This year’s ad:tech New York conference felt a little surreal. There we were, in times of deep global economic strife, our country’s most revitalizing election season in a century finishing with a bang. And yet it could have been 1999. Show floors were no less crowded, keynote presentations no less packed.
What was most evident, however, is that industry lines continue to blur. For a conference that’s supposed to be about online advertising, you couldn’t ignore the proliferation of social media exhibitors and references in session topics. The past years’ poster child for success, Dove’s Evolution of Beauty campaign, was finally usurped by the fake remake of Canadian breakfast cereal, Shreddies, into “Diamond Shreddies,” which capitalized on social media and viral marketing to gain traction. Props, too, to the ad:tech folks who tried to work the social media angle with a live, visual Twitter feed on strategically placed flat-panel screens throughout the show, an ad:tech Twitter profile, a hashtags.org account, an ad:tech blog, and a Flickr account.
Mobile marketers, always trying to make inroads, turned out in force, while old faithfuls like e-mail list management and search engine marketing providers had fair representation as well. As a 10-year industry and conference veteran, I appreciated the new ways in which exhibitors tried to attract attendees and had fun with my new iPhone. (My first prize for unique booth design goes to ListFusion for its ’50s style diner replete with Boston cream pies and “pop”!)
It’s also clear that CPA (define) ad networks have grown up. Many seemed less hawkish and cavalier, opting instead for understated booths and demurely dressed staff. Successful networks like Hydra Network have seen more Madison Avenue agencies come knocking. Other networks, like Epic Advertising, Ybrant Digital, and Affiliate.com, debuted their new names and repositioning in an effort to disassociate themselves from their somewhat sordid pasts and attract new advertisers. These networks now also claim to offer more transparency and premier inventory so they can attract big-brand advertisers.
CPA networks suffer from the negative connotation associated with the low-quality inventory they’ve dealt with in times past, but the reality is that in tougher economic times, CPA campaigns will continue to attract advertisers seeking controllable ROI (define). And the inventory is out there. One CPA vendor even disclosed to me that the week before, struggling Yahoo came calling, saying it was once again open to CPA opportunities. I wouldn’t be surprised if other tier-one publishers opened up inventory for CPA.
Impressively, at 9 a.m. on Election Day, CNN’s U.S. president, Jonathan Klein, gave his keynote, “Couch Potatoes, Thrill Seekers and Citizen Journalists: The Future of News in the Digital Universe.” If that title doesn’t reinforce the notion that the online advertising world is looking beyond rigid advertising borders, I don’t know what does. Klein’s engaging presentation, though obviously a chest-thumping for CNN, drove the integration point home. Wisely, too, the way that CNN has both engaged and capitalized on consumer-generated media allows the news network to attract users and advertisers alike, a perfect storm.
Geoff Ramsey, eMarketer CEO, spoke next and, like Barack Obama, worked to spread the gospel of hope. He emphasized that we shouldn’t get caught up in the daily bleak economic news headlines to the extent that it leads to panic, paralysis, and fatalism. Instead, we should remember that most industry analysts predict that the digital industry will still demonstrate double-digit growth in the year to come (eMarketer predicts a 14.5 percent growth in 2009).
Some other noteworthy highlights:
- For some publishers, e-mail newsletter consumption and open rates are higher than ever and more niche content is being created to meet demand.
- Privacy issues and warding off government intervention are still topics on many minds. The industry has to do a better job of controlling and policing itself to avoid regulation.
- Some advertisers would rather pay a premium for less cluttered ad space because so many ad options lead to inefficiency in ad buys to reach a target audience, which is ultimately more expensive.
- Branded ad measurement metrics must be the industry’s next area of focus to continue to woo major brands.
Next year’s ad:tech New York will be held at the Javits Convention Center, which is difficult to get to and a gigantic venue in comparison to the New York Hilton. My advice to ad:tech planners: arrange for shuttle buses, please!
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