Troubles in Ad Land in 2019

I’ve debated whether or not I should write this for a long time, because I know that some of my colleagues won’t like reading it.
I’ve only been on the agency side of the table for two years. Prior to that I was on the brand side for 16 years, mainly involved with VC backed startups. Though these are different fields, they do have something in common; VC startups and ad agencies both have the responsibility to prioritize meaningful KPIs without the luxury of promoting ‘vanity’ metrics. Your unit economics (ie – your ratio between customer acquisition cost and customer lifetime value) determine your ability to raise money and grow aggressively.

Two years ago, I was unprepared for what I was about to see in the ad industry. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t great. We quickly found a large number of problems in the industry that we found unsettling and even unethical.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back to the beginning.

Quick Hops:


The Beginning of Abacus

We started Abacus after reading the book “Manslaughter on Madison Avenue” and vowed to create an agency (although we debated the word ‘agency’ for months) that solved the agency-client problems made so painfully clear in the book.
Abacus has allowed me the opportunity to get out into the world and meet tons of marketers and agencies all across the globe. As a result, I’m left believing that there are major troubles in ad land today. Marketers and agencies alike are struggling terribly with the changing advertising and media landscape. Advertising used to be easier in theory, after all,, because you’d rarely be able to link a specific activity with a result; we didn’t have the concrete data that we do today that can better show cause and effect.
The worst part is that I believe these problems are terminal in the industry, and can ultimately go from troublesome to downright catastrophic.

Current Problems in the Ad Industry

At Abacus, we spent a lot of time thinking about the problems we were coming across and how to group them to be useful. We found that they fell into four main categories:

1. Environment
When we say “environment,” we’re referring to the changing advertising, media, and creative landscape. The rate of change is unprecedented, and the compounding and combining effects of all these new technologies creating major turmoil and extraordinary opportunity for the brave.

2. Mindset<brAfter writing a book about growth hacking, it was no wonder that people love to ask me questions about tactics and tricks. But here’s the problem: growth is often a mindset and not a toolbox. We’ve found that the lack of a growth mindset is astounding, even amongst major marketers, and ultimately hurting their clients’ campaigns. They’d rather use quick tricks instead of setting up plans for true growth.

3. Culture
I’ve seen a lot of negative cultures that nullify any good work that might come out of their companies and otherwise talented employees. I’ve witnessed key employee churn amongst clients, in which three or four teams work with a single client. I’ve seen also massive employee churn at agencies, and more disturbingly, an indifference or an acceptance of the exodus. Culture is the single asset that will ensure that a company evolves into their future self instead of imploding inwards.

4. Strategy
Finally, strategies (and the tactics that support them) play a key role in determining success. However, a company’s strategy is driven by their understanding of the environment, their culture and their mindset, so it’s the interplay of these four categories that is the most interesting. Most agencies have failed to develop strong strategies when one or more of the other factors were off kilter.
Let’s take a look at these problems in-depth and how they affect ad land. We’ll start with the environment.


Illustrations by Trevor Fraley – trevorfraley.com

Everything is changing right in front of our eyes. Famous ad exec Albert Lasky said the best asset a marketer could have is “humility in the presence of a good idea,” and that’s as true now as it’s always been.
The ability to know that the game has changed and adapt to the new set of rules and best practices will determine if your company is around in five or seven years… or if it isn’t

I spent eight years running a business in the high stakes poker industry, and I was able to watch the pre-eminent style of the game change in reaction to changing environment.
Poker had always been a slow, methodical chess match. With the advent of online poker and infusion of tens of thousands of new online players, they took advantage of the methodical game by playing ultra aggressive and loose. The traditional players didn’t know how to adapt, and these new, young phenoms took over the game.

By the end of my poker career, the old guard got wise to the new guard, and started to use their aggressiveness against them. By combining their tighter play with a sprinkle of this newfound aggression, they were able to regain the throne by trapping the loose players and sending them back to their keyboards.
This is what marketers need to do, too; know when the game has changed and figure out how to take advantage.
But alas, examples of this are few and most people are having trouble adapting to this new mobile world.

