- NBCUniversal hosted a collection of top executives in the media and advertising business on Tuesday in New York, promising to tackle some of the thornier issues facing the industry – such as people increasingly trying to avoid ads.
- The group included leaders from Google, Twitter, Facebook, AT&T and Fox.
- NBCU’s sales lead Linda Yaccarino urged the industry to embrace data, push for better transparency, and better respect consumers. She even hinted at running fewer ads on NBCU’s TV networks.
- Still, even as the event was billed as a way to find common ground, the discussions revealed tensions and philosophical divides between traditional media sellers and digital giants like Facebook and Google.
NBCUniversal’s sales chief Linda Yaccarino made a bold claim on Tuesday: the media giant may start running fewer TV commercials.
“Who knows?” Yaccarino said. “We might even reduce commercial time across the board.”
Yaccarino wasn’t more specific than that, but the provocative promise was clearly designed to raise eyebrows in the ad industry, given that for a TV network, running fewer ads is potentially the equivalent of throwing away money in the short term.
But given the state of affairs in advertising – where people are ditching cable, streaming full seasons of shows with no ads, and generally avoiding advertisers as much as possible while their noses remain buried in social media feeds – media companies need radical thinking, argued Yaccarino.
And Yaccarino clearly wants to be seen as leading the charge on whatever radical rethink takes hold. The NBCU executive’s remarks came at a Tuesday morning, NBCU-hosted “State of the Industry Forum” in New York which carried the subtitle, “We need to talk.”
And those on hand to talk included a slew of NBCU’s blood rivals, including executives from Google, Fox, AT&T, Twitter, and Facebook. The purpose of the five-family-esque gathering was ostensibly to help push the industry to tackle a slew of its most pressing ills, from people avoiding ads to measurement challenges to the growing power of Amazon.
But it was also a clear show of power by NBCU – with the subtext being along the lines of “we are likely among the few companies who can solve these challenges.”
And as much of the gathering was presented as a way for the industry to work together, it was clear that there was tension between traditional TV players and digital giants. Yaccarino didn’t mention the massive clout of the Google/Facebook duopoly specifically, but more than once brought up the idea of fighting the “walled gardens.“
That’s a thinly veiled shot at Google and Facebook, who are known in ad circles for hoarding their potent consumer data within their own “walls.” Grumblers say that dynamic makes it difficult for marketers to marry the data on who they are reaching with their broader ad campaigns with any ad efforts they run on Facebook and Google.
“We can come together to build the metrics that our industry needs so that we have a fair and transparent market … that holds all platforms to the same standard,” she said.
If advertising doesn’t get its act together? Ten years from now the “ad supported ecosystem will cease to exist,” she said. Yikes.
That dire prediction may or may not come to pass. But in the meantime, it won’t be easy to get the various ad dons to agree on how to measure ad campaigns or what matters most to marketers. For example:
- Joe Marchese, who runs sales at Fox (which has also advocated the idea of running fewer ads on TV) said that the very idea of building brands in short fleeting bursts (translation: on social media or search) is just not realistic. People aren’t going to decide to buy an $18,000 car at the last second, he argued. “To build brands you need attention,” he said. “I don’t know how you define attention other than time.”
- The idea that every marketer will simply deliver super relevant ads to the right person at the right time is a “red herring,” Marchese added. Marketers can’t simply buy outcomes when they buy ad space in media, he contended.
- Anthony Noto, COO of Twitter, said he thought the most important thing to marketers was proving return on investment, however they want to define it. Yet he’s open to coming up with a way of measuring attention or ad exposure that universally translated across digital and traditional media.
- “We can’t have 57 ways of measuring things,” said Bob Rupczynski, global VP, media and customer relationships at McDonald’s.
- Fair enough. But Carolyn Everson, VP, Global Marketing Solutions at Facebook, threw cold water on the idea that we might find a single way to measure media across the board. What matters to advertisers is business outcomes, she argued, not how much time someone spends with an ad. Regardless, measuring a wide variety of media types (e.g. news feed ads, TV ads, Instagram Stories, etc) the same makes little sense in her view, since they are so inherently different.
- Lastly, do brands even matter in 2017? It depends, said Pivotal Research analyst Brian Wieser. In a world where buying products are one Amazon search or Siri voice request away, some brand value may be gone. “Do I feel like a better person when I buy Duracell batteries?” Wieser said.
Happy holidays, ad industry.