The Five Stages Of Grief: How Marketers Deal With New Digital Ecosystem

Most people are familiar with the five stages of grief, as pioneered by Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book “On Death and Dying.” The stages are, in order: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

For marketers dealing with the realities of digital advertising, I am going to advocate a revision of this model, with the order now denial, depression, anger, bargaining and acceptance.

Denial. For many marketers, this is the current state they live in. Over the last few weeks we have heard about media agency groups doing volume deals with the likes of Twitter or Facebook. These groups are also buyers as well as sellers through their trading desks. All of these deals border on making a mockery of transparency. On top of that, anywhere between 10% and 55% of a marketer’s digital inventory is wasted because it’s never seen by human beings.

Depression. Last week I spent time with a group of senior executives at a World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) meeting. Many of them feel they are caught between a rock and a hard place. They have (grudgingly) accepted the current state of affairs as described in the denial stage. “What should I do?” asked one. “Simply not including digital advertising is not an option, so the shortcomings and pitfalls simply come with the territory.”



Anger. To be honest, I don’t understand why anger is not yet widespread and at the volume of complete outrage. Of any $100 a marketer puts through programmatic buying, only about 45% is actually used for buying ad space. The rest apparently goes to the various middlemen in the completely un-transparent ecosystem. And of that 45%, anywhere between 10% and 55% is reach from bots and other assorted fraudulent delivery. Oh, and with “reached,” we have to accept the IAB definition that a digital ad is considered “viewed” if 50% was in view at least one second (two seconds for video). So, worst case scenario, of every $100, only a measly $23 is reaching actual consumers for one or two seconds. You know what, we should shift dollars back to TV!

Bargaining. Some marketers have started bargaining directly with media owners. In a WFA poll last year, 75% of marketers (as well as 60% of all agencies) agreed that more direct deals were inevitable. Why? The number-one reason marketers gave was their distrust of, and lack of transparency in, their agency partners. I am not sure a direct deal is going to give you the transparency you long for, but it will certainly save you money by cutting out the middle men (plural).

Acceptance. Let’s face it, the marketing ecosystem has changed and it will never go back. The convenience, utility and pervasiveness of all that we have at our disposal is too strong a drug to ever go away. Just look at what happened when governments tried to deny people the use of social media: they found ways around it. Have you seen the new mantra people have adopted in case of (natural) disasters? It used to be food, shelter and clothing. It is now food, shelter, clothing, and power to charge my batteries and provide access to cell phone signals/WiFi.

The new marketing reality is a technology- and innovation-driven ecosystem. So how come we can’t apply these same forces to how we do business within it? Why are we paralyzed to evolve from the banana republics, dictators with “take it or leave it” rules, and emperors with no clothes? Let’s move collectively to “anger” and see what happens.

4 comments about "The Five Stages Of Grief: How Marketers Deal With New Digital Ecosystem".
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  1. Hollis Thomases from Hollis Thomases, June 2, 2014 at 12:46 p.m.

    Maarten, you are spot-on though I sadly think there are too many fat cats with too much to lose to get angry. I've posted a few things myself to this effect.

    I think unless marketing leads to a grave debacle, e.g. Target's credit card security breech, and someone's head is forced to roll, things are going to continue as usual for a while to come.

  2. Terry Heaton from Reinvent21, June 2, 2014 at 12:48 p.m.

    Excellent, Maarten. Both funny and sad. I especially love the ANGER section, inferring a hat tip to John Wannamaker, for perhaps his 50% is better than your 23%. Also, what's the source of the food, clothing, shelter, power reference? Thanks again.

  3. Maarten Albarda from Flock Associates (USA), June 2, 2014 at 2:27 p.m.

    @Terry: the food/shelter/clothing/power/wifi came from me, inspired after Hurricane Sandy:

  4. Marcelo Salup from MS Group LLC, March 17, 2015 at 1:19 p.m.

    This is too funny! And true. Especially the last point. I can't, for the life of me, understand why marketers who will discuss every last CPP and beat you up over a nominal CPM, CPC or CPL will then accept that viewability standard. This column is a classic Marteen.

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