Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wrong for 65 million years

Last weekend I visited the fun, new dinosaur exhibit at the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley. What I was not prepared for was the realization that just about everything I knew about dinosaurs is wrong. Over the last ten years the dino world has been turned on its head. For example:

T-rex? Born with feathers which it kept till adult hood! 

Brontosaurs? Never even existed!?!

Most dinos not in fact lizards, rather they were mammals!

How weird, it must be, for those dino-experts who retired in the late 90s. They might have been paleontologists for 40 years, at the top of their game, and yet their career knowledge just 10 years later is as extinct as their former objects of study.

And honestly, for a moment I freaked out. It did not take much to contrast those ex-paleontologists with myself. After-all, most of what I learned (back in the 90s) as the start of my career really is irrelevant today. Am I a dinosaur?

Luckily, the freak out moment passed. (Mainly because my daughter, aged 4, started lecturing me on everything she knew about dinos). As I got my lesson in the finer points of the Jurassic age as only a kindergartner could, I mentally re-affirmed a few thoughts.

1) If you stop learning, adapting and trying new things, you will end extinct and fast. Paid media, traditional audiences and conventional marketing is going the way of the Dodo.

2) Anyone who says they have the answers is lying. Too much is too new for experts to be gurus. Who know's where media will be in 5 years, so don't bet what your doing now will get you there.

3) Dinosaurs are way cool, even with feathers,


Monday, September 12, 2011

Gone Google

My big news of the year is I am leaving my current job at Goodby Silverstein and heading down Peninsula to join Google. I will be Google's Director of Media.

After 8 years at GS&P, and nearly my whole career on the agency side, flipping to a client role feels like a big step. It is a big step. I am equal part excited and scared. 

I will write a more detailed post about my experience and thoughts on leaving GSP, but the reality is I am moving for Google. It was simply impossible to resit the lure of the biggest and smartest tech company in the world.

More to come. 


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Ad Week is annoying (this week)

I’m puzzled (and to be honest, really irritated) about the strangely reconstituted Media Plan of the Year issue that appeared in last week's Adweek.

While I congratulate all the winners (a man can have just so many sour grapes, after all) I have to question why Adweek made the change at all.

This is how the editors explained it: “Adweek this year selected 30 leading media agencies and asked them to submit their best TV, print, and integrated planning work across four dollar thresholds".

The result is that the contest went from an open, democratic, egalitarian system to a closed plan that instead asks a predetermined list of 30 companies to submit their work. The editors never bothered to declare what criteria they used in picking the 30.

(Incidentally, even without being included in the 30, we made the issue, as the creative partners for Starcom for the work on Chevrolet /Glee .)

The sad part is that the open call was fair and unrestricted, a clear hunt for the very best media thinking open to anyone, from anywhere. Personally, I also loved and respected the purity of the winners, with zero devalued gold, silvers, bronzes dished out across seeming unending, ridiculously niche categories.

Indeed, to win a Plan of the Year award meant something with just a solo winner for each of the 10 categories and that was it. Despite the fact that the publication has been folded into Adweek, the Media Plan of the Year franchise still carries credibility and enormous value.

Without being too obviously self-promoting, (okay, it’s my blog, so I will be somewhat self-promoting) the fine Communication Strategists within GS&P are on a tear, having just this year alone, picked up an EFFIE for Media Innovation, a Cannes Media Lion, the Grand Prix Award at the Digital Out-of-Home awards, two MIXX awards and no fewer than 5 short-listed entries at the global Festival of Media Awards.

In fact, over the last 6 years GS&P has been honored to win 5 of Mediaweek’s Media Plan of the Year awards! All of this is meant to make the point that we believe we have earned the right to participate in a discussion of what makes for the best media strategy and thinking today. That we were not asked to submit is frustrating.

Looking at the larger picture, this celebration of the best of the best also did something special for the media industry. It elevated the media side of the house. It created an award that clients, and even creatives recognized as important. And truth be told we needed that. The legacy of media within the marketing industry has been as a lesser discipline - the last 5 minutes of the presentation. This viewpoint was never fair, and in today’s environment, where architecting conversations with consumers is more critical than any single ad, even more utterly wrong. However, biases take a long time to overcome, and as I mentioned, I fear this new, closed approach to the Plan of the Year award is a step backward.