The Death of TV As We Know It & How It Will Change the Game

People get really upset when we talk about this. I never envisioned that there would be so much emotion around this topic, but here we are.
People are no longer watching TV the way that they used to. This is a reality that’s changing.

“What about sports?” they ask. “Certainly not sports.”
Everyone I know watches sports on television and tunes in at a specific time. In the last year alone, English Premier League games have been sold to Amazon, Major League Baseball games have been sold to Facebook, and NFL games have been sold to Twitter. Google is now a broadcaster with YouTubeTV.
People are still going to watch a ton of TV. They’re just going to watch on a multitude of devices and through a new group of providers.

Do you really want to bet on NBC, FOX and CBS versus the likes of Amazon, Netflix, Facebook, and Google?
The good news is this will drive a huge resurgence in people-based TV advertising, where advertisers will be able to buy valuable and more personalized TV spots like a Facebook ad, regardless of device. This means more relevant ads, which means better results.
We need to realize that we’re living in a ‘post-broadcast’ world and pivot to meet the changes and opportunities.

No More Captive Audiences

This is a big one people. With the death of TV as we know it, we no longer have the captive audiences we used to have. We need to come to grips with this. Right now, a lot of you are imagining a world that no longer exists.

Captive audiences are what created the 30-second narrative. When viewers were forced to sit in front of six 30-second commercials in a row, an advertiser could reasonably believe that their message was being consumed. Now, they DVR or wait for Netflix or Hulu.
They drove around in their cars and were forced to listen to your drive time radio ads. Now they’re listening to podcasts, Spotify or their own music. Or they Uber.
They walked around the city forced to stare at your billboards. Now they’re staring at their phones.
They flipped through magazines and newspapers and read your ads. Now they read only the headlines on Twitter and Facebook and deep dive infrequently.
Even Facebook and Instagram ads (which are the focus of Abacus) are more like magazine ads than TV ads – the user thumbs through 300 physical feet of timeline a day just like they flipped through a magazine.

This changes everything.

Does your advertising work in a world with no captive audiences? Does your creative still involve the consumer to invest 30 seconds or more of their time? Because realistically, in many cases, that’s too high of an expectation to hold.
It’s not just the media that changed; the consumer behaviour changed and the amount of time they’re willing to invest in an ad has changed. That means ‘cutting down your TV ad’ for social is a guaranteed waste of time and money, but too many advertisers are investing too much.

No Need to Guess as Much

One of the coolest things about advertising in 2018 is that the risk profile of advertising has changed. Digital media, when in the hands of the right technicians, can provide the immediate user feedback, which is completely different from what we ever had before.

This means that the opportunity exists to replace focus groups and user studies with data driven testing on what causes the exact action you require.
It also means that you can prototype and test concepts live, before deciding which ones to invest in. This allows the shrewd marketer to de-risk their creative and media investment by applying a bit of design thinking and a lot of creative testing.

Imagine these common scenarios:
A Creative Director picks a single creative concept (guesses) out of five that were brainstormed. The client agrees and they go “all-in” on the concept, not knowing what will happen.

Why not instead prototype and test all five? Not only does it remove the guesswork, the possibility exists that several concepts appeal to different audience segments and can be used in parallel.

Let’s look at another. A Marketing Director launches a new product. They blow their budget on the launch and then measure results. Why not break the budget into phases that drive data analysis and sales analysis that then allow marketers to regroup and spend each dollar smarter than the last?
Just remember – it was a choice to buy media that can’t be measured.
Many smart marketers are reducing their media selection set to those that can be best measured. This is because if you can measure it, you can allocate better. You can double down on what’s working and jettison what isn’t.
It’s no longer OK to not know which 50% is working, or if it’s even working at all.
And yet too many agencies haven’t adapted.

