Digital Advertising's Pivot Point

By John Snyder, Grapeshot CEO 

As the ad industry gathers here in New York City for its annual Advertising Week festivities, I couldn't help but reflect just how pivotal the past year has been.  With Don Draper and the rest of the "Mad Men" crew signing off the airwaves earlier this year, it truly felt like the end of an era.   Bookended by the growing influence and prominence of technology companies at the Cannes Ad Festival earlier this summer, it felt like a generational baton was truly being passed.    Data-driven technology is the new mantra and programmatic media is the new engine.  Of course, all the smart humans will steward and guide this revolution.

Over the past year the word "programmatic" has become the keyword to unlocking advertiser hearts, if not their pocketbooks.  Programmatic media has taken on an importance and a connotation beyond the original idea of workflow and ad trading automation.  It is now a strategic imperative.  As media platforms continue to proliferate, consumers are increasingly in control of their media consumption in an overwhelmingly "pull"environment of on-demand choices.  This is in stark contrast to the traditional "push" advertising models of yesteryear.  Nowhere is this trend more apparent than the cable TV business's current concerns that consumers--particularly millennials-- will adopting cord-cutting (cancel their cable subscriptions in favor of new connected TV options customized to their personal likes and tastes).

This speaks to the prominence of "personal marketing" in our industry.  The sophistication of the real-time based data-driven marketing technology is increasingly making it possible to hyper-target customers and prospects in a much more specific manner that makes the messaging much more relevant to their personal needs and thus much more resonant.  Next-generation targeting software tools like my company Grapeshot's keyword contextual targeting app facilitates more effective, relevant and brand-safe campaigns.  While we've done a great job as an industry to take these great strides forward, many troublesome challenges lie ahead.  These included the much-publicized fraud and viewability issues in digital advertising where a far too large percentage of digital ads served are either being viewed by bots, not humans, or they are placed on online publisher pages in a manner where they cannot be viewed by the consumer.

In my opinion, the industry has done a respectable job acknowledging and addressing the fraud and viewability issues, and I'm confident that we will solve those issues, sooner not later.  The latest dark cloud cast over the digital ad ecosystem has been the growing trend of consumer adoption of ad blockers.  While ad blockers in a desktop context has been around for a while, Apple's recent announcement that its new iOS mobile software was going to offer ad blocking capability was a warning signal that has many industry players concerned with consumer mobile usage well on its way to surpassing desktop as the primary consumer media platform.   The challenge there is that the mobile user experience to this point has been mostly an annoying, unfulfilling one for consumers, owing to the smaller screen size and the inability of brand marketers and their agencies to create engaging consumer experiences on the mobile platform.

We as an entire industry must collaborate to create a higher standard of quality for both mobile and desktop advertising.  The era of crappy digital advertising must end.  I've been publicly vocal in recent months in positing a concept called the "Perfect Impression," which entails not just higher quality creative--native advertising is one promising method-- but also a more sophisticated way of quantifying the value of quality advertising.  Consumer engagement must be the foundational element in all future measurement models.

Consumer frustration with intrusive, irrelevant and unengaging digital ads is at an all-time high.  We must act and I'm confident that we will.  The advertising industry has always been run by some of the smartest and most creative people in the world, and I am confident that we will rise to meet all of these formidable challenges in a manner whereby during future Advertising Weeks, we will congratulate ourselves for having created a more effective, engaging and remunerative marketplace.