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Digital Advertising – What happened?

The true definition of creativity? My version would be “stealing someone else’s great idea and changing the colours” – the internet and in fact every new type of media is really just a re-invention of something that had already been invented.

The first radio shows were people reading books or playing music, no effects or editing, the first TV programming was in effect radio quiz shows, headshots of the contestants and presenters, broadcast on TV screens – just a face on top of the dialogue.

In the same way the original internet looked like a classified page from a local newspaper.

Remember interstitials, pop-ups and pop-behinds? This was all the way back in 2007.  We’ve definitely come a long way in 11 years…

We seem to naturally evolve the use of technology by linking it back to ideas that are very familiar, space craft are ‘spaceships’ though I don’t think many of them go near water much these days.

In the same way it’s quite cute to hear the millennial generation refer to content owners as ‘publishers’ harking back to the days of paper, ink and the huge noisy machines in prime city centre locations of my youth!

The publisher is now the person, company or bit of software that joins up the content (ads, articles blogs etc) to the eyeballs of the consumer.  This can be done in a million different ways with anything from social media to games and apps.

In the 2000’s the internet businesses had sales teams just like the press publishers, there was no ability to target just the option to go in a certain position. “Above the fold” was popular – another press term that meant the ad was visible in a normal screen without scrolling.  Analytics, attribution and reporting? Who knew?  The internet was like an electric book or newspaper, the only difference is that you didn’t need to plug your newspaper into a power supply and carry round a monitor to read it!

So came the crash of 2008 and we saw the emergence of paid search but more interestingly several tec businesses in the US that could segment users by their actions.  This was way before anyone was giving out automatic cookies. Back then, usually in return for a download or access to a site you had to also actively download a bit of software (there was no such thing as a free lunch) that would, amongst other things, tag your actions while on a particular site. The publishers were quite up front about it and astonishingly most of us did exactly as we were told – imagine that!

The measures were things like – did they put something in the shopping cart or how long they stayed on the site? Form fills allowed publishers to record age, sex, location, phone numbers and tag users so they could find them again.

As media buyers we could ‘programmatically’ target audiences.  For proof of insertion in a newspaper of magazine you simply got your hands on a printed copy and trusted the publisher had sold as many copies as they claimed.  The internet was like radio and TV – the system relied on trust. Sure you had to trust the reports but was there any less credibility in a report from Yahoo than there was from an iffy independent radio station for example?

So piles of data were being stored up by the advertiser and the publisher and space opened up for go between to aggregate the information. This inadvertently changed everything!

The advertiser’s information about what people bought and looked at in the past was way, way more valuable than the publishers’ ability to target and provide eyeballs – the power shifted in an instant away from publishers and into the hands not of the advertisers directly but to the middlemen aggregators who control the access to the advertisers.

The publishers became suppliers in a market firmly driven by demand pressure and so it came to be. Now media owner apart from the most powerful publishers such as Facebook or Google rely on middlemen brokers for their income.

So what happened to creativity? Well like ships that became spacecraft the technology has morphed them out of all recognition. Sales teams once in the hundreds now comprise of a handful of people.  A visit to a sales floor at a traditional media owner is a very different experience in 2018. Publishers can reinvent themselves as much as they want but ultimately form now on they are at the mercy of the advertisers and have to do a bit more than just change the colours!

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