What Happens When (Ad Tech) Innovation Stops?

Last week the media was filled with reviews and recaps from the floor of CES.  I did not attend this year — and, judging from what I read, that was probably a good thing.  Other than some fun party pics and networking opportunities with LL Cool J and Snoop Dogg, I didn’t see a lot that I was missing out on (no FOMO for me).  What I saw was a lack of innovation that got me thinking, what happens when innovation stops?

The U.S. tech sector has been pushing the envelope for years, and I would argue the last 25 years have been the most influential period of innovation that has ever occurred.  Just the advancement of the Internet, WiFi and mobile devices alone could be considered universe-shattering.  

And yet this year’s crop of CES stories were led by such products as a diaper that tells parents when their child has made a number two and a robot that will fetch your TP when it runs out.  We also saw companies like Hyundai and Uber with personalized air transport, but the regulations on those are still a tad bit far away from being practical. 



I did not see or hear of anything game-changing.  Pretty much all of what I read about was me-too tech.  I was underwhelmed.

I heard crickets from the ad industry.  In fact, I would say the musings of the Ad Tech Troll on Twitter were slightly more entertaining.  

There is only so much innovation that can happen in a growing market.  The line chart can only go “up and to the right” for so long before you see a correction.  Is it possible we are about to see that happen?  

If that’s the case, then maybe it will spur new ideation.  When markets smell a decline, the strongest leaders tend to dig in and come up with new ways of operating.  Does the tech world have that kind of leadership right now?  

That last question is a big one.  It’s too large to answer in one fell swoop.  I think you have to unpack the landscape of tech and look at categories to come up with the response.  

If you look at consumer tech, there certainly are companies that lead growth, such as Tesla and Apple.  Tesla has been continuing to innovate, and the markets are starting to recognize and reward those efforts.  The Tesla challenge is, it needs to maintain production to meet demand, which is no small feat.  In the case of Apple, it has been leading by momentum rather than innovation.  Its product development has stalled and its ability to lead through innovation is slowing down as well.  

What about the world of ad tech?  Are its leaders poised to deliver innovation, or are they simply minding the deck chairs on the Titanic? 

If you are at Google and Facebook, are you looking to innovate or simply pick up the pieces from the decline of the rest of the category?  If you are at the number 10 through 50 company in ad tech, are you leading through change to new markets, or are you simply trying to keep your business afloat for another year?  To be completely open, are you looking to grow or simply maintain a nice lifestyle type of business?

I would recommend that you evaluate your leadership team and ask them the hard questions about innovation, growth and the ability to deliver increased business in 2020.  This is a critical year for tech.  I hope that by the time CES rolls around next year, we have more to talk about than a toilet-paper-fetching robot.

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