Ad Week Summary: Outdated and Confused

Jayne_PimentelAd week didn’t accomplish much this year. We left the week not understanding nor defining major trends in our industry nor sussing out what the hell everyone does in our space. We blurred definitions further between programmatic premium and private exchanges as well as native advertising as an emerging category. Ad Week fell flat for two reasons: 1. Not one panel fully resolved a heavily debated topic in the industry. 2. The thought leader practitioners that should have been there to call BS weren’t there.

Ad Week turned into an event where people talked around topics, replaced insightful messages with buzzwords, and failed to deliver on an industry that prides itself on delivering a clear and concise message to end users/consumers. We failed to define and clarify native and programmatic premium.

Don’t get me wrong; I am the first to voice my thoughts around Digital not taking a backseat to TV when it comes to upfronts, etc. However, the Aol Programmatic Upfront Event was less of an upfront and more of just an announcement about a private exchange that isn’t new to the industry. It’s funny how our industry tries so hard to revert to yesteryear while in the same breath speak about innovation.

We have a tendency in the industry to Glee-ify ideas. In other words, we combine two totally separate ideas or innovations and combine them in a quasi mashup; Programmatic Upfronts being the ‘mashup’ in this instance. These are two ideas: one trying to capture the innovation fervor of the industry (programmatic) and the other trying to tie itself back to a tried and true buying practice in the industry (the upfront). However, we create more of a PR event than an opportunity to showcase what the intended technological innovation is meant to accomplish in the industry. We add confusion to an already confused industry by combining practices and ideas that contradict each other. Moreover, we don’t standardize the terminology. What we call ‘private exchange’ deals we interchangeably call ‘programmatic premium’ and what we call ‘programmatic premium’ we mask for ‘programmatic remnant’. Like slapping lipstick on a pig.

Speaking of nature’s creatures, let’s talk about naturally fitting advertising – native advertising – the most poorly defined category in advertising today. The industry blurs the line between what is considered “good” advertising and what is “native”. They’re not the same. It’s not just in the interest of the brand to understand what native truly means, but it’s in the interest of the publisher for both monetization and legal reasons. Native advertising puts the publisher in precarious situations when a pushy brand wants to create content that is misleading to look like organic, editorial content rather than “advertorial”.  Ad Week made it seem like if the publisher is dumb and the advertiser is sketchy then native will prevail.  We all should be happy that a publisher in today’s market will allow “native” borderline deceptive advertising to run, and the advertiser is shady enough to sneak ads into areas that users don’t expect them.  However, we should be doing the opposite.  Yet no one raised his or her hand on the panel to be the voice of reason for either the publisher or advertiser that just wants to know how to ethically and legally leverage native.

There was a lack of audience participation. Not necessarily a lack of numbers, but a lack of inquisitive people savvy enough to call out ideas or opinions that didn’t line up with practitioner best practices. Panelists never went off script. They knew the questions ahead of time, prepared in advance, and polished up their responses in tweet-friendly sentences. I wish someone in the audience would have prepared to ask a question with the same level of preparation, but we don’t get that luxury.

I have some ideas as to how we can revamp Ad Week:

  • Hot seat booths – Industry ‘experts’ sit for 15/20mins and can be asked questions pertaining to what he or she knows. E.g. What’s Native? Thoughts on privacy? 1st party data usage? Cross platform measurement? 1:1 setting will garner more honest, provocative answers.
  • No phone rule during particular panels– coming from someone who works in mobile as well as sleeps with her phone in bed (like 63% of the rest of you). Just sit there and listen.  If you can’t remember what you wanted to tweet after the 35min session then it probably wasn’t worth tweeting.
  • Buzzword black list – words that should be excluded from conversations and collateral as part of a company’s explanation as to what they do.
  • No notes on the panel – if you don’t know what you’re talking about then you shouldn’t be up there. It also keeps people from hiding behind stats.
  • Fewer panels. Longer panels – You can’t solve or define anything in 35mins. A panel trying to tackle some of the industry’s toughest and most complex issues should be at least an hour or more, and if people can’t sit through it then I don’t know how they graduated from college with lecture halls.

I’ll get off my soapbox now. I’ll end on a positive note: this industry has become more significant in terms of mainstream and economical impacts in our lifetime than in any other era of advertising.  We can’t continue to shovel s*** around – repackaging old ideas, creating poorly thought out opportunities for the market, and not pushing ourselves to think differently. We have the opportunity to do more. Do better. And we should.

Jayne is a contributor to The Makegood and Director, Demand Sales for NEXAGE. Look for her post the first Wednesday of every month.