with our Erik Sass offered many insights into how her company’s offline direct-marketing savvy translates to online. Of particular note here is Dill Lerner's comments about the reliability of third-party data: some of which struggles to get the gender right half of the time.

Bob Arnold of Kellogg’s remains one of the most outspoken advocates of the branding advantages of programmatic buying. Here he outlines how his team got demonstrable ROI and brand metrics lifts from data-driven display campaigns. Note his unequivocal comments about the total meaninglessness of the clickthrough to him.

And Kevin Doohan, who most recently ran digital strategy at Red Bull, joined me, Jarvis Mak of Rocket Fuel and Jeremy Mason of AudienceScience for a wrap-up and reflection on OMMA RTB. Doohan's thoughts on the implications of the agency trading desks on his relationship with consumers and their data are noteworthy. But he also comments on the need for more real-time brand effects signals coming out of the RTB system if brand marketers are to embrace it (echoing a point Bob Arnold made). And he reminds everyone how the digital marketer for a brand or multi-brand company has to deal with and be trusted by all of the brand managers within his company. Getting punked by crappy data or ROI claims based on iffy metrics is a sure way to kill trust in the digital unit.     

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