Coming to grips with what we really mean by online advertising

Today I caught the keynote panel discussions at Ad:Tech, the marketing conference dedicated to all things interactive, especially advertising.

The morning panel — "Content is King! (Again?)" — included Kourosh Karimkhany, the general manager of Wired Digital, the news site and sibling of WIRED magazine.  In addressing how content creation is changing and how the dialog established by new-era Internet companies is influencing the advertising industry, Mr Karimkhany referred to this week’s journalist-versus-blogger encounter.  Here’s the objective account on Valleywag, with links to everyone’s blogs.

WIRED editors had planned an article about the tech industry figure Michael Arrington.  The reporter asked entrepreneur and Sequoia Capital exec Jason Calacanis and the intrepid technologist Dave Winer to schedule telephone interviews.  Both agreed to participate, but only via email. 

To understand why, it’s best to visit their blogs — but as I understand it, going forward, both Calacanis and Winer want to ensure that their words are relayed in context, as they define context.  Their faith in the traditional journalistic process has diminished with their personal experiences.  So they want to ensure that no comments are lost in translation or transcription.

It’s all been sorted out, but the magazine’s initial reaction was not too positive.  However, as Mr Karimkhany pointed out this morning, the content that emerged from the ensuing conversation on all parties’ blogs has proved to be as good or better than anything the proposed article would have revealed.

At the end of the conference day, the keynote conversation took a different turn. 

Tony Perkins, a respected journalist and leader of the AlwaysOn Network, presided over a group of "old warriors" who "don’t die."  This group had come of Internet age during the 1990s with great success — interactive agency, advertising network, search engine, research organization.  They know their stuff.

Coming off the Web 2.0 conference, I was intrigued by the use of the words "broadcast" and "audience" throughout the discussion.  And having had ad industry clients in the past year, I was surprised.  My experience is that many ad professionals, whatever their age or career experience, are choosing their words more carefully.  They understand, whether we all like it or not, that the advent of user-generated content and distribution has brought about a metamorphosis in how advertisers and their various agents promote and sell.  Instead of broadcast, it’s dialog.  It’s not audience, it’s community.

As the panel discussion continued, it became clear that we were still circling around the issue.  Believe me, I understand that.  While command-and-control was never right, I have had difficulty accepting how many people use the Internet — and this marvelous device called blogging — to pontificate without portfolio.  But I’m learning that this is what happens with the advent of landmark change.  We’re in a big whirlpool right now, and the seas will calm eventually, revealing who really knows what.  Because that always happens.

Anyway, when Q&A time arrived, I had to ask the question:  did the panelists agree that we are experiencing a shift beyond the mere opening of a new communication channel — and if so, what is its impact on advertising?  One panelist had referred to the Internet as this age’s medium, just like television and radio were in their time, and said the Internet is important because it is changing everything.  But we never got to why and how, leaving his comments hanging out there as little more than lip service.

So I referred to what Mr Karimkhany of Wired Digital had said that morning — of Calacanis and Winer wanting to participate in the interview on their terms.  To my mind, it’s an example of the change we are witnessing in how information is uncovered and shared.  I wanted to know what the panelists think this means to the advertising industry.

Mr Perkins’ first response, after calling me a young lady — greatly appreciated! — was to call Calacanis and Winer "chicken s@#$s" and "control freaks."  Boy, that was distracting. 

Here I thought that we’d just get a little probative insight into the Web 2.0 thing.  I almost missed the important answers of Kevin O’Connor and Jonathan Nelson, founders of Organic and DoubleClick, respectively, who made a point I had as yet not read or heard:  that a two-way, one-to-one relationship was not something every buyer wants in every purchase situation.  It depends on the product, the buyers’ perceptions of the brand and the brand strategy.  Now that’s the start of a dialog that advertising agents and web entrepreneurs ought to be having.

But I’m concerned that this will never happen.  It occurred to me that many of the subjects covered by Web 2.0 Expo ought be on the program for Ad:Tech, and vice versa.  We need to cross pollinate. 

As long as people are using labels and pigeonholes the minute they hear a particular person’s name or profession and not hearing the question because the existing filters are immutable, the true value of Internet technology will elude us.  And by value, I mean product innovation, thought leadership and profit for all.  Because if the Internet means anything, it means room for all defined by all.

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