Marketers Still Aren’t Matching Spend to Attention

It’s never been more important to follow the marketing 101 basic of matching spend to user attention. If your customers are using social and mobile, you have no choice but to follow them, regardless of how new or uncomfortable that might feel.

Coming from a social media world, we think a lot about this. If customers are on their phones all day, why are we buying billboards and radio?
If customers are checking their phones before saying good morning to their spouses, why are we buying print ads and TV spots?
The simplest way for a CMO to develop a marketing plan is to have a good understanding of where their consumers spend their time and then matching those platforms accordingly.

Sounds simple, but folks aren’t doing it.

For most people, their smartphone is the epicenter of their attention from the time the wake up to the time they go to sleep. Even more significantly, 1 in every 4 minutes on their phone in North America is spent inside a Facebook apps. This includes Facebook, Instagram, FB Messenger and What’s App.
Every day hearts and minds are being won through the smartphone. Samsung’s Olympics commercials were black-boxed, vertical phone ads on TV. This means they sacrifice the broadcast audience for the mobile audience. Apple uses social first creative on TV.

So What Does This Mean?

All these environmental factors combine into some really nasty trends for the advertising industry.
Most marketers are viewing the new world through old lenses. Broadcast creative still drives the creative strategy, even though it shouldn’t. Marketers imagine customer behaviors that no longer exist and assume that they have more of their attention than they really do.
They still buy mass amounts of broadcast media because it’s simple and comfortable and beautifully unaccountable. And they’re wasting their budget because of it.

Marketing and Mindset

Still with me? Excellent, because now I want to talk about mindset problems we see in the marketing world all the time. I’m nervous writing this section because there’s no way to sugar coat it. The concepts are too simple, even if too many marketers are currently overlooking them.The winning marketers are literally asking and tackling different questions than those who are struggling.The forward-looking, uncomfortable, imperfect, creative, uncertain, painful, time sensitive, competitive, cross-function, product as a service, service as a product, cannibalistic, politically risky, futuristic, they-might-fire-me types of questions.

Mindset Struggle 1: Adaptation is Not a Choice, So Don’t Treat It Like One

Stop treating adaptation as a choice. Whether it’s mobile first, or social, or vertical, or user experience or whatever is holding you back. It’s not a choice. The customers move and we have to keep up with them.
That means we have to understand how they move from stranger to sold, and gain intuition around how the interactions affect one another.
We have to build advertising and products that walk alongside our customers and point them towards the next step in their journey.
I saw someone pitching a digital-first strategy the other day. It blew my mind. What’s the alternative? I can’t wait until people stop talking about digital as if it’s new and groundbreaking, because it’s already here.

Yet as positive as it sounds that digital now represents 50% of all media spend, that still means that one in every two dollars is still being spent traditionally. I don’t understand it.
By not treating it as a choice, you’re going to make things easier. If social and mobile drive your creative strategy, you’re going to see gains the likes of which you haven’t seen. The medium is the message (massage?). Context is G-D. Content is King. You get the point.
As you’ll read later, if we can make difficult decisions easier and more quickly, we’ll succeed more often. I suck at making hard decisions, but I’m very good at reducing them to simpler decisions. It’s a mindset adaptation that must be made.

Mindset Struggle 2: Not Following Through with Data

OK let’s be honest – a lot of you are talking the data talk but not walking the data walk.
How do we know? We found out that 44% of all social spend managed by the #big5holdco media companies do not employ the Facebook pixel. Forty. Four. Percent.<br
Forget performance marketing or ROAS. This means they don’t even get back basic audience info from the largest behavioural database in human history.
Also, almost all marketers are using Google Analytics as their data bible, and are shocked to see that Google and Facebook’s numbers don’t match. It’s like asking the Democrats how many votes were tallied for the Republicans; everyone thinks they know what’s going on, but no one actually does<br
>If you rely on Google Analytics, you are likely making bad decisions that you think are good decisions when it comes to social ads.
There’s hope though. If you measure top of funnel data (views, clicks, engagement), it doesn’t matter how well you measure it; it won’t move the needle. Conversely, if you measure bottom of the funnel data, you can uncover basic insights that will drive real money results predictably.

