Over 1,200 of the Digital Industry’s thought leaders and decision makers assembled in Palm Springs, February 11-13, to discuss the current state of Marketing, Media, Data, and Consumerism. There was an overlaying focus on the expanding Direct to Consumer (DTC/D2C) economy and what it takes to build a successful brand in today’s increasingly cluttered environment. How does an advertiser capture focus, much less create engagement and loyalty in a landscape, that by design, vies for attention with ever-increasing persistence? Targetability and data proliferation have created a bit of a quagmire—if every brand has the ability to customize delivery to their target audiences based on interests, demo, device type, behaviors, etc. it becomes the norm, so how can your marketing message continue to motivate?
As I see it, this surplus of laser-focus has resulted in a spoiled consumer that expects customization and immediately notices when a message is off base. Most consumers, Millennials in particular, are savvy enough to be aware of the many ways they’re being advertised to and have grown cynical of the experience. In a world of Alexa, Siri and Amazon Prime, it’s harder and harder to impress but easier than ever to disappoint. Brand affinity can still exist but true loyalty is difficult to achieve. This conundrum was addressed by new IAB Chairman, Scott Schiller from NBC Universal, who stated that we must first ask brands and advertisers what they want, and then it’s the media industry’s job to deliver the innovation that will push the needle forward.
Day 2 of the conference was not without a little turbulence. The first waves were made when Keith Weed, CMO/CCO at Unilever—following P&G’s lead from last year—hinted that a decision might be made to pull money from digital because of a lack of transparency across the digital supply chain (Digital Remedy response). To be fair, Weed left the door open by adding that he believes the industry can make the needed changes. Then during an OTT Video discussion, the folks with a stake in OTT/CTV supply were singing the praises of the format, which is certainly in higher demand than ever before, while members of the buying side questioned the merits of its engagement metrics and mentioned fraud concerns. Voices were instantly raised, and neither side could convince the other that they were seeing the picture correctly. The session ended without resolution; a perfect display of the conflicting viewpoints causing friction across our industry.
From my vantage point, and colored by the lens of working at Digital Remedy, while P&G and Unilever’s concerns are valid with regard to a lacking consensus across the industry, I’d argue that solutions for transparency, proper attribution and brand safety DO exist. Brands and advertisers just need to align on what their standard is. Digital Remedy, being truly agnostic when it comes to measurement, safety and attribution, is familiar with all the players who are trying to make sense of our Lumascape, which still looks like a Where’s Waldo page, even after a 2017 that was highlighted by consolidation. Is Viewability what matters to you? Fraud? Brand Safety? Audience Guarantees? There are literally dozens of accredited vendors who can certify your campaign against any of these metrics. It’s not fair for Unilever, as a major influencer, to complain about the “swamp” and then just wait for it to be drained. GroupM at least had an answer when they released their incredibly strict standards. They identified a problem, then dictated the exact standards that would “fix it” by their criteria.
My perspective is that, until there’s industry consensus on a silver bullet, the non-buying side of industry, including Digital Remedy, must take a listen-first, ears-forward approach and let our clients tell us what makes them comfortable. Let everyone create their own GroupM type criteria—we welcome it. There is no one size fits all approach, we need to listen to the many and customize solutions for each. Digital Remedy is uniquely able to take this agnostic approach not just in theory but also in execution since we’ve created the partnerships and have the expertise and head-count to put them into practice. We can’t drain the swamp for everyone, but we have the airboats, mosquito repellent, machetes, and cold beverages available to make sure that everybody we work with enjoys their trip to the Everglades.