Let’s hope it’s re-reinvented to be more democratic next year. Because this way, such a limited call for entires would leave most readers with the suspicion that the award of Media Plan of the Year no longer truly is.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Introducing the V-bom!

We recently did some pretty cool work with DataXu. The team at DataXu asked us to write a guest blog entry. This is what we wrote. 

"Have you noticed there seems to be a lot of data flying around nowadays? It seems like we’re drowning in data. The challenge, of course, is being able to make sense of the gigabytes we gather, to transform it into something valuable, over just raw, unending numbers.

In our experience, the most important thing is not the data, but rather the questions we ask that provide the lens and focus we need to create hypotheses. Only then do we delve into the data to find answers.

A few months ago we asked a question about the relative value of online sales. We had an issue. We were optimizing campaigns to sales, but were working under the flawed assumption that all sales were made equal. Many of our clients sell all manner of different products, from low single price items, to high-cost packages of multiple products. So we wondered if by optimizing to drive as many sales as possible, we were actually leaving $ on the table.

Our real-time optimization methods at that time relied on a pixel firing when a user made a purchase. But arduous, manual calculations were needed to take sales revenue and ROI into account. By the time those insights could be shared with our partners, they may have already optimized to higher sales driving placements resulting in an overall lower revenue and ROI. We were looking for a partner that would help us automate and optimize our media to real value, versus a simple conversion, in real time.

So what did we do? We dropped the V-bom!

V-bom was the internal nickname, (blame us, not DataXu) we gave to Value-Based Optimization. How did      it work? Simply put, online shopping cart value is shared via real-time pixels. By passing through actual online order values to the DataXu platform, we successfully optimized our campaign to meet true consumer values, for a much improved ROI.

This new approach that the DataXu team worked out for us resulted in CPAs that were 64% more efficient than optimizing on ordinary conversions, 60% more actions overall, and ROI that was 4x more than the control group which was optimizing on a simple conversion pixel fire. In other words, just optimizing to sales volume did in fact leave $ on the table. By using this new value-based approach, we were able to ensure we were driving the highest return with our media dollars". 

Monday, June 27, 2011

The future is not advertising

Every year, just as Cannes finishes I go through the same set of thoughts. The best work in the world changes your viewpoint on what our industry can do. In a good (if sometimes intimidating) way.

What is very clear, this year, is that the future is not advertising. It is not more ads. Scripts, pages, billboards –– these finite, closed loops of message space are no longer what our peers and clients judge as the pinnacle of communication.

My 6 favorite Grand Prix winners this year barely used ads, they won for creating something different. Each was an idea that communicated, not advertising.

They are inspiring and well worth reading through. Yes, I know, it is easy to nit-pick, (exactly how many people really used Bing within the Jay-Z/Decode project?), but sometimes nit-picking is just not worth it. Instead, I am asking what can we learn? How can we make better ideas ourselves? How do we persuade our clients to take bigger risks to reap bigger rewards?

Advertising is not the future, but still the future is so bright, I gotta wear shades.

Cannes 2011 Grand Prix Winners:
Design - interactive lobby at the new Cosmo Hotel 
Titanium - Decode with Jay-z/Bing 
Cyber - Wilderness Downtown, Old Spice, Pay with a Tweet
Media - Virtual Store 

Friday, June 24, 2011

Are media agencies failing? Or is Cannes Media just f**ked up?

Some interesting things I noticed about this years 2011 Cannes Media competition.

1) Of the 13 Gold Media Lions awarded, the split between Media vs Integrated agencies winning was 7:6; stand-alone media shops won 53% of the top awards. (The brilliant Grand Prix went to a Korean creative agency).

2) For the Silver gongs, the split was even more extreme, Media 10 : 21 Integrated

3) Of the 24 member jury, just 3 work at integrated shops. The vast majority were from media only shops.

What does this all imply?