Attribution is hard, but we’re failing at it because we insist on ‘perfect’ at the expense of ‘better.’We need to stop letting competitors and superhero-sized media companies dictate our actions. They’re leading us down blind paths. We need to think like a customer and figure out what makes sense for us. Develop a common-sense driven hybrid approach that gives goals AND assists.
Programmatic advertising doesn’t work. It was created to allow untrained media buyers the ability to sell large amounts of digital ads. If you’re buying programmatic ads but not buying social ads, I want you to email me at hello@abacus.agency with the subject line “HELP” and we’ll get on the phone and talk.
Track the right few metrics and focus on making decisions simpler and more results focused. Again, this is a mindset issue that plagues the industry.

Mindset Struggle 3: The Performance Mindset

Growth people talk about the performance mindset and I think it’s really important.
I don’t have a good definition for it but I know it the second I see it.
I met a colleague for coffee a year ago to describe a challenge I was having .Within 5 minutes, he had asked me questions and sketched out my sales funnel with conversion rates and close rates. Based on that illustration, he was in a standardized position to diagnose my problem and recommend solutions.
The performance mindset is solely focused on a small set of metrics that are proven to drive growth, are repeatable, and are scalable. A marketing manager may spend a lot of time courting an influencer or a journalist, only to find out that even if they book a win, they can’t replicate or scale.
The performance mindset thinks of alternatives if performance of some type can’t be measured, because even basic measurement would allow us to compare campaigns and understand which are relatively working better. At Abacus we talk about Performance Awareness as a way of building performance mindset even into your top of funnel awareness ads

Abacus was invited to the Body Shop (check out our case study here) to discuss how to use paid social to drive petition signatures for a petition to end animal testing. Not wanting to just spend and pray, we encouraged the client to prioritize adding the Facebook tracking Pixel to the petition website, allowing us to calculate a cost per petition signature for each campaign. Putting our poker hats back on, this allowed us to fold the losing hands and double down on the winners.
We used performance mindset to ensure that we squeezed as many petition signatures out of their media budget as possible. That’s what makes us feel good. (I don’t think we would’ve worked together had they not been able to pixel their site. It makes our optimizers go squirrely).

Mindset Struggle 4: Not Thinking Full Funnel

So is it as simple as thinking about funnels? We think so.
Funnels drive performance mindset.
“But I’m not a direct to consumer company,” I hear you scream.
It doesn’t matter. Think of a funnel as a set of escalating commitments from the customer to your brand, tested and organized in a way to efficiently move consumers through the journey. It could be from a view to a visit, a visit to a download, or a download to a contact.

Funnels get a bad reputation because they used to be the domain of hard-hitting, truth-telling direct response marketers. Instead, think of a funnel as an efficient, repeatable system to bring your users from point A to point B.
If you can break that journey into steps and measure those steps, you can diagnose what needs improvement and you can triage the most important issues first. If you track them over time, you can see the trajectories and know what to double down on.
Abacus always markets with a full funnel approach. I think that might be a big part of our secret sauce. We think about what customers would need to know in each stage of their buyer journey. You can nurture customers on Facebook long before they visit your website, which allows for 10x more efficient remarketing scaling.

The beauty of Facebook is that it efficiently allows you to connect campaigns to remarket to people and build audience assets to be used in future campaigns. No other channel allows you to efficiently nurture leads BEFORE they come to your website. (Pro Tip – This makes it much more scalable than website retargeting).
In fact, if you wanted to think of it as a system, you could create a campaign for each persona x funnel stage.
For example, if you had 4 buyer personas and used a 4 stage funnel stage (ie – Top of Funnel, Middle Funnel, Bottom Funnel and remarketing) you could literally ideate and test 16 different integrated campaigns (4 x 4) and get closer to the dream of one-to-one marketing.
The reason why most people fail at social is that they direct response market too soon. They don’t take the opportunity to nurture efficiently by creating an emotional connection through an emotional medium.

