Everyone's online now. That's no excuse for dumbing down the Web.
New York's Advertising Week? To those of us who are really serious about online marketing, it was a big disappointment.
Rishad Tobaccowala, CEO of Denuo nailed it in his opening address at the Online Media, Marketing, and Advertising (OMMA) conference Monday, when he told the audience, "While everyone's talking about Web 2.0, most businesses are still at version 1.0." He's right. Unfortunately, after he finished speaking, much of the week's conversation about interactive advertising and marketing reverted back to 1.0, too.
Make that 1.0b.
Why, in an industry with no shortage of electrifying, brilliant, and innovative leaders, did both major interactive events find it necessary to kick off the week with keynotes from television executives? I've got nothing against TV execs (having been one myself). But I do have better things to do than go to an Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) event to listen to a keynote in which NBC Universal Television Group CEO Jeff Zucker affirms, "I am not here to defend television," then does precisely that for the next 30 minutes.
Zucker spouted accepted knowledge and truisms (e.g., TV isn't going away) when he wasn't making apparently groundless claims, such as that NBC has research (which isn't going to be shared with you) indicating DVR owners spend more time viewing commercials.
Meanwhile, over at OMMA, Fox Interactive Media President Ross Levinsohn was delivering pretty much the same spiel. "Everybody's been talking about the death of old media. It's taken a beating in the last few years, but we're still here, and we're stronger."
The next day, the IAB inexplicably hosted a chat between Harvey Weinstein and Charlie Rose. There was only the most fleeting reference to the Web (and zero discussion of interactive marketing). OK, it was an opportunity to gawk at a couple of boldface names. But a lunch at Michael's would certainly render more celeb for considerably less than the $1,000-plus conference ticket.
Indeed, it was at one of Advertising Week's non-interactive events that American Express' VP of Global Advertising Diego Scotti told an audience that back in 1994, the company sunk 80 percent of its budget into TV and the remainder into print. Now, less than half its spend is dedicated to broadcast in favor of events and other media channels, including the Web. "No longer can we view our job as filling gaps between other peoples' content," said Scotti. "Soon, there won't be gaps to fill because everything is content."
Filling the Gaps
There are gaps to fill all right, but nothing at Advertising Week helped fill them. When everything is content and everyone's creating content, just how are advertisers going to insinuate themselves in the gaps that are left?
Sure, Advertising Week dedicated a fair amount of time to talking about how to leverage social media. Yet MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, and blogs no longer represent the bleeding edge of the consumer-generated media (CGM) phenomenon.
Case in point: In the midst of all these big media discussions, Ben Epstein shot me a note. He recently developed a personal search engine, PSS and is trying to figure out how to monetize it with ads. The result pages are just too dynamic to be contextually parsed with Google AdSense, even with "tweaks," as Epstein put it.
He isn't kidding. I ran a search on my name and all the AdSense ads on the page bafflingly contained the word "jewelry."
I got to wondering whether any of the major ad networks (not to mention advertisers) are prepared to deal with this very Web 2.0 kind of problem, so I called 24/7 Real Media.
"Despite all the talk about the importance of those who can rightly monetize inventory, the industry hasn't fully addressed how to get down the long tail," agrees Ali Mirian, 24/7's product manager for publisher solutions. "We consider this an extension of the user-generated content phenomenon."
It is. But unlike blogs, which tend to focus on a theme (marketing, mandolins, Merlot, manta rays), search is extremely wide ranging. A Web searcher isn't going to register with a site by spilling as much personal information as she would on MySpace or tag as carefully as one might on YouTube. Mirian agreed, adding, "But advertisers and agencies really throw them all into the same bucket."
Mirian believes (bear with me here) a solution to serving ads on a site like PSS would involve a complex combination of behavioral targeting, retargeting, and geo- and demographic targeting, all mixed in with contextual. "I don't think that Google AdSense is the best option, it's the path of least resistance for these guys," he added. "But it's pretty early to tell how to best monetize this type of inventory. Our approach has been to build as many types of targeting capabilities as possible, and there'll be a fit in there for you somewhere. We're not conceited enough to think we always know what [technology] is coming."
PSS is no NBC or Fox, but there are hundreds of up-and-coming plays like it on the Web. Most of them you'll never hear about. Some will change the rules all over again.
Solutions, Not Self-Congratulations
It's precisely these sorts of problems, and potential solutions, high-level interactive advertising conferences must address. Sure, an A-list keynoter helps sell tickets. After that's been dispensed with, it's time to lose the celebrities and cut to the issues. Too much time was spent this week talking about pre-roll ads and other straight-from-broadcast models. With video becoming a major online force, that's somewhat understandable.
But haven't we been over this terrain before? Back when the Web was nearly all text, advertisers and publishers adapted and continue to evolve print advertising models for the channel.
It's all good, important, and, most of all, easily digestible, particularly for the mass marketers in our midst.
But now, another Web is coming up behind us. This new entity doesn't fit as nicely into traditional media analogies. Innovations such as personalized search, AJAX (define), and syndication are changing all the rules.
It may be easier to live in a world that only equates interactive advertising with the old print and broadcast models. It's far more interesting, and potentially much more lucrative, to figure out how to reinvent the system from the ground up.
Meet Rebecca at E-Mail Marketing, the first in the new ClickZ Specifics conference series, October 24-25 in New York City.
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Rebecca was previously VP, U.S. operations of Econsultancy, an independent source of advice and insight on digital marketing and e-commerce. Earlier, she held executive marketing and communications positions at strategic e-services companies, including Siegel & Gale, and has worked in the same capacity for global entertainment and media companies, including Universal Television & Networks Group (formerly USA Networks International) and Bertelsmann's RTL Television. As a journalist, she's written on media for numerous publications, including "The New York Times" and "The Wall Street Journal." Rebecca spent five years as Variety's Berlin-based German/Eastern European bureau chief. Rebecca also taught at New York University's Center for Publishing, where she also served on the Electronic Publishing Advisory Group. Rebecca, author of "The Truth About Search Engine Optimization," was ClickZ's editor-in-chief for over seven years.
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