The advertising cockroach

Brian Morrissey, The Rebooting

advertising

Always under threat, advertising keeps going

Longtime Publicis ad executive and newsletterer Rishad Tobaccowala has a go-to line about ad agencies: “They say we’re like dinosaurs. But we’re like cockroaches. We are cockroaches. Everybody hates us. Nobody likes to see us. But cockroaches have outlived everyone. We scurry out of corners.”

Over my 20 years covering this business, I have seen several supposed existential threats to advertising come and go. The TiVo “nightmare” didn’t lead to the “death of the 30-second spot.” Don’t forget how cord cutting was going to do the same. No, wait, Netflix was making TV ad breaks a thing of the past – until it started an ad business. GDPR turned out to be an expensive hassle, not much more, and gave birth to a cadre of “privacy consultants.” And ad blocking – described as a threat to freedom and democracy by the IAB – became a manageable, chronic condition. 

Advertising adapts and survives. It just keeps going. AI is the latest in a long line of challenges. The use of large language models to deliver information directly to people through chat and other tools augur a major change to the digital economy. These tools are not explicitly anti-advertising but they emerge from a tech culture that has long abhorred advertising, perhaps some lingering counterculture vibes, even while many made riches off it. The human mind is capable of amazing inconsistencies that give no quarter to AI’s hallucinations.

I was struck by an interview Semafor published with AI search engine Perplexity AI’s CEO, Aravind Srinivas, who was asked about search ads, the most successful digital advertising product of all time and arguably its least disruptive.

“People should just put more effort into having well-documented information about them on the internet and an LLM can parse it on the fly. I feel like this might make the world better in some sense. Why do you need to advertise if an LLM can just go read about you and what you’re saying?”

Oh, never thought of that. Let’s leave aside that just two years ago, Srinivas was a research intern at Google. Ad dollars bought that fancy cafeteria food. Being anti-advertising is like being libertarian: It’s something you should grow out of because life is messier and full of compromises.

Expect to see ad blocking come back as a threat. The Arc browser allows people to customize their internet experience at the foundational level of the browser. Don’t want to see those annoying blue check marks next to thirsty hustle bros on Twitter? Easy. Oh, and this what people get during setup.

This is a pox on all houses situation, since digital advertising has tended to gravitate to an adversarial approach that at its best sees how much mayo it can put on the sandwich before it becomes inedible but at worst is dehumanizing, treating humans as “receptacles of data,” Meghan O’Gieblyn writes in God, Human, Animal, Machine. She cites computer scientist Jaron Lanier decrying an “antihuman approach to computation” in which “bits are presented as if they were alive, while humans are transient fragments.”

The digital advertising ecosystem is in the midst of structural change as the era of rampant (and often wanton) data collection falls away. It is also a matured industry whose days of hypergrowth are likely behind it. People are going to have more control over what data is collected about them. The rough reception of ChatGPT in Europe is a sign that the tenor has changed when it comes to Big Tech. GDPR was obviously flawed, yet it set the regulatory standard for much of the world. 

In a few weeks, the media, tech and advertising worlds will mix in the French Riviera for the annual Cannes Lions boondoggle Festival of Creativity. Apple, whose CEO has criticized “surveillance” advertising and a “data industrial complex,” will have a major presence. People who hate advertising tend to just hate a particular type of advertising. I suppose it’s not dissimilar to railing against “tech” or “the media” as monoliths. 

I can understand the argument that ad targeting is a harmless tradeoff for broad access to information, entertainment and services like social networks. Subscriptions are growing again, and they will be needed to fund much of the content being produced. There will be messy legal fights ahead as major media companies like News Corp “go regulatory.” But subscriptions alone cannot be the answer. I’m surprised how many people are willing to throw away the open web because of some auto-play video ads. Creative destruction is fine and dandy, but good to have a better alternative lined up.

In the end, advertising will soldier on. WPP has inked a deal with Nvidia to make ads “more efficiently and at scale” and “more tailored and immersive.” The announcement was typically vague, but it was enough to boost WPP’s stock price 2.5%. Expect more of this. Let’s not forget that it was then-WPP CEO Martin Sorrell who remarked in 2006, “How much easier would this business be to run without the creatives?”

There’s a reason marketers call making the ads “non-working” media. Some of the early examples of AI ads are, well, I guess creativity is subjective. That said, these tools always improve. My friend Noah has a fun ad Turing test project going. The reality of advertising, like much of the content industrial complex, is that it is often derivative and mostly versioning. In an upcoming podcast I did with Kerv CEO Gary Mittman, he remarked that AI will end up “fixing” ads that aren’t performing without waiting for the human.

There’s little choice here but to adapt. Advertising will bifurcate even further between the AI-fueled performance end of the spectrum and the more human side, which will itself use AI tools like the apparent attempt by Spotify to use AI-created host-read podcast ads. No matter the fever dreams of the D&D-on-ketamine set, advertising will not go away. It is like Kendall described himself as a cog that fits in only one machine. Advertising’s machine is capitalism; you cannot have one without the other. And like advertising, capitalism has proven itself relentlessly adaptable. 

Read the original article here.

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Rich Kentopp
VP, Product Management

After his career of being a pastor and touring musician, Rich started his technology career almost a decade ago with many of the KERV leadership at Lin Digital. Since then he has been a Product leader at three different scaling startups, learning how to build valuable products with teams who love to work together.

Devin Monds
Head of EMEA Sales

Devin is a dedicated and experienced media sales professional with over 15 years in the digital media space in both North America and EMEA. He most recently headed up the International Team at Adludio, the premier advertising platform for delivering strong creative on mobile devices. Prior to his role at Adludio, Devin worked on the Global Brand Partnerships team at CAA Sports in London, and was International Sales Director at LoopMe where he built out the US West Coast Sales Team from Los Angeles. With a proven track record of new business development and revenue generation, Devin has a multitude of solid relationships with brands and agencies, globally.

He relishes the opportunity to engage with new clients on a daily basis, in order to identify tailored solutions that can drive their desired outcomes. Furthermore, he takes pride in his culinary skills, often experimenting with new recipes and delivering delectable results.






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    Brad Quinn is the SVP, Enterprise & Publisher Partnerships based out of our NYC office. He has over 15 years of experience across Agencies, Publishers and Tech. At KERV, Brad leads the Partnerships team focused on content providers and distributors. He integrates KERV’s tech capabilities across ads and content to create a real‑time interactive/shoppable experience.

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