So next time think full funnel – or don’t blame Facebook.


The third category I want to discuss is Culture,. Though it sounds softer or less actionable than the other categories, it is likely the single biggest factor that will destroy some of the industry’s largest and most glorified ad agencies.
Let’s dive in a bit.
Abacus Culture

Culture Problem 1: De-fense! De-fense!

The first thing you’ll notice is that many of the incumbent agencies and marketing departments are deeply defensive of their frame and way of thinking. In fact, I use the degree of defensiveness as a lead indicator for how they view the future.

What do I mean by defensive?
There are the obvious ones. You’ll hear defenses of specific advertising media like television, of various marketing objectives like reach and frequency, different advertising truisms like “you never really know which 50% is working,” of long form content and advertising as art, and many more.
There are also the less obvious, but harder to defeat defenses. These defenses are built up after decades of thinking about something a specific way. These creative and marketing habits become addictions and people have a hard time breaking them because they’re so ingrained in how they function.
For example, marketers and creative are still living in a horizontal world. They’ve made horizontal TV spots for decades and have stared at horizontal desktops, laptops and TV screens for equally as long. As a result, we think in a horizontal world and move the viewers’ attention from left to right. This is no longer the case; we’re now very much living in a vertical world thanks to smartphones.

Marketers are also trapped in a captive audience world (as discussed earlier) where they still feel they have the luxury to take 30 seconds or more to tell their story.
The result is that most of the advertising innovation we can expect over the next 5 years will likely come from outside the big agencies. As most of them hunker down and fortify their positions, opportunity will exist for newer companies to win their clients, unencumbered by their culture. This ties in with the whole mindset of not wanting to adapt to the new environment, but it ends up destroying the agency’s culture and potential.

Culture Problem 2: Where has all the talent gone?

In the old days, you got your marketing MBA by working for a few years at P&G or Unilever. Since everyone needs soap and toothpaste, it was a great place to be to understand how to leverage captive audiences into brand loyal customers. Mass media was great for companies that didn’t need to sell to specific niches.
Nowadays, if you speak to any CMO, you’ll see that the skills they are looking for are VERY different from what they used to look for.

Marketers today need to be technically proficient, data savvy, strategic and tactical, T-shaped, curious, creative, analytical and good team players . These aren’t exactly the marketers being created by universities and multinational brand advertisers. And in reality, many of those skills are very hard to find in the same person.

Frankly, I blame programmatic display advertising for this talent crisis**.
We’re facing a huge shortage of good, modern marketers. The competition is outrageous. Everyone is looking for the same people, and the best ones have so many options.
Making matters worse, many clients no longer trust agency partners, and are hiring/poaching these people for their internal teams. While it’s rarely a good idea to take these skills in-house, it’s happening and compounding the talent problems.
Combine this with the massive agency churn rate we discussed earlier, and I really don’t know how this problem gets fixed. If we’re right about broadcast television flowing to digital, the problem becomes even bigger.
Having a good culture and a strong mission is the only antidote because you’ll be able to keep good people, but that is easier said than done, especially when competing against new companies that only travel with carry-on (no baggage!).

**When faced with the problem of how to buy a TON of digital media with traditional media buying talent, the industry created programmatic. With just enough ‘black box’ magic to let media buyers sleep at night, agencies sold billions of dollars worth of digital display media programmatically to clients and reported on impressions. The media didn’t do anything for the clients,. I’m sorry to be the one to tell you. It was bad media combined with bad media buyers and bad reporting. If anyone has a case study of programmatic driving results for a performance marketer, please email me.

The single best thing you can do for your company is move your programmatic budgets to social.

Culture Problem 3: Come Together. Right Now. It’s Needed.

