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.

Are you actually buying what you think you’re buying?

Great article by Mike Shields in MediaWeek yesterday. According to the article, Tremor Media was running ad for major brands that were a) in-banner video as opposed to pre-roll, b) below the fold and c) adjacent to questionable content.

I want to highlight two separate issues in the context of this article: quality control and credibility.

Quality control is something that has been top priority for Brand.net since inception, because it was the number one concern of our branding-focused clients. I have written extensively on this topic and Brand.net’s SafeScreen platform is the premier quality assurance platform on the web, providing page-level filtering to ensure quality for every impression that runs through the Brand.net network. The monitoring capabilities Adam Kasper mentions in the article can be useful, but it’s far better to prevent quality incidents in the first place. He’s dead on when he says that quality control is the ad network’s responsibility. Unfortunately, too often that responsibility is not fulfilled.

On my second point, ad networks at large have a reputation for not always being completely honest with clients. This is another issue I’ve written on in the past. In response to this particular incident, Shane Steele, Tremor’s VP marketing, was quoted saying, “It’s a very nuanced space, which makes it complicated”. Actual pre-roll video is indeed more complicated than display, but the ads at issue here were display ads. They just happened to be running video creative. So answers like this don’t help build credibility for networks and they certainly don’t help build the trust that’s so essential for major brands to fully leverage the medium.

Tod Sacerdoti summed it up well when he said, “There is a gap between what an advertiser thinks they are buying and what they are [actually] buying.” This gap occurs far too often today and it needs to be closed before the medium can fully mature.