The digital ad industry is officially out of ideas

DailynewNew York Daily NewsWeb sites have lots of banners

Digital advertising sure seems to be stuck thinking inside the box.

Consider Marc Pritchard, Chief Brand Officer at Procter & Gamble, who’s been on something of a 12-city summer tour decrying the state of ad tech.

Pritchard told an audience at the Dmexco conference in Cologne, Germany a few weeks ago that the various factions in the industry need to work together to build “the next generation of digital ads,” reported Ad Age.

“Bottom line, it is time for marketers and tech companies to solve the problem of annoying ads and make the ad experience better for consumers,” Pritchard said

Now, as the ad industry looks to converge this week in New York for Advertising Week, it seems perhaps fair to ask, ‘hey Marc, where’ve you been?’

After all, the digital ad world has hardly lacked for committees and councils and initiatives aimed at making better looking ads — ideally ads that people remember and maybe don’t hate.

Here’s a list of past efforts aimed at improving digital ads:

  • Project Devil A suite of premium, magazine-like ads that AOL rolled out in 2010 that were supposed to be adopted by much of the web.
  • The Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Rising Stars — this was a years-long initiative aimed at creating bigger, bolder, brand-friendly ads.
  • The Online Publishers Association’s big ads this was a late 2000s effort to help major publishers capture TV ad budgets with, guess what, big banners.
  • — a decade ago aspired to build a digital ad network across top publishers for ‘brand advertisers.”

None of these every got widespread adoption. And few are around anymore.

Meanwhile, as Prichard made his new ideas plea, look at what else is happening lately:

Buzzfeed bannerBuzzFeedEven BuzzFeed has banners

After years of holding out on and generally and slamming banner ads, BuzzFeed is now running them. Meanwhile, Vox Media is trying to build a premium ad network for brand advertising, promising “bold, beautiful ad experiences.”

And after long resisting, it’s starting to sell its ads programmatically.

Yet guess what the experience for a consumer seeing digital ads is in 2017: Lots of squares and rectangles. Squares and rectangle that blink and move and expand and take over screens.

Down on banners

ThevergeThe VergeThe Verge runs a mix of custom and traditional ads

“When you talk to top level chief marketing officers, or SVPs at big agencies, and they’re like, ‘banners, programmatic,’ they’re really down on it,” said Josh Topolsky, founder and CEO of The Outline.

Topolsky, who helped found The Verge and ran Bloomberg’s web operations, said digital media needs a complete ad overhaul. He points to platforms like Snapchat and Instagram — where the ads are built for those mobile apps and are placed in the same framing as their core functions and content — as being where the open web needs to go.

DailybeastDaily BeastYou have to touch this ad if you want to keep reading

“I do think from an industry perspective, there’s confusion about what’s the next thing, and we’re stuck using highly inefficient systems from 1994,” he said. Even newer digital publishers like BuzzFeed and Vox are stuck in this trap, he said.

“They’re aping a style from newspapers. Ads become these foreign objects on the side when they need a fundamental rebuild. We’re just doing bigger banners.”

Wait, aren’t we supposed to be backing off big ads because of ad blocking and mobile and general consumer anger? Isn’t that what Google AMP and the IAB’s recent LEAN initiative are all about?

Mobile’s even worse, say insiders.

Patrick Keane, a veteran digital ad executive who’s now an operating partner at the investment firm Stripes, said when it comes to digital creative, “There is no ‘new new’ right now.”

Too often the plan is, “lets’ just make really f—-ing big ads. We should be about creating impactful mobile creative, but the problem is, everyone ported the ills and the shittiness of desktop ads, like pop ups and instant play muted video.”

“I wouldn’t say I’m super optimistic,” he added. “You’ve got audiences that are impossible to reach and are doing everything in their power to avoid you.”

Unintended consequences

EaterEaterDigital ads are getting bigger

“There are a lot of reasons creative sucks right now,” said Diaz Nesamoney, CEO of Jivox, a company that uses technology to help deliver personalised digital ads. “The biggest contributing factor is programmatic. It’s self-inflicted.”

Wait, isn’t programmatic great the for the industry?

According to Nesamoney, the digital ad world has been obsessed with promising marketers quick, easy scale to compete TV, and the only way of doing that has been automation. “So then you get narrow pipes that only allow banners through,” he said.

In his mind, digital creative needs a total rethink. But instead of trying to emulate TV or magazine with ‘beautiful ads’, digital creative should come from using targeting and data to deliver welcome, relevant messages.

“Look at Facebook,” he said. “Their ads are often just text and they work. A good ad is not just a nice looking ad. It’s not just cool and clever. It’s about making what we are saying relevant.”

“There’s been an overemphasis on the big idea. The whole industry is struggling with this.”

Other than that, happy advertising week!

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