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Voice: Cutting Out Complexity

As media is transformed by technology, don't forget who brought us to the dance: brands

Looking back at the last year and looking forward to the next, I’m reminded that many of the world’s biggest brands and companies, such as Anheuser-Busch, McDonald’s, General Motors and Coca-Cola, were created 50 to 100 years ago—before the Internet and the myriad opportunities that came with it.

Historically, the most effective way to create a lasting brand has been to get on the retail shelf first, dominate this coveted real estate, and then own the equivalently limited media shelf space with catchy taglines and jingles. A similar notion could be applied to media brands and companies. The New York Times, Condé Nast, Hearst Corp., Dow Jones and the “Big Three” broadcast networks, among others, rose to prominence selling limited inventory made highly valuable by large audiences, the demographics of these audiences and the quality content they delivered. It was a simpler time. But the goal of market leadership was no different than it is today.

As I lead the Interactive Advertising Bureau and oversee its diverse range of initiatives, a question often comes to mind: How can brands be developed, sustained and become dominant in the face of digital media’s truly limitless opportunity?

Mae West once said too much of a good thing can be wonderful. But great promise and abundance can also lead to unfathomable complexity—complexity in which we, the industry, risk getting mired. We’re consumed by the intricacies of programmatic buying, the controversy over cookies, the challenges presented by iFrames and the ceaseless surge of new devices, channels, metrics and ad units. These issues and advancements are all critically important, but also risk drawing our eyes off of the collective prize of winning the hearts and minds of consumers.

This challenge is why we themed the upcoming Annual Leadership Meeting “Big Data & Big Ideas: Friends, Enemies or Frenemies?” (Feb. 24 - 26 in Phoenix) and invited author and statistician, content creator and numbers buff Nate Silver to keynote. The data-driven, real-time economy isn’t going away, and marketers must use it to build their brands just like politicians used it to build theirs. This year’s election validated the role that analytics play in marketing, by effectively leveraging big data to ensure voters were attracted in a way that made the most impact on electoral votes. But Americans didn’t elect big data; they elected a president with a message, and that message attracted the voters.

Whatever the newest industry disruption to arrive in 2013 and beyond, brands must focus on being energetic, creative and connecting with consumers in meaningful, lasting ways.

For example, when it comes to mobile, it’s not fretting about “What do I do with such a small screen?” or “What do I do without cookies?” Rather, ask what creativity and what new circumstances will make smartphones effective for brand marketers and consumers alike?

The same goes for television. Within a couple of years, most TV sets in this country are going to be delivering programming and advertising through client-server architecture and IP-delivery mechanisms. How is interactivity going to change the way people watch TV? Will people still revert into couch potatoes? How will interactive television deliver on its promise for both brand marketers and consumers?

Issues like inventory management, metrics, targeting and even the development of new digital products and services must come after, or as, the consumer experience of marketing is considered.

Consumers around the world are still moved by MasterCard’s “Priceless” slogan, even though since that campaign was launched in 1997 the iPhone and Android OS were invented; Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Foursquare were born; automated buying gained prominence; and the interactive advertising marketplace grew from $907 million in annual revenues to $31 billion in 2011, according to the IAB Interactive Advertising Revenue Report. The brand message has shined through the many changes in media and technology.

The answer to my true-north question isn’t complex or confusing. Brands and publishers must adopt best-case communication experiences whether it’s a 30-second spot or interactive video ad.

It’s also very likely something we haven’t even seen yet. Welcome 2013.

Randall Rothenberg is president and CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau.

Illustration: Oliver Munday

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