OMMA Global: Digital takes over

(iStock)I attended the OMMA Global conference this week here in LA, and it was one of the better OMMA conferences I’ve attended.  There was a definite narrative running through the whole show.  Nearly everyone was in agreement: Digital is taking over, and traditional’s days are numbered.  (Don’t worry; it’s still a high number).

Jason Calacanis, CEO of Mahalo, claimed that digital could completely replace traditional today and no one would really notice, assuming a few “minor” changes happened before the switch.  In describing this switch, Calacanis claimed that it would be advertising going from “religion” (I know 50 percent works, just not which half) to “science.”

That’s all and good, but two issues emerge.  First off, is scale.  Assuming publishers serve ads using solutions that target precisely and deliver consistently relevant advertising, those ad units are going to cost a pretty penny while delivering the same ROI (due to the higher relevance).  This would become prohibitive to an advertiser looking to obtain national reach using those same units, as the costs would be structured for relevant advertising, and lower performing elements couldn’t compete with targeted ones.

At OMMA this challenge was best put by Quinten George, Mediabrands CDO (full disclosure, Mediabrands is the Lab’s parent company), on his panel.  George compared it to the adage when renovating a house – you can pick two of the three options: Fast, cheap, and good.  In the case of advertising, George suggested advertisers needed to pick two of the three: targeted, cost, and scale.  There is a big question where scale will be obtained in digital assuming everything ends up optimized, as it is in a publisher’s interest to serve higher performing targeted ads instead of broad-reaching ads.

The other major issue is the focus on measurement.  While it is one of the huge advantages of digital, not everything of value can be measured.  Even in science, there is Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, which states that one can’t know both the position and speed of an electron.  In this regard, advertising is much like quantum physics.  Some digital executions just can’t be tracked back to ROI, and yet they have a definite value.  If the focus becomes too heavily weighted on measurement, some of the most brilliant digital campaigns go out the window, ranging from the NIN Year Zero ARG to many social media initiatives.

Within the next decade, most media is going to transition to digital frameworks.  As marketing and advertising evolves with this shift, there will need to be a holistic approach that takes these issues into consideration.