Display is back, but is the impression dead?

I’m back in San Francisco for a few days in between the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting (IABALM) and AdMonsters Publisher Forum XIV in Memphis. IABALM is a sea of C-level execs from “all” the top media and technology companies and I ran into a ton of old friends as well as new faces and new tech. Here’s a rundown on the key ops and tech-related highlights from the meeting:

Data is popular, valuable, and, apparently, transparent

The IAB sub-titled the conference “The People vs Data”. I think “Data is Awesome” would have been more appropriate to the mood. Ad serving is transforming into data serving, “data and media” are seperate, and it’s no secret that there’s a whole world of data-centric players swarming around the online media business today. Aside from Doc Searls saying that Apple has been “smoking it’s own exhaust” for too long, the quote that struck me as most meaningful was from Rik Van der Kooi of Microsoft’s Euro-borg, who said that “user data is not an issue of privacy but of property.” He’s right. “Privacy” is boring, and puts things in terms of fear and friction. People don’t care about privacy so much per se, they care whether they’re getting a fair deal. Omar Tawakol of BlueKai has it right with his call for transparency and I would certainly love to see the day when consumers can earn a “free trip to Hawaii” in exchange for their data usage. There was lots of talk about who owns data and the old idea of the “attention economy” even re-surfaced. My take is that, in practical terms, whoever asserts control of data owns it, whether that is consumers, marketers, publishers or, well, Big Brother. Let’s not let that happen.

Display ain’t dead

Eric Schmidt of Google led off the conference with a provocative presentation on the growth and potential of online advertising. Schmidt (no surprise) loves to throw around big numbers, and he pulled $200 Billion out as the target for the size of the global display advertising market – but he didn’t say when we might reach that number. I asked him, and he put his finger on “5-8 years, probably sooner than we think”, and cited “technological complexity” as the main barrier to reaching that goal.

While I certainly agree that complexity is an issue, and that our world is only going to get MORE complex, probably exponentially so, I don’t think that’s a barrier – I think it’s the enabler. Just as folks sometimes think of “inefficiency” as a problem, you can turn it around and think of “efficiency” as an opportunity. Tech innovation and operational excellence are what will bring us to $200B, not what will prevent us from getting there. How’s that for techno-futuristic optimism? I for one am happy to hear that display isn’t dead, and that SEM isn’t the the end state of the evolution of online marketing.

…but the impression may be…

The IAB announced their latest Making Measurement Make Sense a top down effort to re-cast metrics from a business point of view. If you read through the press release, you won’t see the word “impression” in there once. I asked the group behind “Three-M S” (which includes the IAB, the ANA and AAAA) whether they were prepared to abandon the impression if necessary, and their answer was an emphatic “yes”. I take this as a good sign, given the overall failure of past efforts to re-define, reconcile, audit, exchange, and otherwise force-fit the 15+ year old impression into today’s online world.

“Mobile first”

Schmidt also led the cheerleading squad for the mobile web. Last year Mark Meeker predicted that smartphone sales would outpace PC sales before 2012 – well, it turns out that happened in Q4 2010. Maybe she’s getting better at safe bets. In any case, while web ad spend is still catching up with web usage, mobile usage will eclipse web usage soon enough, and that means that publishers, marketers, and everyone else in between had better start thinking of mobile not just as an adjunct to the ‘terrestrial’ web but first, as in “Mobile First,” as Schmidt put it. That’s quite a leap, and won’t be true for everyone today, but it will be true for many of us soon enough. Many of us in ops are already becoming familiar with the raft of new platforms, formats and tech solutions for mobile advertising. I spoke with someone who said that their ad ops team was spending 50% of their time on iPad campaigns. Wow. The good news is: mobile means lots of work for ops!

Everything is social

While I have a bit of a hard time rebranding a sugar-water machine as a “happiness machine,” I certainly do agree with Wendy Clark of Coca Cola that “All marketing must be social” these days. Whether you’re marketing b2c or even b2b (thanks to incoming IAB Chairman Bob Carrigan for his “props to b2b media”, btw), Wendy showed the numbers to prove that “social networks are more important than company-owned websites.” This doesn’t mean that publishers will be ecplised by social media, it does mean that “publishers need to act more like tech companies and do more R&D” (Bob Carrigan again).

Web 3.0 is coming

The real-time web is about 20% here already. Instant search results, twitter streams as content and streaming video are just part of it. The incredibly rapid rise of RTB platforms is evidence that media buying and selling is well on its way to becoming real-time as well. I’m not sure what to make of the IAB’s “e-Business” effort to automate the IO process – it may well be too late. What does real-time mean for ops? As in the past, more sophisticated technology won’t eliminate the need for humans in ops, it will continue to allow ops add more analytic value and shovel less coal.

Thanks to the IAB for a great conference!

Bowen Dwelle
Founder & CEO, AdMonsters