Time to move beyond the ad frontier
In reflecting upon last week’s IAB MIXX event, I was struck by the disparity between the conference’s espoused purpose – to highlight the success stories people and companies are creating using digital media and interactive platforms – and where the discussions typically veered – which were, sadly, all about ads.
It was odd, for example, to hear Jaron Lanier and Chris Anderson during their keynotes, luminaries in their own right, waxing on about how much they love advertising. Jaron Lanier pretty much invented virtual reality and architected Kinect for Microsoft. While it was fun to learn that he used to write jingles, why sully an otherwise intriguing account of how he revolutionized the interactive experience with an incongruous plug for advertising? Chris Anderson shared what was effectively a story about the stories people tell at TED. Hearing Chris say that he loves advertising was nice but inconsistent with how I view him – and, more to my point, inconsistent with the organizing principle of the entire event. Most of the panel discussions, including my own, tilted heavily towards ad performance, ad targeting and ad technology.
Attending a conference that was supposed to be about navigating the art of the narrative in the digital age and ended up being mostly about ads was like attending a rock concert where the singer yammers on between songs about how we need to save the planet or vote for a particular candidate. No offense, but I came to hear some rock-n-roll. Kindly just shut up and sing.
The "I love advertising" plugs were instructive because they remind us that we work in an industry that's suffering an identity crisis. We understand at an abstract level that what we're developing is much bigger than advertisements alone. We want to believe in the power of stories, most of them authored by regular people like you and me, that are constantly unfolding on screens of all types and sizes in real time and in most every corner of the globe. But we get stuck in a rut of selling and building around the asset that butters our bread today: The Ad.
When I ran into to Randy Rothenberg at the show, I asked him if it was time to rename the IAB the "Interactive Experience Bureau." He courteously demurred. But if we as an industry don’t transcend the discussion of ads and ad delivery, and focus instead on the hows and whys of creating a new immersive model for the consumer web experience, who the heck will?
At Krux, we’re building a business that certainly begins with ads, but ultimately is about delivering web experiences that integrate content, commerce, and advertising with the trust, safety, speed, intelligence, and social interactivity that consumers have grown to expect. These are all the things the digital media industry must explore to take web-enabled enterprises to the next level.
It’s fitting that, on Columbus Day, we reflect on just how early it is when it comes to understanding and building consumer web experiences. As with the early conquest of North America, digital media started at the northeastern border with ad serving and proceeded southward with RTB, SSP, and DSP. What lies beyond ad serving, real-time, and broker optimization? Smarter, faster, cooler web experiences – all of it energized by intelligent, real-time consumer data.
Do we have the courage and the imagination, like Lewis and Clark, to cross the ad frontier and not look back? I hope so. It’s an unconquered, wild world out there, and certainly time for our industry to go explore it.
Any takers out there? If so, give me a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter, @tommychavez.