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Top Nine Takeaways from 2009

  |  December 3, 2009   |  Comments

A list of key lessons and themes learned about the online ad world in 2009.

Without question, my favorite thing about this industry is the phenomenal pace of change, and along with it, the endless number of opportunities to learn each and every day.

As I look back over the past year and think about the key lessons I learned and the themes that came into focus, these are my "Top Nine from 2009."

Ad Exchanges and DSPs Revitalize Display

The emergence of ad exchanges has made display advertising more relevant than ever. With auction-based pricing models, third-party data overlays, and impression-level bidding, exchanges are making display more targeted, efficient, and effective than ever. Meanwhile, Demand-Side Platforms (DSPs), like MediaMath, DataXu, and Invite Media, enable access into the multiple exchanges, providing buyers with the tools to develop new ways of doing business.

Separating Audiences from Content

What's most interesting about exchanges is the underlying change in media planning they enable. Instead of planning via an RFP (define) process that revolves around sites, audience-based planning starts with the question, if you could define your target audience as precisely as you wanted to, what would that look like? Chances are, the combination of available data and the blank canvas of exchange inventory means that targeting approach could be put into place. Where the ad appears (within reason) is less of a consideration.

Buying Brand Safety

Who hasn't experienced the cringe-inducing moment when you find out your ad ended up somewhere in the red light district? Until now, there hasn't been a way to control this, other than relying on the promises of sellers. But now it's possible to buy a form of online advertising insurance. Companies like ADsafe and DoubleVerify have emerged to address this concern head on -- building businesses around the promise of preventing these issues and gaining adoption at a rapid pace.

Facebook Becomes a No-Brainer

In the past, I needed to be persuaded that Facebook had a place on a given program. But based on its explosive growth, strength across demos, and continually improving marketing toolset, the opposite is now true. I go into a program needing to be convinced that Facebook isn't a good fit. And that hasn't happened in a long time.

Social Ads: I'm a Fan

Similarly, I used to think that social spaces weren't a great environment for ads, but Facebook is convincing me otherwise. A recent example: working on a holiday gift card program, our team was able to send messages to the friends of our brand's fans that in essence said, "You have a friend who loves Brand X -- so get them a gift card." The postage-stamp creative won't end up on anyone's reel, but I'll take targeting like that all day long.

Measuring the Right Things

We've always measured everything online -- except some of the things that really matter. In 2009, the industry seemed to turn a corner. The click has been widely and soundly dismissed. It's become easier and more affordable to measure the offline impact of online sales. And companies like Meteor Solutions are making great progress on the next big measurement frontier -- quantifying the impact of social.

The Difference Between "Experimentation" and "Test and Learn"

The industry has always loved the notion of test and learn. But many smart people have recently talked about the need for experimentation, which isn't the same thing. Experimentation is about possibilities, and is inherently optimistic. Test and learn is about limiting risk, and is inherently cautious. Maybe it's a matter of semantics, but my bet is that an experimental approach will lead to more, and bigger wins.

The Need for Speed

Perhaps spurred on by the pressures of the recession, the need to move faster became a requirement. Production timelines were crunched, and biweekly reporting cycles no longer cut it. I'd expect this to become the norm in the future, and an area of competitive differentiation for agencies that can adjust their operations.

Doing is Better Than Saying

I'm a big believer in the "it's not what you say, it's what you do" line of thinking. But it turns out that the easiest part is coming up with great ideas. The reality is that many companies just aren't set up operationally to deliver on this kind of thinking. Agencies will need to go beyond utility-driven ideas, and help their clients with the difficult work of organizational change.

So, what were your big takeaways from 2009?

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Adam Cahill

Adam Cahill is the EVP, Media at Hill Holliday. You can connect with him on Twitter at @adamcahill.

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