Today's column is written by Zach Coelius, CEO of Triggit, an online advertising technology company.
As we all know, the balance between the amount of time people spend on the internet and the online share of marketing dollars is way out of whack. Yet even as we all point to the problem, and as every VC pitch deck for a digital media venture includes the cliché slide showing the imbalance, the gap between offline and online dollars has remained wide. As hard as it is to admit, the problem lies not with uninformed marketers who don’t realize how efficient internet advertising is. The reason why the gap exists is that internet advertising still largely sucks and we have a lot of hard work to do to fix it.
To bring those dollars online we must build a media ecosystem that is better than television or print. At the core of that problem are three challenges we need to overcome as an industry:
- The first challenge, which I have written about in the past on these pages, is that we have to be able to deliver scale to marketers where they can spend hundreds of millions of dollars easily and effectively. If large media buys require cobbling together dozens or hundreds of independent sites or networks, we will never achieve scale and large marketers will not be able to utilize their budgets.
- The second challenge is that we must deliver quality audience experiences where marketers can use all the tools in the advertising quiver to amuse, beguile, entertain, educate and generally capture the attention of their audience. I will leave that topic for another post, but if the miserably tiny and insufficient 300x250 ad unit is the apex of the canvas that we will provide for communicating, I am tendering my resignation today.
- And last for the topic of this post, before marketers will bring their dollars online at any scale, we must provide them with control and ultimately trust in the how, when, where, and why of their online advertising.
The challenge of providing marketers control of their online advertising is complex. Issues like brand safety, flexibility, transparency, appropriate targeting, trust in their partners and insights into real media costs are all incredibly important and intertwined. If you were the CMO of a large brand like Coca-Cola, would you be comfortable entrusting a hundred million dollar marketing budget to a partner who wouldn’t tell you ahead of time where your ads were going to run, what the actual media costs were, if they were arbitraging you, or provide any protections for your sixty eight billion dollar brand? Hell no! Maybe you would work with such a non-transparent partner for a small test budget, but not for the big money. Yet these are all practices many in our industry openly engage in, and worse, many who sell media consider it normal to not be transparent with their customers. And we wonder why the big brands are not moving their budgets online.
Yet there is hope that we as an industry finally seem to be growing out of some of our more self-defeating tendencies and maturing. Over the last year the norm is slowly shifting towards transparency, control and brand safety, and away from the black box. The reason for this is the significant advances in technology underlying the display exchanges such as real-time bidding. Contrary to the oft-repeated but uninformed statement that “exchanges are just for DR and are not a good place for brand advertising”, exchanges and real-time bidding are actually leading the industry with innovations and protections for brands. Unlike the first generation of exchanges that rely on a daisy chain of ad server calls and are therefore largely blind, the latest generation of exchanges and DSPs provide marketers much more control. What this means is that a marketer with access to a DSP can now fully control every aspect of a campaign and choose which sites they want their ads to run on, the data they want to leverage and all the while have complete visibility into media costs. Brand safety can now finally be achieved even before the campaign launches by setting up a tight white-list of top-tier safe sites and not having to worry about showing up anywhere else unexpected. Or, because a marketer can now control the levers and knobs of the campaign, they can make changes - or even stop it all together - if things work in unexpected ways. Customers are finally starting to have control of the how, when, where, and why of their campaigns and that is great.
Fundamentally, these changes are all about empowering the advertiser with trust for the digital medium. As brand advertisers start to see the companies they work with in digital as partners rather than as middlemen or vendors, and as we give them the tools and transparency to reinforce this trust, we should see significant gains as an industry. The goal we all share is to bring the offline dollars online. That can only be achieved with openness, transparency, safety and most importantly, trust.