It's Time To Drive Complexity Out of the Digital Media World

I spent a good chunk of yesterday at LUMA Partners’ 6thannual Digital Media Summit. LUMA is made up of investment bankers focused on digital media -- and its founder, Terry Kawaja, well-known for his LUMAscape market maps, always puts on a good show.

The DMS events not only tend to attract one of the largest and most notable collections of senior executives of any event in the year -- but also, since Kawaja is a frustrated comic in a banker’s world, you can always be certain of an entertaining show.This year was no exception.

As Kawaja was announcing the launch of the newest (the 11th) LUMAscape -- for content marketing -- it really struck me that our industry is only getting more complex. What the LUMAscape maps communicate, more than anything else, is how crowded and confusing the digital media ecosystem is. Viewing 11 of them at once shows it’s only getting worse. This needs to change.

Complexity prevents scale. Google was not the first search engine -- far from it. In the mid-1990s, there were many search engines and indexing services, from Yahoo to Infoseek to Lycos, among others. Google separated itself from the pack through its simplicity for the user: nothing but a search box that led to a self-evidently better result.



Google’s interface (and brand message) was simple. I’m sure that its technology was quite complex, but you didn’t have to worry about that. It was all hidden. Simplicity was all you saw.

So many in the digital media world wonder aloud about the challenges of building more scale in our industry. Search has a lot of scale. It’s simple, from interface to results for advertising and direct marketing.

Display is not simple. Digital video is not simple. Ad technology is not simple. Native advertising is not simple.

I think we need to start thinking and acting more like Google, putting the complexity of our industry behind the interfaces of our solutions. We desperately need to simplify things.

Why has the TV ad business achieved so much scale, and protected itself from the growth of digital and mobile? It’s a pretty simple business. Annual deals, phone calls, handshakes, a few faxes, 30-second spots, overnight ratings, and make-goods. It’s much simpler than digital, and much more scaled.

What do you think? How can we simplify the digital media industry, and give it the scale it deserves?

22 comments about "It's Time To Drive Complexity Out of the Digital Media World".
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  1. Joe Marchese from true[X], May 22, 2014 at 5:21 p.m.

    Couldn't agree more. And think the solution is terribly simple, but the people making and spending the money don't want it.

  2. Walter Sabo from SABO media, May 22, 2014 at 5:24 p.m.

    I don't think being more like Google is ever a good idea since a majority of their initiatives have failed and they don't really get youtube.

    But the simplicity part is good. To make it simpler, hire creatives, English majors and art history majors. Get rid of the clownish computer scientists and MBA's. Simple

  3. Matt Cooper from Addroid, May 22, 2014 at 5:32 p.m.

    You would think that simple would be better. It would seem obvious that if a number of steps were removed and cost was reduced that everyone would jump on it.

    1 out of 5 Flash banners are failing on desktop and 100% of those don't work on mobile. Rich media is expensive as hell so you would think that if you solved that problem and made things simple that the market would adopt. I can only say that people seem to be in love with the status quo.

  4. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein, May 22, 2014 at 5:38 p.m.

    @Dave, You're absolutely right. It's all about effective, scalable reach (real people, not empty impressions). And @Joe, as Upton Sinclair said: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."

  5. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, May 22, 2014 at 7:07 p.m.

    Hear, Here to Dave and Joe !

  6. Tom Cunniff from Tom Cunniff, May 23, 2014 at 5:02 p.m.

    Joe, I'm curious: what is the simple solution, and why would the people who are spending the money not be interested in it? I don't mean this at all in a challenging or snarky way: I'm genuinely curious. P.S. I don't think it's disinterest among marketers or agencies. IMO it's grudging acceptance: without a better solution, we shrug and soldier on. Whether we should or not, we accept complexity as a cost of doing digital business.

  7. Jim Garrity from BridgeTwoWorlds, LLC, May 24, 2014 at 11:40 a.m.


    You are spot on! I participated this past week in a joint ANA, 4As and IAB board meeting. At the meeting, Randy Rothenberg put up a slide of the latest Lumascape and asked for a show of hands in terms of how many people in the room fully understood the chart. Of the 100 industry experts in the room, not one raised a hand. This is a huge problem.

