IAB Fires Back With an Open Letter to Digital Buyers

CEO Rothenberg calls for agencies to address fragmentation issues

For a digital industry, these guys sure love their letters.

In response to yesterday's open letter to the Web video ad seller community from a cadre of top digital buyers, IAB president and CEO Randall Rothenberg fired off an open letter of his own to the digital gang of eight, which includes Digitas' Adam Shlachter, Zenith's John Nitti and GroupM's Rob Norman.

The buyers used their letter to push the Web video industry to raise its collective game by delivering big hits, better metrics and stronger stewardship of the wealth of new shows rolled out during last week's Digital Content NewFronts. Rothenberg and the IAB, which oversaw the execution of the NewFronts, have answered back. Rothenberg and the IAB agree with most of the buyers' assessments but think they didn't go far enough.

"Even if we collaborate on all the actions you outlined in your open letter, we will not achieve our mutual goals," Rothenberg wrote. Why? In part, because agencies are structured in ways that prohibit cross-media planning. "Agencies remain fragmented in the ways they develop strategies, craft creative, plan, and buy different media, reflecting equivalent organizational and process fragmentation inside client companies," Rothenberg wrote.

"All of this threatens to take a remarkable opportunity and shred it into a thousand expensive, proprietary solutions," he added. 

Rothenberg also urged agencies to do better creative, make buying much simpler and work to protect intellectual property. He even put out a request for some seed funding to be used in establishing a Digital Video Center of Excellence aimed at bettering the medium for all.

Here's the full letter:

To: David Cohen/Universal McCann, Adam Shlachter and John McCarus/Digitas, Amanda Richman/Starcom, Walt Cheruk/Carat, Rob Norman/GroupM, John Nitti/Zenith, Ben Winkler/OMD

cc: Advertising Agency Executives Everywhere

From: Randall Rothenberg, IAB

Dear David, Adam, John M., Amanda, Walt, Rob, John N., and Ben:

Thank you for your open letter yesterday praising the presentations, programming, productivity, and outcomes of the Digital Content NewFronts 2013. Fifteen top media companies presented more than one hundred original digital video shows that will soon bring laughter to the lips and stimulate the minds of men, women and children around the world, distributed across laptops, PCs, smartphones, tablets, and connected TVs everywhere. I think I speak on behalf of all NewFronts presenters—indeed, for the entire digital publishing industry—when I say we agree with you: This is a revolution in marketing, advertising, and media…and a transformation in consumer engagement.

We particularly welcome and appreciate the way you positioned the next stage of this revolution: as an activity in which agencies, marketers, publishers, and technology companies must work together to develop consensus solutions that will elevate opportunities for all of us. Sure, we will negotiate hard with each other, and compete fiercely to win business, publisher against publisher and agency against agency. But that should never stop us from collaborating for the greater good of our conjoined industries, our customers, and our consumers.

We also agree that for this revolution to truly alter the way we do business, we've got to commit ourselves to practices that benefit consumers, bolster transparency, build revenues, and boost profits for marketers, agencies, and publishers. So we dedicate ourselves, as individual publishers and collectively through the IAB, to work with you and your clients to, as you put it in your letter, “change the narrative, and leverage measurement—across the now and next screens—that elevates digital video beyond an extension of TV. To disrupt the commodities-like pricing for broad segments of audiences, to new currencies based on the response and reactions of the people we want to reach…[and to] give digital video (and its consumers) the attention, the brands, and yes, the dollars that it deserves.”

To accomplish this, we pledge to collaborate with you on the three items you enumerate in your “call to arms”: program promotion and discovery (including digital and social promotion), processes for audience-delivery guarantees, and measurement solutions that tell the true story of digital content’s reach and influence.

But we cannot stop there. Because even if we collaborate on all the actions you outlined in your open letter, we will not achieve our mutual goals. If we are truly to revolutionize marketing, advertising and consumer engagement, we must work together—unendingly—to embed other principles in our daily activities. Accordingly, speaking for all digital publishers, we ask you and the agencies you represent, as well as all other agencies, to commit to the following.

Make cross-screen programming, marketing, and consumption a reality. Perhaps the biggest message emerging from the 2013 NewFronts is that everyone—consumers, advertisers, and publishers—wants seamless cross-screen experiences. Yet despite our violent agreement, it’s hard to pull off. Agencies remain fragmented in the ways they develop strategies, craft creative, plan, and buy different media, reflecting equivalent organizational and process fragmentation inside client companies. Publishers and technology companies, in turn, pursue their own products and services for cross-screen distribution, measurement, and analytics. All of this threatens to take a remarkable opportunity and shred it into a thousand expensive, proprietary solutions. Let’s collaborate on the essential technologies and standards that will make it easy for consumers to discover programs, start watching shows and ads on one screen, pick them up on another screen, and complete their experience on yet another screen.

