I was fortunate to spend Monday and Tuesday of this week in Santa Barbara listening and debating the future of advertising with a couple of hundred industry colleagues at a conference called “Relevance.”
What brought us together? Both the topic and the venue were compelling.
Who brought us together? AT&T and its newly branded advertising and analytic division Xandr.
Why did they do it? Because Xandr’s CEO Brian Lesser and his team have developed a lofty mission and needed a place and audience for its unveiling. Their mission: “We will use data, distribution, premium content, and technology to connect people with the brands and content most relevant to them in an engaging and effective way. We will make advertising matter -- for consumers, content owners, and marketers.”
Why did I and the rest of the participants go? Because AT&T knows that shaping the future of media and advertising will take a community, and involving players from across the emergent digital ad ecosystem -- including those from advanced TV advertising -- can only help accelerate their plans and opportunity.
Having the right assets -- premium content, data, technology, direct to consumer distribution and talent -- is only a start. You also need catalysts to drive market adoption. That's where the community comes in.
Will AT&T and Xandr be able to pull it off? Like many who attended, I am hopeful.
Without question, there seems to be a big commitment from AT&T to make it happen.
First, the opportunity to optimize billions of dollars in TV advertising was billed as a key point of synergy in AT&T’s $85+ billion acquisition of Time Warner.
Second, the importance of modernizing advertising was certainly driven home on that stage by AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson in an interview with CNN’s Poppy Harlow.
Finally, the newest members of the Xandr unit – leaders from AppNexus, which AT&T acquired just months ago for a reported $1.6 billion – attended the conference as well, and were very much part of the conversation.
What do you think? Will Xandr make advertising matter?
Why not? There is a clear need for better advertising in the market. Ad-block growth is a clear indicator of the frustration of consumers with the legacy model based on intrusion and interruption. Leading brands are already walking the walk. WFA´s David Wheldon sumarized it well when he said "something´s gotta change, and fast". Clearly, there is an opportunity.
The key question for me is "will they"? Will they acknowledge that it is the consumer, each one of us, who is at the center? A fully empowered consumer who has the technology to prevent interruption, and the legal frame (EU GDPR, US Consent ACT, soon EU eprivacy...) to prevent intrussion.
This is not about technology. It is about the business model!
Whether AT&T will be able to revolutionize TV time buying is debatable and remains to be seen. I wish them the best---but until advertiser CMOs start taking hands-on control over their TV time buying---as opposed to merely blathering about the need for "better targeting" at industry gatherings----the issue will remain in doubt. By "hands-on control", I don't mean the buying process itself. What I do mean is taking the time to understand what can and can not be done---blowing through the false promises of propaganda smoke---and examining the real trade-offs, including possible gains as well as costs---for alternative ways to go. So far, this kind of "due dilligence" by CMOs has been almost entirely lacking---what a shame!