The separation of media and creative is causing some big problems.
Let’s face it, for many decades media buying was easy.
Or if you’re not comfortable with easy, media buying was more one-time transactional and less always-on.
Or if you’re not comfortable with transactional, media buying was ultimately unaccountable, so a comfortable place to invest.br>Today the relationship between media and creative is in a crisis.
Good social media buyers need dozens and dozens of assets with multiple versions of each. The assets need to be social first and optimized for feed.

That basically means it needs to follow the “Abacus 1/5/8 Rule” meaning 1 second to stop their thumbs, 5 seconds to deliver the payload, and assume they’re gone by 8 seconds. They also need to be right format and quantities for feed; Abacus recommends a ratio of 70/20/10 short content, interactive content and long form content. We didn’t make this up – it’s based on ALL social video consumption Facebook.
And no, it doesn’t mean that long form is dead. It just means that long form needs to used differently.

Creative + Data = ‘something new.’ Huge opportunity exists for those willing to dive into that ocean.
Agencies aren’t delivering this. They’re mainly delivering a hero video and some supporting pieces. They’re unwittingly thinking broadcast TV first, focusing on the big idea, guessing and not testing, and measuring results through awards and not results.
The ONLY way to succeed on social media is to have deep integration between media and creative. This way, the creative knows what to deliver and gets feedback on what their performance drivers are.In other words, they’ll know what designs drive the most conversions.

Also, it ensures that media and data have a voice at the table. This is a table that used to be ruled by a Creative Director dictator who held all the veto power.(No offence. Creative Directors rule, but they should only represent one seat at the table instead of being the only seat.)
When creative agencies and media agencies work together, things move smoother and results increase; although it’s still fraught with problems.
Media agencies typically get consulted too late in the process, ensuring that their media specific expertise doesn’t get shared. By the time the media agency gets creative, it’s often too late to impact.
Many traditional media agencies that buy digital media are not used to communicating creative direction to creative agencies. They’re used to being provided with specific spots for specific slots. They haven’t had to care about the creative.
The creative agency big ideas are still rooted in broadcast television. A good idea on social media is different than a good idea on television. Remember it’s the behaviour that changed, not the media.
The Holdco agencies don’t seem to like working with the agencies they’re supposed to work with. I think that’s the downside of retaining different cultures.
Speed, agility, flexibility and creativity are the key. The agencies of the future will have to be collaborative and good at those things. Set it and forget it is dead. Every day is an opportunity to make your digital media perform better.
We’re living in an incredible time to be a marketer. We just need to be better at taking advantage.

Clearly, the agency of the future is going to force media and creative together. Without this, the real gains available on social are only a dream.

Culture Problem 4: Swagger Like Us.

I wasn’t around in the 50s and 60s, but if Mad Men is any indication, the industry’s confidence has fallen since the TV days.
Back then, we were trusted advisors and partners, relied upon for the next big idea to drive sales up and right.
Today, our advice is picked to death by committee and diluted, leaving the clients wondering why they hired us in the first place. And trust is harder to come by.

What happened in just four decades?
As a newcomer to the industry, I can tell you what I’ve noticed.
The trust isn’t gone, but it’s very low on both sides. Clients have been burned by fast talking agencies before. Agencies have had amazing work reduced to pabulum by non-creative opinions. If this doesn’t improve, advertising will hand the industry to the consultants.
Speaking of the consultants, the reason they’re at the marketing table is because of confidence. Consulting firms are hired to predict the cost of a pound of coffee in 20 years. Even though the answer is unknowable, they come to the table prepared to present it as fact. Ad agencies are the opposite – we’re quick to give in to client opinions and hunches, regardless of the source. As long as we allow ourselves to be second-guessed by clients, our confidence will continue to erode.
I believe this lack of confidence leads to a lack of aggression. The less confident the client is in the agency (along with the agency’s declining self-confidence), the more likely their plan will sacrifice aggression and courage for comfort and opacity. I know from personal experience that it’s hard to be confident in a company that’s defensive of the good, old days. A good POV on the future and a positive mission can go a long way.

