For the past 15+ years I’ve sold advertising in one form or another. I’m an advertising salesperson.
In reality only a portion of THINGS I sold were truly ads. I’ve sold print ads, video spots, and online display ads. But I’ve also sold Webcasts, sponsored listings, text links, microsites, websites, custom content, marketing services, applications, etc. Is that advertising?
The answer is a semantic one and not all that interesting. Whether advertising or some other marketing service it was sold to help a marketer achieve a specific goal. A lead. Educating customers about a topic. Changing the perception of a company or product. Making a segment of the population smarter about a topic that ultimately helps a company win. No one buys advertising because they want to they buy ads to do accomplish a specific goal.
At one point the line between advertising and other marketing services was very clear. When I started in the industry, nearly everyone stayed in their assigned silo. Creatives made ads. PR pros created content. Ad buyers and planners chose where the ads ran and made sure they did. Each buying silo had sales people aligned against them to help them achieve their goals.
Today…. glorious chaos. Well, mostly glorious.
This chaos has spawned proclamations of the death of the ad banner. It means I sometimes sell ads to PR firms and help ad buyers figure our word of mouth strategies. It means my company now produces a lot of the advertising that runs on our site. It also means that a significant amount of inventory being bought and sold is negotiated by computers.
Many have equated the development of “programmatic channels” to the shifts that happened in the stock markets 10-20 years ago where computerized exchanges started to replace a bulk of the sales and purchases of equities. I think there are some parallels but many differences. One thing is certain. A publisher or ad sales professional who doesn’t work to understand and utilize these new developments could find themselves obsolete or marginalized in the same way that equity firms who ignored this development did in decades past.
Many people on the “Premium side” of the equation (typically meaning people who manage and sell specific inventory produced by the same organization that sells the ads) make a face like they just ate something sour when they talk about programmatic solutions. Or, they accept them as a necessary evil. They are good for “remnant” inventory, they say, but will never replace the premium inventory seller they say.
Others on the “Programmatic” (trading desks, supply side platforms, Demand Side Platforms/exchanges) side of the house seem to equate these “old school” publishers and buyers as dinosaurs just before the meteor strike. Many seem to suggest that all of the fluffy/artsy elements of the advertising business are stripped away with these tools. Science, they seem to imply, beat art.
I see a merged reality. Art has often improved through scientific developments. If the item sold is standardized to a point where automated buying is possible, the buying will become automated. The tools driving efficiencies through programmatic channels are truly amazing. They ultimately will solve the many of the internet advertising industry’s “scale problems.” Machines executing buys in the 10 milliseconds it takes to load a page will streamline our industry and remove a lot of friction that comes with the millions of options available to marketers online (and off if there is such a thing in 5 years but that’s another post.) But it will also create a more efficient market where some existing leaders will see their premium decrease.
Does that make my job and me a dinosaur? I don’t think so. A good friend always said to me “A premium is a price description not a description of quality.” The job of publishers (I will leave the premium descriptor off) is to provide solutions. As more and more of the standards based items are automated, the successful publishers, ad salespeople, and buyers/planners/etc will turn their focus to the ideas that make that message work and the custom sponsorships that cannot, by definition of custom, be standardized. If my team was able to eliminate 90% of the spreadsheet creation of the current RFP/Proposal process I would be thrilled.
People like me will need to be a part of the discussion that creates demand, and I hope sets a premium, for inventory I represent. Content that inspires devotion and enthusiasm for a topic will still be more valuable than flat, uninspiring content. In other words, the fundamental tenants of a quality marketing program will remain important and the publishers and sellers who do a better job convincing marketers of that quality will be very important for a long time to come.
Let’s move with all due haste to a world where we automate those elements that can be automated and focus 100% of our attention on the areas that require differentiation – messaging, positioning, brand extensions, content, etc. Brands and publishers that embrace, experiment, and innovate successfully today have the fast track to defining where the premium should be placed.
More to come…