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The Digiday Agency conference was a wealth of information on the ever-expanding digital ad world.

The Digiday Agency conference was a wealth of information on the ever-expanding digital ad world.

This week, it dawned on me that the world of digital advertising has become a morning commute from hell. I envision sun glare, tractor trailers overturned on off ramps, gaper delays, highway construction crews, crumbling infrastructure, and side streets not designed to handle the traffic they are swollen with.

What led me to that conclusion was sitting in on the excellent, well-attended Digiday Agency conference on Monday. Digiday assembled a sterling lineup of industry experts from the agency, publisher, and technology sides who made individual presentations, participated in panel discussions, and offered wide-ranging articulate opinions on the landscape of all things consumer digital advertising. I was probably the only business-to-business guy and one of the few creatives present, so I came to listen and learn. Here is what I came away with:

  • Things continue to morph faster than anyone can keep up with, let alone get ahead of. Digital now encompasses digital display, search, social, video/rich media, mobile, and more across a vast span of publisher and affiliate sites, plus desktop, laptop, tablet, and smartphones that accept advertising. Throw in TV advertising that leverages and attempts to cross-link digital, social, etc. and you have media planning that often collapses under its own cleverness and targeting potential.
  • Analytics and metrics are overrated. One of the more incredible statements of the conference was a derisive one about digital display advertising measurement being still stuck in the stone age — specifically, the continued importance placed on click-through rates. The speaker noted that the demographic of those most likely to click on display ads is populated with low/no income types, online gamblers, and assorted tire kickers.
  • Video, Social, and Mobile are the future. Pretty obvious shift driven generationally and by tablets and smartphones. Of course, by the time that the ad industry sorts it all out, we will be on to other new technologies and tools.
  • Remarketing (retargeting) via browser cookies of those who visit advertiser web sites is only going to get bigger. A number of speakers used the funnel analogy of awareness advertising at the top and very targeted, directed messaging at the bottom to catch buyers when they are now informed and ready to make a purchase.  The theory is great. I just don’t believe that ads relentlessly targeting people whom cookie data has identified as hot prospects is going to be ultimately successful or a great idea. I still believe that the average person is suspicious of Big Brother approaches and privacy concerns trump marketing opportunities.
  • Digital media buying has been reduced to an RFP process. Publishers spoke about how hard it was working with agencies in digital space because the media planning contacts are all junior people and there is a revolving door between agencies. Not much time or room for relationship building and value adding when it becomes a “give me your best deal” RFP request.
  • Agencies are being courted as digital advertising venture capitalists. That seemed like a completely foreign concept to me because running lean and mean continues to be the norm outside of Madison Avenue; however, a number of shops spoke very intelligently on this subject.

Ironically, a couple of days after the conference, I came across this article on Adobe investing heavily in traditional agency territory and challenging Madison Avenue in the data sweepstakes of this space. There were a lot of technology companies like Google present at the conference, but Adobe wasn’t one of them. I suspect they will be heavily discussed when Digiday holds the west coast version of this event in Los Angeles in early 2012.

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I belong to a number of LinkedIn industry groups, mostly to follow some intriguing discussion threads. Last week, Edwina Owens Elliott, an Illustrator/Owner of FASHION + ART, an e-commerce gallery, posed the mother of all topics to the “Creative Intensive Network – For All Advertising Creatives.” She politely asked “Should Art Directors and Designers be Licensed?” following Advertising Age’s Small Agency Diary post on “Should the Ad Industry Have a Certification Process?” You would think she had smacked a hornets’ nest with a Louisville slugger. The resulting daily (and nightly) dust-up has gone on for 17 days with no end in sight. Soapboxes have been stood upon. One liners have been unleashed. Jabs have made. Hoisting has taken place on more than one petard.

Should Art Directors and Designers Be Licensed?

Should Art Directors and Designers Be Licensed?

The unscientific majority of responses tended toward either outrage or amusement over the concept of trying to certify (regulate) creative folks. Most posters saw it as  (a) Big Brotherish, (b) silly, or (c) a blatant revenue grab. I couldn’t resist posting a few times: to ask if anyone had ever seen a well-designed government form; to note that one’s art school credentials and/or one’s portfolio were each a form of certification;  and to mention that the University of San Francisco is already advertising a certificate program in online advertising. Some rightly noted that certification does not have to come from the government; it could be through a school, an industry association, or an independent auditing organization. Others pointed out that the government should regulate activities where someone could be physically harmed through negligence (doctors, airline pilots, architects, even nail salons).  Of course government intervention derailed the discussion into areas as diverse as climate change and artistic integrity.

Yesterday, I was talking with a printer who noted that even the Forest Stewardship Council is its own bit of certification strong-arming. There is pressure on printers to pay a lot to be dues-paying FSC members. However, non-members can pay nothing, still purchase FSC-certified papers on behalf of their clients, and do just as much for the environment.

After more than two weeks of fascinating posts to Edwina’s questions, I have been entertained, amused, and enlightened. Anything that adds cost, stifles creativity, encourages auto-pilot attitudes, while being nothing that the client is clamoring for is going to be unnecessary and unpopular. If you’re going to push for universal professional certification in this industry better have a thick skin, a lot of patience, a masochistic streak, and/or a bottle of bourbon handy at the end of the day.

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