Mary Meeker Is Right/Mary Meeker Is Wrong

In my daily practice, I interact with many Fortune 500 Companies from around the world. Most of them have embraced digital, social and mobile media as an integral part of their connections strategy.

Some of them have done so out of a true belief and understanding of what these touch points add to the consumer experience and engagement with the brand. Others have done so “because I have to, says my agency/CMO/daughter.”

Consequently, ad spend in all these digital touch points continues to grow at a very fast rate. However, Rick Webb, a partner at VC fund Quotidian Ventures, made an astute observation the other day at a conference. He asked why the gap between the amounts of ad dollars spent on digital touch points still does not match the time spent by consumers on all these different digital options.

He referenced a Mary Meeker data comparison slide showing this gap, answering his own question by saying that, basically, all digital advertising sucks when compared to what TV as a medium is capable of delivering in visual and emotional story-telling. Plus, which marketer has the time to evaluate the 50,000 or so start-ups and platforms that offer digital advertising options? It’s much easier to choose from 500 TV channels.



He is right, of course. But I would like to add some nuance to the comparison. Because as much as it makes sense to show the imbalance between consumer time spent and marketing dollars allocated, at the same time making this comparison is pointless. It’s unrealistic to compare the hefty cost of TV with the very differently traded online ad space.

Online video is not TV, whether it’s called Hulu, Netflix, ESPN or YouTube, or even when it is viewed on your connected smart TV directly or via the Google dongle. Most other forms of online advertising (with the exception of some content forms like native advertising) are “billboards” at best.

So what ad spend is measured? The answer is, by and large, ad dollars allocated to paid media (TV, banner ads, online video, search, etc.).

When it comes to wowing the consumer in digital, it seems native advertising and original content are the forms that can possibly match the same levels of reach, entertainment and emotional involvement that good TV ads deliver (with a HUGE emphasis on “good”).

But here’s the problem. Many of the elements of this kind of “advertising” are not measured at all, or are reported in a completely different category (sponsorship) or measured only in a very limited way in terms of spending (namely only the bits that appear in paid media).

Marketers like Unilever spend a lot of money on “stuff” (a technical marketing term) like rides on SpaceX and creating a whole bunch of (digital) content around these events. Or P&G sending Isaiah Mustafa to London to launch Old Spice’s search for English gentlemanliness (and doing surprise appearances across London, all announced and shared via digital). How about Red Bull and Felix Baumgartner?

And so the actual gap might be smaller than Meeker and Webb think. Which is good news, if true. What we really need is a better way to measure and report marketing spend, digital included, reflective of today’s complex marketing plans. Perhaps this makes for a great New Year’s resolution for the industry as a whole?

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