Advertising Isn’t Rocket Science

Razorfish's Clark Kokich on buzzwords and a ‘damn good question’

Adweek: As chairman, how involved are you day-to-day at Razorfish?

Clark Kokich: I’m working half-time there. I’ve been here for 12 years, so I do some client work and some new business work. I’m also working on a book.

A book?

It’s about marketing, but it’s not really a Razorfish book. It’s actually going to be a tablet app coming out in the fall. There’s a book portion for people who like words, but it will include interactivity.

An app book. That’s new to me.

I hope this is the first one. It won’t be the best one because it’s the first one, but then everyone else can build off of the concept.

You just took a board seat at a startup called Rocket Fuel. You mentioned you’ve been approached by many promising ad companies and chose this one. What about the company caught your eye?

The fact is, everybody in our industry talks about using technology to deliver value in real time, and it turns out it's extraordinarily difficult to do. When I looked under the hood at Rocket Fuel, I discovered that these guys were actually doing it. They come from a very scientific background. We like to say, "It’s not rocket science," but it’s actually turning out to be rocket science, and it helps to have rocket scientists doing the work. 

Rocket science, eh? I see that some of Rocket Fuel’s founders have backgrounds at NASA. Can you explain how one might apply rocket science to advertising?

When you look at all the inputs we have to deal with in terms of banners, search, social, and mobile, the cascade of data is overwhelming. Up until I met these guys I hadn’t seen a company that had the wherewithal to take that avalanche of data, make it meaningful, and use it in real time. One of the biggest challenges we face is the overwhelming amount of data and inability of people and systems to process it and make it meaningful. That’s what they’re working on. They haven’t totally solved it yet, but they’ve made more progress than anyone else I’ve seen.

Complaints about the lack of dollars flowing into digital advertising are that digital ads don’t present their metrics in a way advertisers are used to. How does Rocket Fuel address that?

That’s one thing they’ve innovated in. They can optimize in real time based on brand awareness.

That’s a lot of buzzwords. What exactly does that mean?

(Laughs) I understand. The first time they approached me, I was like, “Yeah, fine, I’ve heard this 500 times before,” but when I looked closer, it was clear they were really pulling it off. It means that during the campaign they deliver surveys (to viewers of an ad) and track the change in awareness (of the brand), and from there they can figure out what targeting scheme changes impressions of the brand in the biggest way. They’re tracking which of those are changing peoples’ preference and awareness of the brand.

Is this in any way strategic for Razorfish?

No. Rocket Fuel could be a partner for an agency. Certainly the agency channel is their biggest channel.

Would Razorfish benefit from owning a real-time digital media buying company like Rocket Fuel?

I can’t comment on that.

So what do you think, in general, needs to happen for TV dollars to move over to digital?

That’s a damn good question. I’m not in the business of trying to figure out how TV dollars come over to digital; I’m in the business of thinking about how clients should build their brands. And there’s no question that television will continue to be huge for the advertising industry. The one thing it provides that digital cannot provide is scale. Once the scale of online video is competitive with the scale of television, then you’ll see dramatic changes. TV is still the only medium in video where you can decide to talk to people and know that in a few weeks they’ll have heard it, and in a very compelling way with sound and motion. There’s a lot you can do with online video and it's very effective, but I think scale will tip the balance.