Commentary

A Pirate Looks At 40

I don’t listen to much Jimmy Buffett these days, but I remember what it was like to sit in the sun when I was 18, 19 and 20 years old without a care in the world -- taking in his music while the hot sun beat down upon my back.  There was a sense of comfort in knowing the future was laid out in front of you, rich with possibilities.  The world was your oyster, and idealistically, you could make all the decisions that would affect the way things turned out for you.  Of course that one particular song is about a pirate realizing the world has evolved around him  --and “pirating” is not the career it once was.

As I prepare myself to be 40 this week, I’ve been very introspective. While I still believe the world is yours for the taking, I find myself recognizing the world itself has much more input into one’s future than I originally thought.  It’s not too dissimilar to that pirate.

Take my career in advertising, for example. Right out of the gate (and somewhat through dumb luck) I got into online advertising..  I was planning Internet campaigns for brands like BMW and Discovery Channel while managing more guerilla digital efforts for artists in NYC at night.   One of the executives in my first agency questioned my priorities and said I shouldn’t focus my efforts on online because, “the Internet was likely a fad and one that would never amount to being a primary medium.”.  Of course, that advice turned out to be foolish and things have gone pretty well for online since then. 

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Nowadays, it’s clear the Internet has a seat at the “big kid’s table” as a strategy and marketing medium, but something even bigger is coming, because the Web as we know it is changing dramatically once again.    Today the Internet refers to your computer, your mobile device and maybe (in some cases) your connected television.  In 15 years the term “Internet” could refer to any and all devices that are able to process information and deliver it as part of a larger, more cohesive channel.  In 15 years the concept of “Internet-enabled” will just be a buzzword for devices, appliances and channels that are addressable.  Addressability is really the future of media, more than just the concept of the Internet, by itself.

Believe it or not, in today’s marketing landscape it’s still possible for a brand manager to ignore online.  You may not agree with that statement, but there’s still a strong percentage of brand managers who rely on TV and may allocate 5%-6% of their budgets to digital.  They can do that today because TV still works for them. However, within 15 years it will be unavoidable because TV will be addressable and will be acting just like the Internet.

These brand managers are going to have to learn a whole new set of skills in order to keep their jobs.    If TV is addressable, then TV advertising will become segmented and data can be used to deliver more efficiency in TV.  That means higher prices for more targeted inventory -- music to the networks’ ears.

The landscape will be complex.  Don’t look for the exchange model to work for premium TV inventory, either network or cable.  It will work for the spot market, but the upfronts will be dominated by segmentable prime-time programming and will all be technology and data-driven.  Brand managers and TV buyers alike are going to have to learn a whole new lexicon for media planning and buying.  The platforms and the tools for inventory management are going to evolve. 

I wonder what the executives of today are saying in the TV world?  Are they saying that addressability and targeted audience segmentation is a fad, and that mass marketing will always win? 

I doubt it.  There is more money to be made in the segmentation of the television audience, and that means the destiny of TV lies in addressability. The executives that choose to ignore that evolution will be passed right by, much like the ones who overlooked the Web.   

In this situation, much like the situation I was presented with 18 years ago, the choices you make are not 100% yours -- they are heavily influenced by the environment around you, and you have to react accordingly.  I was making decisions rashly, and they worked out.  These are conscious decisions now.  You can choose to be a pirate for as long as you want, but there has to be ships for you to pillage.  You can’t be a pirate when everyone ships his or her goods by plane.  You can’t ignore addressability when it’s everywhere.

So as I approach the milestone of 40 years young, I realize that while I still make my own decisions -- many of  them good ones -- I have to cede that the environment around me plays a crucial part in forcing some of my decision-making.  Make sure you listen to what the world is telling you when it comes time to make your decisions.  If you don’t, the world can easily pass you by -- just like it did that old pirate.

3 comments about "A Pirate Looks At 40".
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  1. Matt Straz from Namely, July 24, 2013 at 2:29 p.m.

    Happy Birthday, Cory! It only gets better.

  2. Robert Formentin from *, July 24, 2013 at 3 p.m.

    Cory, maybe 15 years is too long; 10 more likely. Things are moving at a rapid pace. Even Digital Radio and DOOH inventory can be accessed via ad exchanges right now. Either way you're right though. It's inevitable. Just like getting older.

    Happy Birthday Mate.

  3. Kevin Wilk from Experian, July 24, 2013 at 3:16 p.m.

    Good stuff Cory. A few years ago I heard someone at a conference say, "In 10 years nobody will say 'are you online?' anymore. It will be like asking if you're on the grid for electricity. Everyone will always be online."

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