Make ads, not war

Rob Blake, GM EMEA at Pocketmath, explains how trying to stay ahead of the curve in advertising can leave companies with awkward conflicts of interest to resolve

Technology is playing a larger role than ever before in shaping the future of the advertising industry. For the oldest and wisest players in the space, the madison avenue creative types, this presents a bit of a challenge. These agencies have always been masters of the campaign, creating messages that stick, and piping them out to audiences through the channels that work. 

Yet, as those channels have become ever more complex, reaching audiences via their digital devices requires a level of technology and expertise that has never been part of the agency remit before. 

There’s a lot of choice out there, with platforms and ad enablers competing to provide the best service, at the best price. But this digital bun fight is starting to equate to a huge share of global advertising, and agencies are naturally keen to monetise the trend for their own profits, rather than simply routing traffic so that others can reap the rewards. 

Unlike the old favourites like TV and outdoor, the barriers to entry for digital advertising are relatively low. The tech needs to be good, and a team of highly skilled people is needed to run it, but that’s it. As a result, ad agencies are presented with a particularly hard to resist temptation, and they are succumbing. 

For a while agencies invested money in buying up tech specialists, in the hopes of subsuming their expertise or simply removing them from the market. But the challenge of integrating these companies and their unique products into a model that was geared towards traditional ad sources often proved too much. 

Now, as a plan B, agencies are adopting a more long-term approach of investing in the tech that drives digital and mobile advertising. While from a business perspective, this may make a lot of sense, it also creates a potentially problematic conflict of interest that didn’t exist when life was simple and adverts meant cereal boxes and billboards. 

If agencies stand to make money from directing adverts down the digital route, then can their perspective on what constitutes the best approach to a campaign ever be truly independent? It’s an important question, and one which the industry will need to answer before brands start to raise difficult questions of their own.