  8. Mark Mclaughlin from McLaughlin Strategy, May 25, 2014 at 10:11 a.m.

    When ad agencies were compensated based on a media commission and the mark-up on production, the agency and the marketer were aligned around the benefits of common sense, pragmatism and macro outcomes for the brands.

    The agency and marketer were aligned as partners.

    Now, agencies are compensated based on the scope-of-work. Digital ad agencies want everything to be overwhelmingly complicated for their clients because that protects their role and it supports the case for a large scope-of-work. The born-digital media companies scattered across the Lumascape are only too happy to oblige the agencies. After all, these ad-tech firms are funded by investors who invest in technology, not advertising solutions. Talking about the algorithm and the SaaS and the programmatic is just too cool to resist.

    The ad-tech solution and the digital agency buyer are focused on incredibly microscopic outcomes for the brand. The attention to detail for the ROI of a $200,000 media buy is mind-boggling because the OPERATIONAL inefficiency overwhelms any media efficiency.

    Today, the digital agencies and the ad-tech companies are partnered around the benefits of complexity and it leaves marketers feeling very lonely.

    For direct response budgets where the agencies are just shepherds, it does not matter too much. But, for attracting brand advertising budgets away from TV where the nuances of the creative content and the media science of Relevance and Reach are critical skill sets, this mess creates no value.

  9. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia, May 25, 2014 at 10:19 a.m.

    Your comment is the best encapsulation and explanation of the root cause and problems associated with the current misalignment between advertisers and agencies that I've ever read (or heard). Thank you so much for sharing it. This is begging for a high-profile op-ed on MediaPost. Please write it.

  10. Arthur Tauder from Thunderhouse, May 25, 2014 at 10:32 a.m.

    Agree wholeheartedly, Dave. An underlying problem is the lack of a taxonomies for the MarCom and Media industries. This has been an area of great interest for ThunderHouse and little pick-up by academia, trade associations, trade media and those business entities in a position to create the needed taxonomies. Better late than never.

  11. James Curran from, May 26, 2014 at 12:25 a.m.

    The people arent all to blame. It will never be simple and it will always need to be aggregated together for the marketer and publisher so they can see what's happening. As long as there are multiple companies vying to be the one entry point to have the most reach, than it will be complicated. Our company was founded on this very concept, unify it. It used to be print, radio and TV. Now that digital is here, any screen you see is another format and multiple formats within it. It's not only the people that perpetuate the complexity, the formats speed it up.

  12. Skip Brand from bbd (branding big data), May 26, 2014 at 1:13 p.m.

    Dave & Mark, Great perspectives and examples (google search & agency and marketer dynamic), but taking the complexity out is always hard. We all know that 'less is more', but we find ourselves when not comfortable in our innovation, nor our own skin that more is more comes out. Simple is harder than complex, I believe is that Steve Jobs gets credit for this statement and mentioned getting our 'thinking clean' and simple is the magic. We can really move our digital industry leaps and bounds with simple solutions, which allow others can build on top of. This is what great leaders and companies do. Great article and threads worthy of reading on a holiday.

  13. DG T from Viewthrough Measurement Consortium, May 27, 2014 at 9:40 p.m.

    The flipside to this straw man is that perhaps TV is and has been oversimplified. With DVRs hollowing out actual viewership of commercials like never before it seems increasingly faith-based. Isn't the complexity of digital media just the real cost of disaggregated targeting and granular measurement?

  14. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia, May 28, 2014 at 7:22 a.m.

    Good point Dom, but it's exactly the complexity from the disaggregation and granular measurement that screams for simplification. Someone (some company) will certainly bring it to the market one of these days, and gain massive scale and leverage and profit as a result.

