Commentary

Moving Together To 'Bolero': Our Industry's Flight To Quality

One of the most moving pieces of music I know is Ravel’s “Bolero.” You might not know the song by name, but you’d recognize it if you heard it.

It starts with a simple quiet drumbeat, then builds by adding clarinet, oboe, bassoon, strings, brass — and ultimately the entire orchestra. All the while, the same drumbeat plays on.

Our industry has its own instruments. In 2017 they started playing together cohesively, building on the common pulse of improving the digital advertising environment for audiences, marketers, and publishers.

The 2017 drumbeat started with Marc Pritchard of P&G and the Association of National Advertisers at the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) Annual Leadership Meetings in January and often after — great calls to action with specific next steps.

P&G followed up, looking to cut $1 billion over five years in media and tech inefficiencies. Pritchard's original message took me back to a FAST Summit in the ‘90s, where P&G brought 200 executives to its HQ to discuss what was needed in digital media to encourage more spending. Great change moment in our industry.

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Rat-a-tat-tat…tat-tat.

Then Jason Kint of Digital Content Next wrote about the ad-tech forest falling -- and then seeing better through the trees -- highlighting brand safety, margin pressure, VC funds dwindling, policy changes, and the European’s Commission’s important GDPR on data protection.

Rat-a-tat-tat…tat-tat.

Then Andrew Susman & Mike Donohue led the first Transparency & Trust Forum, with 50+ industry executives discussing key problems — and good action steps for dealing with fraying marketer-to-consumer and business-to-business relationships.

Rat-a-tat-tat…tat-tat.

Then Rob Norman of Group M penned a column about programmatic, noting that we are all “guilty until proven innocent.” Rob highlighted similar-sounding challenges: viewability, fraud, poor supply quality, too much taken out of the middle.

Rat-a-tat-tat…tat-tat.

Then Randall Rothenberg of the IAB blogged about “Going Clear” and the still-needed improvements for the supply chain. He required all IAB members to adhere to the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG). Kudos to the IAB for waiving the required fee for smaller publishers.

Rat-a-tat-tat…tat-tat.

Then add the temporary(?) removal of dollars from Google’s YouTube by major brands in the U.K. & U.S., a great attention-getter. This underscores an issue simmering for two decades: buyers don’t check where their ads are running, and tech platforms (previously ad networks) don’t have the best controls in place.

You can feel the music building. This isn’t lip service. Industry leaders are calling for action — and then taking it. Big names are speaking with their budgets — unfortunately, sometimes the only way to spur change.

I’m listening to “Bolero” right now, thinking back to the National Association of Broadcasters’ recent conference. Lots of panels discussing lessons learned from “digital” and “TV” or “radio” — air quotes for now, because, as we’ve said for more than three years, two words eventually going away are “programmatic” and “digital,” as they become the default.  

One point referenced there was the advantage of good ol’ linear television, with 100% viewability, 0% fraud, and premium content. What wasn’t said as much, but well-known, is the “tech tax” — less than 10% in TV, radio, and digital out-of-home, unlike digital’s still-50% — starting to come down, but needing to fall more. Imagine how even more effective digital media will be for marketers when another 30%+ gets thrown onto working dollars, when the tech tax and fraud are further reduced.

Everyone in this industry needs to start working for their own and their clients’ mutual benefit by moving to more private marketplace deals; whitelisting remaining open auction buying; having fewer publisher ads, more impactful and viewable; and putting up real supply-side platform barriers to eliminate fraudulent “sites” completely.

Then we’ll have the real quality supply chain that we and our audiences deserve. And buyers, sellers, and tech firms will be dancing less like Elaine from “Seinfeld,” and more like Torville and Dean ice-danced to “Bolero.”

If you don’t know the reference, go ahead and watch it here. It’s beautiful and worth it, just like this industry can be and will be.

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