Finally, the awards scene is completely out of control. I don’t want to make enemies by spending much time on this, but there’s a correlation here. The one thing I’ve noticed is that the more the agency focuses on awards, the less they’re thinking about their customer’s customer. What if the creative that the client needs today won’t win awards?
Make sure you’re buying creative targeting your customers, not other marketers. You need to please a client, not an awards company, and having a stronger, self-confident culture will help with that.


Small changes in strategy can make huge differences to your bottom line. Thinking back to the poker example, sometimes simply doing the opposite of your competitors is enough to earn you meaningful differentiation.

The Phone is the Epicenter of your Customer’s Attention.

In a world where we’re still referring to things as ‘digital,’ it is clear that the problem with the industry isn’t knowledge. It’s action.
Digital natives never knew a world without digital.
Marketers know that their customers are glued to their iPhones. They know they’re watching video in different ways. They know they’re lifestyle patterns have changed forever. The know what type of content to create.
But they don’t act because they have deeply ingrained habits that they can’t break. We know this. This is a symptom of environment, mindset, and culture all in one. And it affects strategy.

Social = mobile + motion, and the rules of engagement for storytelling have changed.
You need a ton of feed-first, emotional, motion-based assets that are engaging and abide by the Abacus 1/5/8 Second rule.
You also need a large quantity of assets to service different buyer personas across different funnel stages. You also need assets for remarketing, testing and scaling and content marketing.
The adage of getting the right message to the right person at the right time requires a boatload of content. So why are you still getting delivered a single hero video?

Sound challenging? It gets worse.
The ‘ideas’ side of social strategy requires different big ideas than ever before. Ideas need to be inherently social to succeed. Not only that, but the rules are changing at breakneck speed, such that a strategy like UGC or shares or boosted posts can become inefficient and out-of-date overnight.
The people determining which ideas get picked don’t know the rules. That makes it very hard to evaluate good ideas. This is a problem.
The creative needs to be emotional too. It needs to be visually arresting and emotionally stirring. The opportunity exists to stir real emotions in a very personal environment. Most marketers don’t understand the emotions of their customers to the degree necessary to hit these buttons.
Next time you’re talking about social, replace the word ‘social’ with ‘mobile video’. You’ll have a better chance of hitting a homerun.

What is Content?

Anyone notice that a whole bunch of content buckets are blurring into something new?
We study this every day.
Yet an afternoon long debate at Abacus, trying to answer the question “what is content” produced some good determining factors but no clear definition.
For a long time advertising agencies sold TV spots. They’d then take a broadcast driven big idea and figure out how to ‘cut it down’ for social.
Agencies still sell spots; they sometimes call them ‘hero videos’.
Marketers need spots once in a while. They need content all day every day.
Content and Ads are blurring together. In many cases, conversion-focused content will outperform ads on social media. At Borrowell, we were able to convert online loans by offering free credit reports to users. Content focused on credit scores produced online loans cheaper than loan ads. We were solving a problem for the user and earning trust.
Good social media advertisers are taking advantage of these blurred lines and living in the spaces between content and ads. Performance marketers, who have a common denominator to evaluate ad performance, don’t care what the content is, as long as it’s driving a profitable CPA.

Speed and Agility.

They lied to you. Slow and steady does not win the race.
The rate of speed required today is obviously faster than ever.
Always on marketing provides advertisers with the opportunity to improve their efforts each and every day. Imagine a traditional billboard that not only allowed you to change the creative as often as you liked but let you know which one was working the best?
Would you put up a billboard, leave it for 6 months, and then try to piece together it’s efficacy? Or would you work at it week after week, trying to get better by compounding small wins?

The speed and agility required to deal with an always on world is intense. You need to be fast to adapt, fast to double down, fast to experiment and test creative, and fast to cut bait when something isn’t working. The days of set-it-and-forget-it are over.
The successful clients we have worked with adjust their budgets on a monthly or even bi-weekly basis, re-allocating spends from slow campaigns to growth campaigns. They also build in the time to analyze and learn. If your budgets are carved in stone, you’re not going to be hungry to find new areas of growth.