A) That integrated shops are producing more, stronger work, overal than media only shops?

B) Integrated shops are perhaps just better at producing award entries?

C) The lure of any Cannes Lions has motivated Integrated (Creative) agencies to take Cannes Media seriously?

D) That Media execs hate their own? Or just that they are impartial enough to award the best work from wherever?

E) That the Cannes organizers need to bring in a broader range of judges, beyond media only shops, to reflect the changing momentum of where good work is coming from?

There is no single answer to all of these hypotheses. I do truly believe the integration of media and creative (and design, UX, coding etc) can happen faster and smarter within integrated shops. It is no surprise for me that integrated shops are winning so much.

Where does this leave media agencies? This is an important question. I think my prior post on the promise of data is central to the relevance of media shops.

I wonder how far and hard the pendulum might swing towards integrated solutions first though?

Monday, June 20, 2011

The death of creativity? Getting there.

"Google represents between 50%-90% of display volume (QPS) being purchased by DSPs, ad networks and agency trading desks on a RTB basis. Incremental QPS volume comes from the SSPs (Admeld, Pubmatic, Rubicon), Microsoft (new to the game via Appnexus), Contextweb, OpenX and a few others."

If your read the above and are thinking WTF?, you are not alone. You need to know though, 'cause change is coming to marketing in a big way. This change is being driven by data, analytics and performance captured by companies such as Annalect, MarketShare, Google and others. 

Remember the old advertising quip, "50% of my advertising works, I just don't know which 50%"? Today there is, for the first time, a very real prospect that marketeers will know what 99% of their tactics are delivering, minutiltely and precisely. We are entering a new era of accountability which has  profound implications for creativity, instinct, and imagination.

So what is going on? Three factors are converging:

1) Comprehensive Data Across Media
Already the sheer tonnage of data being generated via the digital, social and mobile channels provides marketeers a window into consumers interests and behaviors. Traditional media is also joining the digital data party, with tablet editions of magazines, wired TV set top-boxes, electronic outdoor billboards, digital radio and more all enriching the picture. Throw in actual retail sales, both on and offline, and the host of other data points clients are collecting, and a new end game is in sight - comprehensive, fused and organizable data spanning every waking moment of consumers lives.

2) Audience Tracking 
As these streams of data are flowing in, more and more they are matched up to actual people. Yes, that sounds creepy, but for marketeers it is useful. Again, the end game of these improvements in matching media metrics with individuals is the better targeting and relevance of communications - think Tom Cruise in Minority Report.

3) Speed Speed, Speed
RTB, as quoted above, is for 'Real Time Bidding'. Today, Exchanges are completing the 7 or 8 steps necessary to serve a customized ad in under a quarter of a second! Why bother with what happened in post-campaign reports weeks or months after the fact, find out what is happening now! This is the promise of live advertising.

What does all this mean?

Medium term a huge amount of guess work is being removed from the advertising conversation. As an industry, agencies have benefited from the unknowns. We have been inefficient simply because it could never be proved what was working or what was not. In the debate between art and science, art could hold its own as the science was flawed. I see a day soon where the science has the proof needed to refute the intuition of art. 

The Death of Creativity?

No, it is not the death of creativity. Models, statistics and past-performance can not predict for the game-changing ideas. However, it is getting closer. The sad truth is the majority of our work is not game-changing. It is incremental and more-of-the-same. In this new era coming, the brute processing power of data is going to offer a better solution than real people most of the time.

Winners and Losers

This sort of depends on how you view things. Media shops are going to lose a lot of media planners and buyers - a lot! In their place will be a smaller number of data-jocks and analytics gurus. So, smarter organizations, but I think much smaller in terms of actual people.

Creative agencies are going to lose more influence and control. A lot of creative is going to become modular, constituent parts that algorithms can meld together instantaneously. There will be less great work overall.

Clients are going to have more productive work. That will be a win for them. They may not have as much fun getting there, but the CFO will not care about that.

Advertising as an industry will win. It will be more credible, more scientific and better received in board rooms. It will probably also be a lot less fun though as well.