Sorry, Folks: Blame It On Ed

Just when you thought it was safe to assume I’d be moving on to another topic, I’m back. Blame it on Ed Papazian, who commented on last week’s column about the rise of the audience marketplace.

I’ll respond to his comment in multiple parts. First, he said: “I think it's fine to speculate on 'audience'-based advertising, by which you actually mean using digital, not traditional media, as the basis for the advertising of the future.”

All media is going to be digital. Our concept of “traditional” media is well down its death spiral. We’re less then a decade away from all media being delivered through a digital platform that would allow for real-time targeting of advertising. True, we have to move beyond the current paradigm of mass-distributed, channel-restricted advertising we seem stuck in, but the technology is already there. We (by which I mean the ad industry) just have to catch up.



Ed continues in this vein: "However, in a practical sense, not only is this, as yet, merely a dream for TV, radio and print media, but it is also an oversimplification.”

Is it an oversimplification? Let’s remember that more and more of our media consumption is becoming trackable from both ends.  We no longer have to track from the point of distribution. Tracking is also possible at the point of consumption. We are living with devices that increasingly have insight into what we’re doing at any moment of the day. It’s just a matter of us giving permission to be served relevant, well-targeted ads based on the context of our lives.

But what would entice us to give this permission? Ed goes on to say that “even if a digital advertiser could actually identify every consumer in the U.S. who is interested--or 'in the market' for what his ads are trying to sell and also how they are pitching the product/service--and send only these people 'audience-targeted ads,' many of the ads will still not be of interest."

Ed proposed an acid test of sorts (or, more appropriately, an antacid test): “Why? Because they are for unpleasant or mundane products--toilet bowel cleansers, upset stomach remedies, etc.--or because the ads are pitching a brand the consumer doesn't like or has had a bad experience with.”

OK, let me take up the challenge that Ed has thrown down (or up?). Are ads for stomach remedies always unwanted? Not if I have a history of heartburn, especially when my will power drops and my diet changes as I’m travellng.

Let’s take it one step further. I’ve made a dinner reservation for 7 pm at my favorite Indian food restaurant while I’m in San Francisco. It’s 2 pm. I’ve just polished off a Molinari’s sandwich and I’m heading back to my hotel. As I turn the corner at O’Farrell and Powell, an instant coupon is delivered to my phone with 50% off a new antacid tablet at the Walgreen’s ahead, together with the message: “Prosciutto, pepperoncinis and pakoras in the same day? Look at you go! But just in case…”

The world Ed talks about does have a lot of unwanted advertising. But in the world I’m envisioning, where audiences are precisely targeted, we will hopefully eliminate most of those unwanted ads.

Those ads are the byproduct of the huge inefficiencies in the current advertising marketplace. And it’s this inefficiency that is rapidly destroying advertising as we know it from both ends.  

The current market is built on showing largely ineffective ads to mainly disinterested prospects -- hoping there is an anomaly in there somewhere -- and charging the advertiser to do so. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound like a sustainable plan to me.

When I talk about selecting audiences in a market, it’s this level of specificity that I’m talking about. There is nothing in the above scenario that’s beyond the reach of current martech.

Perhaps it’s oversimplified. But I did that to make a point.

In paid search, we used to have a saying: “Buy your best clicks first.”  It meant starting with the obviously relevant keywords -- the people who were definitely looking for you. The problem was that there just wasn’t enough volume on these “sure-bet” keywords alone.

But as digital has matured, the amount of “sure-bet” inventory has increased. We’re still not all the way there -- where we can rely on sure-bet inventory alone -- but we’re getting closer. The audience marketplace I’m envisioning gets us much of the way there. When technology and data allow us to assemble carefully segmented audiences with a high likelihood of successful engagement on the fly, we eliminate the inefficiencies in the market.

I truly believe that it’s time to discard the jury-rigged, heavily bandaged and limping behemoth that advertising has become and start thinking about this in an entirely new way. Ed's last sentence in his comment was: “You just can't get around the fact that many ads are going to be unwanted, no matter how they are targeted.”

Do we have to accept that as our future? It’s certainly the present, but I would hate to think we can’t reach any higher. The first step is to stop accepting advertising the way we know it as the status quo.We’ll be unable to imagine tomorrow if we’re still bound by the limitations of today.

6 comments about "Sorry, Folks: Blame It On Ed".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics, September 6, 2016 at 11:06 a.m.

    Gord----note I didn't call you Cory, not that that's a bad thing---I continue to believe that much advertising is going to be unwanted no matter what targeting schemes are devised to send ads only to those who are supposedly "interested". Even a person suffering from heartburn from time to time may not really want to watch a heartburn remedy ad when it intrudes upon his/her viewing of a TV show or reading something on a website. As for sending ads only to those who opt in, that's a commonly voiced "solution" but I doubt that it's viable on a massive enough scale to sustain overall ad spending levels---especially on digital venues. Were opt-in to become the standard practice, I would expect ad budgets to be slashed dramatically and the money diverted to other forms of promotional activity.

