5 Key Topics from the 10th Annual Advertising Age Digital Conference

The 10th annual Advertising Age Digital Conference was held in New York City in April, 2016 and Zion & Zion sent me to the big city (#firsttimer) to check it out. The conference promised conversation about the “elephants in the room” related to issues surrounding the digital advertising community, such as ad blocking, viewability, and transparency. Staying ahead of key issues is one of the differences between a basic agency or media team, and a leading, cutting-edge team doing the best possible work for its clients.

There were a number of great conversations, but these key topics—although not new, but still unfolding and evolving quickly—are good for any marketing pro to read, learn, and think about.

1.      Ad blocking

This technology seems like a digital marketer’s worst nightmare because consumers are completely opting out of digital advertising. But, did you know that many in the industry say we, as marketers, are to blame? That we “hijacked” the internet with ads? Some consumers are asking where that right came from. And did you know that there are ad-blocker-blockers that allow you to push your marketing message through those digital walls? Would you even want to force your ad on someone who is so unreceptive and arguably hostile towards advertising?

These are the questions that today’s digital marketers must face. And until the industry changes, individual marketers need to form their own strategy for addressing this hurdle. The Zion & Zion media team does not recommend ads that penetrate ad blockers. Even though the potential to stand out is high, the potential to hurt the brand image is higher.

So, how should the industry in general address ad blocking? First, we need to acknowledge that consumers who use ad blockers aren’t enjoying ad content. Second, advertisers need to raise the bar to make ads more entertaining, relevant, and engaging. Publishers hold responsibility, too. Publishers hold the power to create and manipulate the content and ad environment, and need to make sure the ad load isn’t too high, making the experience poor for all parties involved.

In other words, we need to stop interrupting the content people want and start becoming the content people want.

2.      Voice search

How will marketers adapt to voice search technology like the Amazon Echo, Siri or “OK Google” where you don’t always get a visual list of results, but instead hear a recited response? Putting SEO aside right now (even though SEO is key to search results), this new method of search still requires us to ask how traditional PPC campaigns will fare in this environment. How will service clients who depend heavily on PPC get their results in front of the who use voice search on a daily basis?  What will happen to conversions?

This area is very new, and for now, most consumers use the feature more as a voice assistant for movie times, directions, and math calculations than anything else. But soon there will be new frontiers to conquer once audible search results are more common. Of the 41% of adults using voice search, the majority search on their phones, and they still get a visual list of responses so marketers are safe, for now. Advertisers running PPC need to be aware of how the model is changing and stay aware of the latest developments.

3.      TV should re-think its ad formats

One of my favorite conference sessions was a panel discussion with Michael Strober (Turner Broadcasting), Peter Naylor (Hulu), Joe Marchese (Fox Networks), and Mike Law (Dentsu Aegis Network). The conversation reminded us that TV has seen very few changes over the decades, whereas most other media has changed rapidly.  So, what does that mean in 2016? In the same way that consumers don’t want to see dozens of ads blinking and shouting at them on a web page, they also don’t want (or have the attention span for) a five-minute ad break with half a dozen or more commercials standing in the way of their preferred content.

TV commercials used to be a great way for people to learn about new products. These days, we learn about more things faster than ever via our social networks, trending lists, and Google searches, instead of having to sit through a commercial set as a tradeoff for that information. This means the value proposition has changed. Leading marketers and broadcasters agree that the TV advertising formula is starting to change and needs to continue to do so, in the form of fewer commercial breaks, fewer messages overall, and more native-looking messages that blend better with content. Re-thinking commercial lengths might be part of this equation, too.  The 30-second ad unit that has been the longtime standard may not be the best thing for the content environment. Peter Naylor from Hulu said, “Recently we took a 5-second spot from Tic Tac and it was very creative, very elegantly done, and it’s a bit of a relief to the viewer.” The panel agreed that marketers and publishers need to bring these changes to the marketplace and gauge consumer reaction and advertiser results. The biggest point of reinventing ad revenue models was made when Joe Marchese said, “The promise of advanced advertising isn’t to make more money. It’s to have less ads and make the same amount of money.” This idea permeated the conference, with speakers encouraging the group to re-think the economics of ads, and to create a new model.

4.      Programmatic TV

Many companies use the term, “programmatic TV.” But industry leaders at the conference generally agreed that although we are inching closer to better audience data with video, it doesn’t exist yet to any scale outside of buying video ads on computers, tablets, or mobile. Maybe more importantly to a majority of advertisers, the concept doesn’t effectively exist at all on a local level outside of these devices.

“Programmatic” really just refers to automated and data-informed buying. We buy digital ads programmatically. But TV? With so many sellers using the same term referring to so many different methods of buying, types of available data and ad products themselves, buying audiences in bulk is still the standard. Where we will soon end up is with more “addressable TV” (meaning targeting on a one-to-one household ratio, purchased via automation, using data) than “programmatic TV” (one to many ratio, purchased via automation, using data.) In Experian’s whitepaper on addressable TV, they define addressable TV as follows:

The ability for an advertiser to define an audience based on first, second and/or third-party data and serve different ads or ad pods (groups of ads) to this audience within a common program or navigation screen. Ads typically are delivered at the individual household level, through cable, satellite and Internet Protocol TV (IPTV) delivery systems and set-top boxes. Segmentation and delivery also may take place at the geographic, demographic and behavioral level.

Currently, Experian claims to work with 100% of the companies that offer household-level addressable TV. Some companies, like Hulu, are inching closer to this model with their first-party data and inventory ownership. But, if the goal is to create a standard for the industry to work from, we need to find consistencies that can work across video, no matter if we are calling it TV or digital video. Right now, TV is still a “futures” market where you’re estimating who will be watching and where they will be watching. The who (age and gender) are still just general estimates, but are the only currency we have to use. A real solution will only come once video providers and publishers can agree on a fairly constant method of selling, a minimum standard for data and targeting, and a consistent currency to trade on (and the technology to deliver it all!)

5.      Agencies: Check yourself!

There was a great conversation with Procter & Gamble Chief Brand Officer, Marc Pritchard

that felt more like a warning about the health of our collective advertising future. With rapid change comes the need for rapid adaptation and the ability to recognize what and how we can be doing better. Because digital marketing has grown so fast, agencies have changed. Pritchard says, “Frankly, your complexity should not be our problem, so we want you to make that complexity invisible.”

This is great advice to any agency. No client should be exposed to the agency challenges that can exist from rapid growth or acquisition; they should only get good results.  It’s like Disneyland. You don’t really want to know what Mickey looks like with his costume head off; just keep it together and deliver the end product.

You will notice that there are more questions than answers here, but that is because that is exactly where the industry is on these subjects. Publishers have a lot of work to do in regards to pricing their content in a sustainable way, and advertisers need to accept that the next few years will bring increases to digital pricing if we want to get in front of the right prospects in a more attention-getting (read: less cluttered, non-blocked) environment. Video providers want a better environment as much as consumers do, and the Zion & Zion media team wants results for our clients, so we will continue to stay in front of these issues and provide up-to-date recommendations based on the landscape.