Indulge me. I've been at this since the very beginning of web advertising (1994) and I'm seeing patterns.
Each massive, tectonic shift in our business has been preceded by an equally massive economic or cultural upheaval. The dotcom bust of 2000-2001 ended the era of site-by-site buying and ushered in a period of extreme targeting and data enhancement. The housing crash and recession of 2008-2009 effectively kicked off the programmatic era that we've been living for the past 9+ years. Now we're living through the third major upheaval...and it, too, is setting us up for a very different world.
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Consider this: in the past two years we've seen (1) the ANA's release of the K2 Report on Media Transparency in June 2016; (2) P&G's top marketer Marc Pritchard call out the industry's dirty supply chain in January 2017; (3) The New York Times and the Guardian break the Cambridge Analytica scandal; and (4) the launch of the General Data Protection Regulation - GDPR - by the European Union. Oh, yeah, we had a little Brexit, a US election and more than a little foreign hacking. Don't look at these as singular events, but rather as a pattern. A big one.
So what, then, is the new look of our industry? What will it be like to do business in the next era? What rules might we follow?
Welcome to our time in the sun.
As I told an audience of programmatic and automation leaders in Nashville earlier today, I believe we're already starting to live into an age of radical transparency. Over the next several years, you won't find anyone wearing a grey hat: there will only be heroes and villains. It may feel selective, it may feel unfair, but it is very definitely here. So how does one build an automated media or marketing business at a time like this?
- Stop aiming at compliance. That bar is too low. Focus instead on making clarity and fairness into core values for your organization.
- Celebrate your newfound commitment. I'm looking forward to seeing a sign on someone's office wall that says "485 days of being squeaky clean."
- More is no longer better. Better is better. Get used to the idea of a smaller, better internet, one filed with real people, real attention and real connections. When you eliminate the fraud and the stuff nobody really wants, this is what we'll have. It will be a great place to work.
- Don't benchmark around the scoundrels. What someone else may get away with is not the point. Don't pander to the least among us. Instead aspire to be the best among us.
- Work through the pain. Quickly. Yes, there is economic pain to be endured. But it won't be more endurable in 12 or 18 months. And in that time, you might find your world collapsing around you. Time to rip off the band-aid and do the right things.
I can't wait.