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Dubai Lynx 2016: Mindshare’s Norm Johnston on love at first byte



Will this year’s media category show signs of the new love affair between creativity and media, asks jury president Norm Johnston

Mark Thompson, chief executive of The New York Times, recently gave a pulpit-thumping speech on the evils of ad-blocking. Thompson even went so far as to suggest that, like Axel Springer and other big publishers, The New York Times could consider blocking access to content for those users who view articles for free while blocking the ads that actually fund them.

Ironically, that very same week the title published a guide to ad-blocking, extolling the virtues of companies like Ghostery, which extends mobile phone battery life and cuts down on data expenses.

At the last count over 200 million users have downloaded and deployed some form of ad-blocking technology. Granted, this is a small sliver of the overall digital universe of three billion people online. However, with a growth rate of over 40 per cent and an estimated loss of $22 billion in advertising revenue, an anxious industry is keeping an eye on how the situation evolves.

To be frank, we as an industry are partly to blame. There has always been a universally accepted quid pro quo when it comes to the value exchange between publishers and people: in order to get stuff for free, you need to see ads. According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, 61 per cent of British adults would prefer to access content for free and see ads than pay to access content. However, start annoying those people with ads and that equilibrium goes off kilter.

What’s shocking is what little we have learned from recent history. Remember pop-up ads? For a few years the desktop internet experience was full of these disruptive and desperate attempts to engage people. Eventually the industry realised its erroneous ways and started self-regulating itself. Unfortunately pop-up ads are now back, this time on mobile phones. Does anyone really think this is a good idea? No wonder people are using ad-blockers. You can’t annoy people into liking your brand.

Such is the tumultuous backdrop as we enter this year’s Dubai Lynx media awards. My hope more than anything is to see some great shining examples of how our industry is creating and distributing ads that people welcome with open arms. Ads that warm your heart, that make you laugh or cry. Ads that help you solve problems. Ads so good you’d consider them a service. Ads so entertaining you’d share them with your friends.

Media plays such a critical role in making this happen, particularly as we are swimming in a sea of data that helps us understand what content is relevant to whom, when, where, and in what format. There are many ways to use data. However, programmatic media is arguably the biggest catalyst in supercharging our ability to truly leverage data. Which is why, according to eMarketer, programmatic media in the United States is due to grow nearly 40 per cent to over $21 billion in media billings; that’s about 60 per cent of total digital display spend, 40 per cent of digital video, and 60 per cent of total mobile media. If that wasn’t enough, companies around the world, from the United Kingdom’s Sky to China’s CCTV to the US’s NBCUniversal, are now bringing programmatic technology and approaches to that last bastion of traditional advertising – television. By 2020, 20 per cent of total global media will be programmatic

However, the numbers don’t tell the entire story, for programmatic to me is a bit like Viagra.

Most people don’t know that Viagra was originally created as a treatment for angina and other symptoms of heart disease. It was only during the drug trials that Pfizer realised those tiny little blue pills were having an unexpected consequence on male subjects. Pfizer quickly realised it had stumbled into a miracle drug for those men feeling a bit down. Viagra was officially released to the public in 1998 and now makes Pfizer an estimated $1.9 billion a year.

Like Viagra, programmatic may ultimately prove to be more than just a tool for improving media performance. Yes programmatic delivers effective reach, it enables better re-targeting of customers, and helps with metrics. All important benefits. However, what programmatic also enables us to do is to stop annoying customers, and start delivering content – ads, experiences, utilities, applications – that actually bring a real and tangible emotive and/or functional value. For the first time ever, we can use vast amounts of data to manage a brand’s relationship with future and current customers in a very relevant and personal way at scale across the customer journey and across multiple devices.

Programmatic is the ultimate customer relationship management system, ensuring that the most relevant content is delivered to the right person under the right circumstances. Used ethically and wisely, it may just be the industry’s solution to ad-blocking.

However, to do programmatic right will require much greater creativity, and this is where the industry needs to collectively step up. We need to say goodbye to the visceral, negative reaction to data that so many in our industry still embrace. Marketers shouldn’t see creativity and data as a binary choice, but rather the ultimate double act that provides much needed context to the right content. It’s my hope that the Dubai Lynx media jury will be awash in such examples of this new love affair between creativity and media. I hope it will be love at first byte.

Norm Johnston is global chief strategy and digital officer at Mindshare Worldwide and president of the media jury