10/03/2011 11:51 am ET Updated Dec 03, 2011

The End of the Beginning or the Beginning of the End?

We digital folks typically like to think of ourselves as different, better and special -- and in some ways, we are. Sometimes however, it is better to be the same than different.

At an industry level, we have used the past year to rethink some of the fundamental building blocks of our business in order to better align digital with other marketing channels like print and television. Digital purists will likely disapprove -- how dare we apply a "broken model" to our sacred space! Marketing generalists will likely applaud the effort and welcome our attempt to create more meaningful comparisons across media types. Regardless of your perspective, we can be certain of one thing, and that is change. Unprecedented change that in my view signifies the maturation of the digital world as an established marketing channel for Brand advertisers. That evolution from adolescent to adult will undoubtedly come at a cost, and could signal even more significant change in the year to come.

As we buckle in for yet another Advertising Week in NYC, it is worthwhile to reflect on some of the significant shifts we have seen over the past year in digital marketing and think about what it means for the future. Is this the "end of the beginning", or is it the "beginning of the end"?

Arguably, the most meaningful industry effort of 2011 has been the "Making Measurement Make Sense" (3MS for short) initiative that was a collaboration primarily between the 4A's (American Association of Advertising Agencies), the ANA (Association of National Advertisers) and the IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau). 3MS signaled an "ecosystem wide initiative to propose standards for metrics and advertising 'currency' facilitating cross-platform comparisons for Brand marketing". Initial recommendations from the effort have recently been released and as adopted will have a significant impact on the digital advertising business.

Without diving into the minutiae, the major recommendations from the project included:

  • A move from a "served" to a "viewable impression" standard
  • The introduction of a gross ratings point metric, providing reach and frequency reporting of viewable impressions
  • Implementation of a classification system and taxonomy for a variety of ad types
  • Defining, standardizing and accrediting metrics for view-through reporting and social activity
  • Establishing standards and vendor accreditation to improve methodology for online brand attitudinal studies

The first recommendation alone is sending shock waves across the industry. Back in 2009 I got a taste of the implication of moving to "viewable impressions" and wrote a post entitled "This Could Change Everything". Without being overly dramatic, it very well may.

One would be surprised at the number of ads sold online that don't meet the 3MS threshold of "50% in the viewable area of the screen for a minimum of 1 second". Suffice it to say that we have seen some of the early data -- and it is eye opening. Publishers will need to radically rethink their go to market strategy (and pricing) when the industry moves in this direction. There will be fallout and market contraction for sure as marginal players will be unable to command the prices necessary to survive in this new landscape.

While 3MS has issued their initial findings, the next 12-18 months will be critical. A series of pilot programs will be rolled out across each of the recommendation dimensions listed above. Results will be collected and analyzed and will be used to optimize our go-forward approach. A governance structure has also been recommended which will be important for implementing the solutions developed through the 3MS initiative, while continuing standards setting activities into the future.

Adding to this excitement, we have seen over the past year an explosion of "mini-ecosystems" across the display, mobile, social, local and commerce platforms. Venture dollars are flowing and the number of players in the field is growing exponentially, inevitably leading to consolidation/contraction in the year ahead. Throw in growing privacy concerns, the growth of audience platforms, connectivity across screens and the growing importance of social marketing -- and we have ourselves a highly dynamic marketplace.

There is no doubt that it is an exciting time to be in this business that we call marketing and advertising. Some say we are in an advertising Renaissance and I firmly believe that to be true. As you make your way through the Ad Week panels, presentations and parties ask yourself, is this the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end (of marketing as we know it)?

Have a great week in NYC.