Creativity *and* scale is the objective

The discussion during my IAB MIXX panel last week reminded me of a recent article by Tod Sacerdoti of Brightroll.  Tod’s high-level point was that there is too much relative focus in online advertising on the sizzle vs. the steak, which creates a variety of downstream problems.

Tod took some lumps in the comments, but he was and is right on with this piece.  There’s way too much time spent today selling shiny objects vs. selling scalable, repeatable results.  I have written on this previously in the context of BT, but I see it over and over.

The interesting thing from the panel was that my ostensible adversary in the “debate”, Calle Sjönell from BBH New York, and I actually agreed strenuously on a) the need for and b) the possibility of *both* creativity and scale.  Both sizzle and steak.

One specific example Calle gave was Apple’s iAd initiative.  iAd offers an extremely compelling creative environment, but one that is highly prescribed.  Controls for the ad must be in certain places and do certain things.  The ad itself has fixed sizes and specifications.  The creativity (to paraphrase) is in using the box provided creatively, not in coming up with a new box every time.

One could argue that iAd itself is a shiny object at this point, but Calle’s message was clear.  For the truly innovative, the specs of the box don’t matter.  It’s what’s in the box that matters.  E.g., you don’t need 35 seconds to make a compelling TV spot or as Tod points out, you don’t need Superman flying across your webpage to influence attitudes and/or drive offline sales.

If Calle’s award-winning creative mind can work happily and effectively within a fixed canvass, then I would submit that others should be able to as well, which would have tremendous benefits to the industry at large.  Standardized web advertising is now capable of phenomenal scale.  Getting better at combining that scale with creativity, rather than arguing for one or the other, should be the priority.

Online Video: Our Opportunity is VAST

In my guest article today in Ad Age, I state that the IAB’s new video ad serving standard (“VAST” for short) has serious implications for video-only ad networks (e.g., Tremor, Brightroll, etc.) for two reasons:

1. A significant portion of the engineering work in which the incumbents have invested enormous time and money will effectively be marked to zero by the market

2. Existing, technically sophisticated display ad networks will enter the video market quickly and effectively.

To be clear, when i say “video”, I’m not talking about in-banner video or overlays, “bugs” etc.  I am talking about :15 and :30 second pre-, mid- and post-roll video.  This is the video advertising format where the environment is most similar to TV and the creative is directly transferrable from TV.  As such, it represents >90% of advertiser demand for online video and will continue to be the lynchpin in moving TV budgets online.  VAST effectively hits the “reset” button on this market in 2010 and while many current players will face serious trouble, for some companies this is an enormous opportunity.

Brand.net is one of those companies.  Melissa, Elizabeth and I have been astonished how often and emphatically during the past year the top agencies, as well as Top 100 advertisers directly, have asked us to extend our market leading brand display platform capabilities (SafeScreen, SmartScale, etc.) to video.  So our sales force is out taking orders for a platform extension that does just that.

Top 100 advertisers want online video to explode as an advertising medium.  It’s the obvious, and (to stay in front of their target audiences) necessary, successor to the $60B they spend on sight, sound and motion brand-focused TV buys each year.   But today’s video ad networks simply don’t provide the brand-focused capabilities Top 100 advertisers require.   What have they told us for the past year they want from online video?  The ability to guarantee Quality, Scale and Value.

Music to our ears.  Stay tuned.