  15. Rich Forester from Blayney Media Group, May 29, 2014 at 8:23 a.m.

    I am not sure there is a simple solution to simplification, Dave. I would disagree with the observation about TV. TV isn't simple. TV grew over time in concert with it's consumers and advertisers. Mass media and mass distribution were the perfect partners. Supply and demand of content and advertising money were always closely tied together in a very tight ecosystem that was generating excellent returns for the buyers and sellers. Innovation created solutions to shared problems without getting to far ahead. Almost everyone was always on the same page. Now the ant hill has been disturbed and the digitization of media and advertising is having the effect of trying to put a 10 year old behind the wheel of daddy's Ferrari and people wonder why it's not working. What's simple is that the "good" content (Ferraris) is controlled by very few companies who aren't going to share until you can prove to them that you can make them more money than they are currently making today. I am probably in the minority, but most browser based and mobile ads have the feel of someone handing out leaflets on street corners. Without traditional barriers to entry, every corner has it's own "unique selling proposition" solution that only exacerbates the knowledge/simplification disconnect the industry is trying to solve. I am not sure even Grace Slick could find the bottom of the rabbit hole that some digital advertising has fallen into. Heck, with the fraud and privacy concerns surrounding the industry, even the government will be involved soon. Don't worry, they'll help us simplify it!

  16. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia, May 29, 2014 at 9:16 a.m.

    Awesome comments Rich. I love the ant hill and Ferrari analogies! You are really on target about the source of the apparent simplicity, and I'm very much in your camp about browser and mobile ads still feeling like street corner leafletting. Thanks so much for sharing.

  17. Mark Mclaughlin from McLaughlin Strategy, May 29, 2014 at 11:05 a.m.

    Driving a Ferrari is a complex task. The car is sophisticated, the roads are many, the conditions change all the time, the laws are arcane and many of the most important skills are intuitive.

    But, driving a Ferrari is not complicated. Complicated is when you need to master the underlying mechanics and technologies before you even start the car. Complicated would be when the roads and the rules all change every time you get inside a different kind of car.

    Complex suggests a challenge worth mastering because the logic of the opportunities that come with the effort are comprehensible.

    Complicated suggests a challenge that is hard to comprehend because the variables are overwhelming and the benefit is ambiguous.

    Digital advertising is supposed to be complex. No one debates that. It's our apparently self-destructive passion for keeping it complicated that has everybody's attention.

  18. Tom Cunniff from Tom Cunniff, May 29, 2014 at 11:29 a.m.

    Marketing has been a little too quick to discard its gift for being gestural and approximate in exchange for the promise of being explicit and precise. Real human beings do not reside neatly in this part or that part of a purchase funnel. We do not make entirely rational decisions about anything. Even really great data will fail to paint a nuanced portrait: at best, it's a cartoon. (Walt Whitman had it right when he said, "Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.") Somewhere between 100%-seat-of-the-pants and 100%-data-driven there's a path that is simpler and makes more sense. If we can let go of some of our urge for perfection, we might actually get good at marketing again.

  19. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia, May 29, 2014 at 11:37 a.m.

    Great point Tom. Much of the simplicity of media historically was driven by its Pareto 80/20 balance that kept the high cost of perfect get in the way of cost-effective better.

  20. Terence Kawaja from LUMA Partners, May 29, 2014 at 11:11 p.m.

    This is an excellent comment trail. Thanks Dave for the kind words about DMS and for bringing this important issue to the fore. I'm thinking of changing up our tag line to "LUMA Partners: Driving Complexity Out of the Digital Media World One Deal at a Time."

  21. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein, May 30, 2014 at 10:01 a.m.

    Joe Marchese is the only one here who gets it. Complexity is the stock and trade of the digerati. It has nothing to do with what's good for advertisers and everything to do with what can be sold to them (or what they're insipid and lazy enough to buy). Want to simplify things? Look in the mirror and fire the first guy you see. Near as I can determine, the only one here whose future is secure is Terence of ever-expanding LumaScape fame.

  22. Fred Pfaff from Fred Pfaff Inc., June 3, 2014 at 4:13 p.m.

    @Dave, thank you for writing this. @Tom, right on. Business has to get over its fear of marketing (that squishy, human thing) in order for the system to simplify.

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