Advertising industry agree to disagree on inevitable data driven ads

Whenever we go to an event which is about the future of advertising it seems a bit like going to a funeral – no-one is actually dead, but everyone in the room is feeling unwell. Which is why they say so many unreasonable things, like GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon) are not the competition, or they remind us that 90% plus of every video view in the world/USA/Europe, is on a linear broadcast – at a time when even Nielsen no longer thinks that is true.

The difference when you go to the Future TV Advertising Forum, which we attended this week in London, is that at least some of the Ostriches having taken their heads out of the sand long enough to find out just how addressable advertising and programmatic works, and instead of behaving like victims, some of them have enough experience using these technologies that they are now the smartest people in the room, instead of GAFA representatives.

But there are still some Ostriches out there, and one research company which shall be nameless kicked off the event with a procession of made up statistics which showed that nothing much bad was happening. Look away.

One of the most illuminating panels was led by chairlady Ashley Swartz, CEO at Furious Corp, a supplier of data mining tools for advertising, asking question after question of a multi-constituency panel.

The head teacher if you like in this discussion was Discovery Networks, on the selling side; opposed by agency Starcom; a data driven agency 7 Stars, and Adobe thrown in for good measure, as well as Iponweb, is a kind of specialist data science company in as referee.

The panel was expertly run, in that no-one disagreed so much with one another that they stomped off, but neither was there across-the-board agreement on anything. The argument roughly summarized said, yes programmatic and addressable works, but only with the wind behind it, while going downhill, and even then it’s not a panacea. And by the sounds of it there will always be the need for agencies to help clients sort out the detail.

The first question, which was in fact the only question really discussed, come at from several angles, was whether or not there was a single universal currency for valuing one advert against another. All hell broke loose, but in essence the answer was delivered best in the next session by the “bad guy” in the room (we liked him), Michael Bologna, President of One2one Media, a managed service for addressable and programmatic ads, “It all has to be outcomes based,” which seemed to satisfy no-one, although they all eventually signed up to at least the principle. He followed this up with “Cross media is a mess, all the programmatic systems are different, and nothing compares precisely with anything else, but it more or less works, or at least you can make it work.” There was grudging assent.

In essence, that expression “outcomes based” in advertising has come to mean something real. Let’s try to dissect it. Cross media efforts in valuing the effectiveness of say a streamed advert to a handset, versus one to a smart TV showing a broadcast to the living room, have come to very little. The advertising industry continues to buy more advertising the old way, and consequently this continues to over value the TV delivered ad. But sometimes, when you are looking for a particular age group, with a particular amount of money, the cheapest way to reach them may be by buying a more expensive per impression programmatic slice.

But a client selling Mercedes cars, which pays for the advert with one or two sales, is always going to be happier with this approach, rather than someone selling Cornflakes, because just about anyone can decide to buy Cornflakes, and so it’s tough to see a better way of reaching more people than broadcast. Kellogg’s has to sell an awful lot more Cornflakes to make any campaign worthwhile.

So essentially any combination of different types and slices of advertising reach do not have a specific value. They only have a value to one particular advertiser at a particular point in time. For Discovery the idea is to sell as much advertising to those clients prepared to pay the most, as possible, whether that is in broadcast format, in online programmatic, or addressable over broadcast. For the buyer, they want to pay the least to get a specific uplift in sales, any way they can, with data if they have to, but without, if that will work. The agencies have now had to become experts in what works, a kind of interpreter between the Adobe’s of this world, and a defender against the Googles and Facebooks who say they can do it all, with or without an agency. A popular expression was “it’s easy to buy from Google or Facebook,” with the underlying assumption that for most advertising buyers it was less effective.

So we’re not sure on what planet the person was who said Google and Facebook are not the enemy.

But none of the audience or those on the stage want this to be outcomes based, with the exception of Bologna at One2one, who cared not a jot who he upset and would put his experience on the line against anyone to take a client to a better outcome. With him as the exception, every one of the audience that we sampled in the networking breaks has a default setting of believing that advertising to phones or tablets should be, by definition, valued lower than that to TV. They see handset advertising as worth less, though not worthless, if you see what we mean – and that attitude has to change in at least some of this community, if it wants to survive.

All engagement research we have seen suggests that a 20-year-old in his or her living room, with the TV on, can completely miss out on any plot twist of Game of Thrones on the TV, but they can tell you in detail every YouTube video they were sent and by whom and with what comments. If a TV broadcast is one to many – delivered on one TV, but shared with many people, then the handset is one to one, and in one sense it is all or nothing – in that if you are not looking at it, then no one else is.