Simplify the marketing-media supply chain. We’ve all heard the same complaint: “Television is so simple; I can place a multi-million-dollar buy with a handshake. Why is digital so complicated and expensive to transact?” One answer, unfortunately, is an interactive advertising supply chain that’s been put together piece by piece, year by year, with chicken wire bytes and spit bits. While that’s been great for innovation and competition, it’s been a nightmare for operational efficiency, and has added untold millions in costs to our collective businesses. And with the rise of programmatic buying, it only threatens to get worse, as exchanges, real-time bidding solutions, new forms of creativity, social sharing opportunities, and mobile consumers multiply. Let’s commit to cross-industry solutions that aim to take complexity and cost out of the digital advertising supply chain, and make low-cost “handshake buying” a reality in interactive advertising.

Be as creative as possible. We’ve got to be honest with each other: We face a clutter crisis. Ads are or soon will be everywhere—and with the rise of programmatic buying and other forms of automation, will be everywhere-squared before too long. The result is common conversation in our industry: “banner blindness,” consumer disengagement, and rebellion against the fact and craft of advertising. The history of advertising tells us there is only one way to cut through the clutter and generate affinity for advertising and for the brands that advertising builds—creativity. Simply put, great results require great advertising. Great creativity can work so much harder in interactive media than in other environments, because it allows consumers to dive in, ask for more, pull things out, share their experiences, and participate in the story-building. Some of that creative advertising will be “native”—unique to the site or the individual publisher. But scale economics dictate that much of that creative advertising will have to cross sites and cross screens. Let’s work together to venerate the big ideas and great creatives behind them, as we have done in other media, and also to find standards and processes that will enable the best advertising to flourish in digital environments.

Make measurement make sense. In your open letter to us, you asked for “metrics that value the true power of digital—engagement and interactivity” and for “the bridge-metrics that paint a portrait of a single piece of content or programming within the broader, non-linear web of viewing and engagement.” To which we answer: absolutely! We have to get not just reach and frequency right, but demographics, social sharing, and more. But we have an ask in turn: Please commit yourselves, your agencies, and all other agencies you can influence to participate in the cross-industry “Making Measurement Make Sense” initiative. 3MS is the largest digital measurement standardization project in history; already, marketers, agencies, and publishers, working through the ANA, the 4As, and the IAB, have committed almost $6 million to this initiative, which is forging consensus around the metrics and currencies that matter. While many of you have been deeply involved with 3MS, some agencies and clients remain distant from the process, and continue to call for special metrics and one-off currencies that add complexity and cost to the industry as a whole. However flawed conventional television metrics may have been, they have worked for more than 60 years because all parties stuck with a consistent understanding of shared risk and reward. Let’s get the entire ecosystem and all its major players committed to the 3MS process, and to making the Media Rating Council the neutral body for setting, evolving, and policing industry measurement standards.

Protect consumer privacy. The uniqueness of the Internet is that it is the only medium that allows media and marketers to go globally broad and minutely targeted at the same time, while respecting consumer anonymity, privacy, and choice. Yet regulatory constraints—proposed and in some cases already imposed by government bodies or large technology companies—threaten the ability of consumers to receive and companies to deliver targeted programming and advertising. These proposals may even undermine our ability to offer cross-screen consumption and measurement. The entire media and marketing industry is under threat—from both activist groups that seek to inflame consumer privacy fears to eliminate advertising from digital environments, and from our own relative silence about consumers’ legitimate concerns for the security of their data and the privacy of their interests and activities. Working through the cross-industry Digital Advertising Alliance, our industry has done a good job creating a self-regulatory program and mechanism with real teeth; our “AdChoices” program is distributing 1 trillion notifications to consumers each month about how to opt out of or into targeted advertising, and millions of consumers have exercised their choice. But here again, while many agencies and clients have been involved in self-regulation, some still remain distant. Let’s commit to even more consumer education, and to getting industry leaders to speak more openly about both the value of targeted advertising and programming, and about the harm to consumers and economies that will result from bad regulation or poorly imposed technology constraints.

Protect intellectual property. Unique, proprietary content is the life’s blood of media and advertising. Original content is the magnet that attracts consumers to media, thus creating the audiences that advertisers need. But the ubiquity and porousness of the Internet long have threatened the creators of content; it’s far too easy for pirates to steal their IP and distribute it freely and widely. In some cases, the pirates make their money not from reselling the stolen IP, but from advertising on the sites where the stolen goods are offered. Let’s find consensus solutions that limit the use of advertising to support the piracy of intellectual property, but without destructively re-architecting the Internet or hindering the distribution of legitimate content and advertising.

We’d like to close with an offer. IAB has planned for several years to launch a Digital Video Center of Excellence—a group of people within our organization dedicated solely to initiatives that will grow the marketplace for original digital video programming. The Digital Content NewFronts provided some seed money that will allow us to get this started, at least in a small way. Why not help us get it going? At the very least, let’s plan a meeting—soon—among key companies representing the most important components of the burgeoning digital video ecosystem, to brainstorm our collective priorities, the ways we can most productively pursue them, and how we can work together to build a mutually vibrant video future.

On behalf of the NewFronts presenters—on behalf of all publishers—we’ll gladly buy the pizza and beer.

Seriously, on behalf of the industry, we welcome your call to arms, and pledge our collaboration.


Randall Rothenberg

President & CEO