Check Your Ego at the Door.

As we come to the end of this post, I saved the most important idea for last – a little ‘thank you’ gift to anyone who made it this far.
Since starting an ad agency, I’ve had the opportunity to meet a ton of companies. Through these meetings, I’ve been able to observe many of those companies’ strengths and weaknesses at scale and attempt to correlate them against their marketing success.

What is the one strength that correlates the most with success?
It’s very simple.
The smartest (or maybe the most successful) minds in marketing don’t have an ego.
They have hypotheses, insights, instincts and curiosities..
But they don’t come to the table thinking they know the answer. They don’t fall in love with their work. In fact, they go to bed at night anxious that there’s a better idea out there.
It is this ability to remain subjective and curious that allows the growth marketer to continue to strive to improve. If you think you have the answer, not only will you resists the quest for improvement, you will become defensive of your ideas. You also may analyze the results in a way that supports your ideas.

If you come to the table with ‘the beginner’s mind’, you’ll start to realize that growth marketing is a system and a process of constant improvement. Just like growing a garden, growth marketing prunes away the inefficient efforts and nurtures the plants that are healthy, ensuring that the overall garden grows efficiently.
Look for people who know how to find the right answers as opposed to the people who claim to already know the answers.

If you are able to remove your ‘self’ and your ego from your marketing, you’ll find yourself in a new environment that promotes experimentation and collaboration like never before.
The new marketing world will require a collaboration between disciplines like never before. The proper balance between creative direction, data, strategy and instinct will be critical to success.
Lean-in to the areas that feel particularly uncomfortable. That’s where the real growth resides.

In Closing.

The ad agency world is at a precipice, about to change into a new agency world order.
Marketing has changed more in the last 5 years than the previous 50. This has left marketers confused, overwhelmed, and struggling to keep up.

Here’s what we think is going to happen.

1. We believe that we’re going to see the death of AORs (agencies of record). As companies realize that brands need to be fluid more than babysat, clients are going to reject the ideas of one company providing all services. No longer will companies accept mediocre services as part of overall service agreements. Instead, we believe that specialists are going to work with each other to create collectives of companies that ensure an all-star at every position.

2. We believe that code and data are going to become just as important as art and copy. In fact, the combination of both will create something completely new, just like television created a new mass culture. Companies that allow creative direction and data science to coexist will thrive. Silos will kill the rest.

3. We believe that media-informed and data-informed creative will be the next big thing in creative. No longer can media and creative be separate. This is a huge opportunity for those able to integrate in new ways.

4. We believe that traditional digital media buying is dead and will be replaced by growth/performance buying. Campaigns will be agile and adaptable to changes. They will be based on hard data. They will be always on and not campaign based. They will be scalable and repeatable and predictable. They will be optimized in perpetuity.

5. We believe that creative is about to change forever and content is going to continue to be a constant challenge for brands. As we move away from a broadcast creative strategy towards a mobile creative strategy, traditional agencies will continue to struggle, and new players will appear in their place.

6. We believe that broadcast television is on its last legs, soon to be replaced by targeted television buying through companies like Facebook, Netflix and Google. This will have major impact on the industry, as $70B+ in television buying will need new technical and creative stewardship. More importantly, this will signal the death knell for mass media as it gets replaced by mass-niche advertising.

This all represents a MASSIVE opportunity for companies that have the insight, courage and agility to take advantage. All you have to do is adapt and be ready for what’s coming next.

What do you think? We’d love to hear from you! Whether you agree with our insights or think we’re out to lunch, we’d love to begin a discussion.

Jeff Goldenberg is the Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer of Abacus, an adtech/agency hybrid that focused on performance Facebook and Instagram advertising. Prior to founding Abacus, Jeff was a startup founder, author, speaker and startup mentor with MaRS, 500 Startups and Techstars. Learn more about Abacus at https://abacus.agency

Jeff Goldenberg
Jeff Goldenberg

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