Intellectual Calisthenics

I heard a phrase recently that appealed to me: “intellectual laziness.” It resonated because we all exhibit it at some point: a desire to stick with the status quo, take the path of least resistance, or go with the tried-and-true.

Nowhere is this more pronounced than in marketing and advertising. The old school frequently makes pronouncements like, “I know TV works because I’ve been doing it for 50 years.” It’s getting much better, but it’s still an issue, especially with the large Fortune 100 advertisers.

This column is devoted to the pursuit of intellectual calisthenics. If we have the ability to send two remote-controlled rovers 110 million miles to Mars, we can surely push ourselves to think a little in the context of digital marketing.

It’s not my intention to minimize the due diligence needed to make some of the items below a reality. However, in the spirit of exercising our brains, these are a handful of digital marketing challenges I’m astounded no one has yet solved. Additionally, some good ideas would just be interesting to execute. Make no mistake, do any of these and you’ll be a media magnet. And you may just find yourself sitting on a mountain of money.

Inventory Management/Forecasting Tool

This is tool would benefit Web publishers as they try to run profitable businesses, as well as marketers and agencies dealing with delivery issues on a regular basis. After speaking with over a dozen online publishers (from the large portals to the midsized content sites), I was aghast to learn their inventory management “systems” are enormous Excel spreadsheets.

For some reason, no company out there has developed a solution that satisfies the needs of publishers. Though Solbright claims to be the solution, the publishing community doesn’t buy it. This is a big one to crack the code for — and one that will pay very handsome rewards.

Automated Competitive Separation/Editorial Avoidance

This is a pet peeve. The same technology that enables us to target ads based on contextual cues should be able to perform the reverse: keeping an advertiser out of a particular content type. It’s currently very difficult to do in an automated way in a dynamically generated content environment, such as news. Similarly, we don’t have a universal solution that ensures competitive separation of advertisers. Not an easy task in a nonlinear medium, but we should have figured this one out by now.

Universal Ad Tracking

Oh, the rewards that will come with solving this one! I recently met with a company that’s making significant strides in the ad-tracking space as it relates to the cable industry and VOD. Rentrak has followed the movie business as it’s matured, from aggregating and reporting box office receipts to tracking video rentals to the at-home VOD market. It’s about to embark on a test with Comcast that will take the unwieldy data from VOD servers and put it into a usable, Web-based “dashboard.” It’ll track content and ad viewership and will be able to help advertisers get a better handle on actual commercial ratings.

This same technique (using metadata) can be applied to other digital media forms, including the Web, radio, and non-VOD-based television, offering a complete picture across most consumer touch points. DoubleClick, Atlas DMT, are you listening?

Unwired Streaming Web Network

Lightningcast was in this game for a while. In this day and age, with broadband proliferation driving the acceptance and usage of streaming Web video, we could use a streaming aggregator. Specifically, a network with locally owned and operated stations (i.e., Web sites) that could sell marketers significant reach in high-quality environments.

Imagine: No Clicks

To round this out, an audacious thought. We did ourselves a gross disservice by latching on to CTRs as the primary measure of success. CTRs are analogous to an impulse buy: You see it, you want it, you respond immediately. It places no value on the impression and gives no credit to latent activity or activity completed offline. Let’s set aside one day a year as “NCAD,” or non-clickable ad day. All online ads would have all the same qualities but wouldn’t be clickable. Imagine that.

What are your intellectual calisthenics? Tell me about them!

Today’s column ran earlier on ClickZ.

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