David Angell
Mar 15, 2017

Who’s to blame for the digital mess? We all are.

All parties should acknowledge their role in tarnishing the bright, shiny thing known as digital advertising, writes David Angell of TrinityP3.

David Angell
David Angell

Commentary regarding the various issues facing the digital advertising industry continues to grow. Dishonesty, corruption, complexity, lack of knowledge, inadequate marketing, inadequate agencies, inadequate measurement…the list goes on.

The trouble is, so much of the commentary lacks objectivity.

But cutting a far better path is Marc Pritchard. Here’s a repeated but still refreshing sentiment from P&G’s CMO, in his recent speech to the ANA conference in Orlando, Florida.

Media-agency relations have become frayed by too much complexity, murkiness and waste in the supply chain that all of us have had a hand in creating.

What I like about this is that, first, he references media agency relations—not media agencies, not marketers, but the quality of relationship between them. Secondly, the phrase ‘all of us have had a hand’. The unbalanced agenda, so prevalent in this fraught and ongoing debate, is largely absent.

Of course, Mr Pritchard has become relatively famous for his own recent admission that P&G had itself been behind the eight-ball, at least contractually speaking. This further commentary shows that he’s actually ahead, not behind, when it comes to apportioning responsibility and considering the implications.

In short: We’re all responsible. We’re all to blame.

Media agencies and their holding company parents and affiliates are to blame for pushing a low-cost, high-volume inventory model, ultimately designed to generate maximum commercial returns for the agency, rather than the client. They’re also at least complicit in the construct of the much talked about ‘murky supply chain’ by failing to create properly transparent cost structures.

Various technology providers are to blame, complicit as they are in contributing to the ever-expanding network of intermediaries between buyer and seller, accounting for the WFA’s estimated 60 cents of the client’s media dollar being taken in undisclosed fees.

The media sales networks are to blame for over-protection of quality inventory from day one, for walled gardens and lack of independent measurement, and for releasing sub-standard inventory in large quantities into the open market, to be hoovered up by the CPM-chasing traders.

The criminals who have created a multibillion-dollar ad-fraud industry are to blame for…well, for being criminals.

The marketers are to blame for having their heads in the sand, for signing opaque agency contracts without applying due governance, and for persisting with outdated ways of determining advertising effectiveness. It’s not always the agencies persuasion; sometimes, it’s the marketer’s desire.

When they are involved, other parts of corporate organisations—procurement, the C-Suite—are to blame for pushing a cost over value agenda when it comes to external supplier arrangements, for leaving marketing to its own contractual devices, and for failing to understand or respect the intricacies of what they’re dealing with.

Various industry commentators and journalists are to blame for exploiting an ‘us versus them’ mentality, or for pushing a ‘digital’ or ‘anti-digital’ agenda when, for pity’s sake, surely there should be more balance—in strategy, in opinion, in content production, in tactical advertising channel decisions.

Despite the work they’ve done more recently, industry bodies are to blame for not acting quickly enough over the last 10 years, and in some cases, for lacking true independence.

And finally, consultants are to blame for doing too much talking, not enough listening. Which, clearly, I am probably guilty of in this article. But self-recognition is the first step to recovery, and I apply this to myself, and to my square in the jigsaw, as much as to anyone else.

When is this industry going to wake up and self-recognise? Because let’s face it, from whatever lens we care to look through, the bright shiny thing that is digital marketing has seriously lost its sparkle. As reported in the recent ANA conference, overall US sales, despite all digitally enabled efforts, have actually declined since 2014. The light of brave new world promised is flickering at best. People are realising that the promise may not be there—at least not in the way that they thought, using the methods that they are.

With all the challenges we face, coupled with huge advertising entities like P&G starting to make serious threats, the digital advertising industry could, quite conceivably, collapse in on itself. But that is not what we should want.

My best guess at a solution is first, for more people like Mark Pritchard to get themselves on that road to recovery, starting with self-recognition and progressing to the kind of balanced, honest thinking he has exhibited. And second, for this to be more than talk; for it to trigger the bottom-up change required to reset and alter what seems to be an inescapable course we’ve set ourselves.

David Angell is general manager and head of media with TrinityP3 Marketing Management Consultants

Campaign Asia

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