As if you needed reminding, I am Ahab, and the media economy is my whale. If you read or saw Moby Dick, you’ll remember the typhoon. Pfft. Nothing. What you are about to read is the consequence of my own, personal, perfect storm.
It begins with what is coming Friday, when the Pequod of my imagination sails to Philadelphia for the Media Future Summit at the Wharton School, where an elite assemblage of bosses and managers from across the media-marketing waterfront will be locked in a room and prevailed upon to speak truth to one another. MediaPost and the Wharton Future of Advertising Program let me put this thing together under their joint auspices, and after a year of planning, wheedling and fretting, it will finally take place.
The second converging element is Hurricane Patricia, which at this writing has just finished battering the Pacific Coast of Mexico with winds far more powerful than the mere typhoon that menaced the Pequod. The third element is the health of my big brother, Josh, who is under hospice care and obviously the focus of my thoughts -- especially happy ones, such as our travels together. Our last such adventure a couple of years back was a trip to, of course, Cabo San Lucas, on the Pacific Coast of Mexico. Not for a white whale. Josh’s Moby Dick was a blue marlin. We'd tried before, but never reeled one in.
And finally, trivial though it may seem amid matters of life and death, element four is my colleague Joe Mandese's recent columns about the attention economy as it relates to media and advertising. No, these aren't listed in order of importance; they are listed to document the confluence of events and the trajectory of my thoughts. Now back to Josh.
I've always gotten a kick out of him being content, because he too seldom in his 64 years has been. I mention this because there are a few surefire ways to improve his mood. One is a tropical venue, with visions of trophy billfish dancing in his head. A second is a glass or five of tequila. A third is snorkeling. A fourth is a lobster dinner. A fifth is an event in which the outcome is in doubt. I smile just thinking about the wry smile that crosses his face during all of the above.
And so we arrived at Aeropuerto Cabo San Lucas, where -- like every other tourist -- we were besieged by dozens of timeshare pimps, each offering a package of gifts in exchange for one morning of sales pitchdom. Our instinct was to shove past them, but then we heard some magic words: lobster dinner, bottle of tequila, snorkeling/booze cruise. Josh and I shrugged at one another, and signed on the dotted line. The next morning we were fetched at our hotel by a non-English-speaking driver in an unmarked white van. This is where the outcome being in doubt comes into play.
At this point, a number of American tourists were turning up decapitated at the hands of los narcos. So when we arrived at Villas de los Gringos Credulos 100% unkidnapped, we already felt like winners. Then we enjoyed a complimentary breakfast with the salesman, who received with equanimity the news that we were not currently in the market for a vacation property. He didn't even make us sit through the sales presentation. He just gave us our bottle of Patron and vouchers for the meals and boat trip.
All of which filled us con contentamiento mucho. Cost to the developers: about $250. On a CPM basis, that's $125,000. Which is pretty steep, yet clearly a successful marketing model for this and countless other sales organizations in the, ahem, developing world. Because the customer's actual attention -- the prerequisite for conversion -- is very, very valuable.
And so, when I began reading Joe's posts about the attention economy, it all fit together: Speaking of how revolutionary the concept isn't, Joe wrote: “We may have used proxies like 'reach' and 'frequency,' or even highly subjective terminology like 'engagement,' but fundamentally all we've ever been talking about is how people spend their time with media.” This also happens to be the business model long touted by true(X) founder Joe Marchese, whose platform allows advertisers to pay for audience time spent on ads.
Which brings me back to the Media Future Summit, which will be entirely devoted to sustainable revenue models for publishers, whose businesses -- like the Pequod -- are in grave danger of foundering. Marchese, alas, passed on an opportunity to be one of the founding co-hosts of the Media Future Summit; surely the notion of leviathan CPMs will engender some interest among the delegates -- publisher and marketer alike.
Now me -- I'm indeed Ahab on this media-revenue quest, and nearly as monomaniacal as Melville's character. But I'm not one to count my whales before they're harpooned. On the other hand, sometimes, when the outcome is in doubt, good things do happen. Me, I'm grinning from ear to ear. Because while I don't know what will happen on Friday, and don't know if the attention metric will save the media economy, I do know this:
The day after our huevos rancheros, and after our snorkeling cruise, and after our lobster dinner, Josh and I rose early to head for the blue water, more or less exactly where Patricia gained her strength. And there, in fulfillment of a lifelong dream, my big brother hooked and landed a magnificent blue marlin.
This filled him con contentamiento mucho. The tequila was good, too.