    You may remember the experience of Cable Shop about 35 years ago. Here, the idea was  a cable channel where viewers could go and watch specially created, highly informative, long-form commercails about various products they might be interested in. The idea aroused a good deal of interest and various advertisers tested it but the  response volume simply wasn't there. Things may be different now----but I doubt it.

    A final point. You may be right that every medium will become digita, with every individual viewer, listener and  reader tracked as regards media use ----but I believe that this is not in the forseeable future unless digital media captures the vast majority of the time that TV viewers, radio listeners and magazine readers devote to those media. Despite all of the speculation, I don't see this happening because the content simply isn't there---on digital---to pull it off. So we'll just have to wait---and wait---and wait until all of this legacy media activity gets "connected". It may be a long wait.

  2. Craig Boice from Boice Dunham Group, September 6, 2016 at 1:05 p.m.

    In a decade, all media may well be available through digital real-time targeting platforms, as one option. Not necessarily the preferred option of the audiences. Not necessarily the most effective option for the advertiser/marketer.

    What do we really mean by "unwanted advertising"? 

    Advertising is more than translating fully-formed purchase intentions into purchase channels. Exposing people to reasonably entertaining, informative, and inoffensive material can create those purchase intentions in the first place. Few people "want" advertising. For example, I watch television, I sit through some of the advertisements, I smile at the duck, the gecko, and the swimming dogs  --  and then, for some reason, I'm thinking about my insurance coverage. This advertising isn't "ineffective" merely because I am initially disinterested, and I wasn't targeted.

    Many people encounter advertising prior to having any purchase intent or even receptive attitudes, and then are surprised by its value. Many advertisements reach non-targeted audiences and advertisers are surprised by the happy results.

    We don't have "unwanted", mistargeted advertising merely because we can't do any better yet, and soon we'll get serious. On the one hand, there really won't be that many people "looking for you". We have to do more than to perfectly target the few who are. 

    On the other hand, (as recently pointed out in a television advertisement) it's hard for targeting to keep up with how people change. Human beings aren't merely static, and narrowly focused, and predictable. People move on. They can be lead to learn.

    So let's continue to aim beyond the status quo in advertising  --  and that includes aiming beyond the status quo and inherent limits of digital targeting.

    I don't know if I've targeted this message properly. But maybe some of you are surprised enough by it to change your minds as you think about it.

    While you're mulling that over, some more footage of dogs and babies...

  3. Kenneth Fadner from MediaPost, September 6, 2016 at 4:41 p.m.

    Gord, I don't want to live in a world like this one:
    Last week I went to some websites I turned up in a search for "deluxe toilet trailer rental" for a party we were having over the weekend. Now, almost wherever I go -- the N.Y. Times, Washington Post, -- I am getting inundated with "Luxury Portable Toilet" ads from the very same company that never provided me a quote when I was in the market. I rented from another company that I could actually get to return my messages. I know, you can say this is just mal-practice, but the web is full of this crap. (I use the term advisedly.) I think the problem is not so much the improper mis-targeting of someone who won't be in-market again for a very long time or the annoyance factor. I think the problem is all the lost opportunity to provide me with information about the many other products and services I very likely might be interested it. I also increasingly believe that context is very important. When I am listening to classical music on Pandora, I do not want to hear 3X volume ads from Eugenics, local appliance sellers and car dealers. They are just totally out of place. And the portable toilet ads seem out of place at the N.Y. Times and the others.

  4. John Grono from GAP Research, September 6, 2016 at 5:37 p.m.

    Gord, I totally understand the model you are describing.   It is a sales model and not a brand model.   As your antacid and its competitive antacid products battle to get that next sale none are building their brand which got them where they are in the first place.

    And as CPMs go further south and with infinite supply (unlike broadcast and printed media) the solution will be thought to be "Get me more impressions".   This will result in more ignored ads.   Technology will attempt better target and intercept algorithms aiding the rise of ad-blockers.

    To channel John Wanamaker (or Viscount Leverhulme, depending on which side of the Atlantic you are) ... I know that 90% of my online advertising is wasted, I just don't know which 90%.

  5. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, September 6, 2016 at 5:41 p.m.

    Glad to see that Kenneth, John and, I believe the often "silent media thinker majority" lives, like me, in the real world.

  6. Leonard Zachary from T___n__, September 7, 2016 at 12:04 a.m.

    Ed you live in an alternative belief system that sells less audience for more money the past two decades. Ever wonder how a nationwide broadcaster only makes $0.70 ARPU while Facebook cranks +$4.50 and growing? Attribution. Oh and the median age of that less audience is greater than 50. Do the math....

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