The top 10 things I learned about online advertising in 2017
Columnist David Rodnitzky starts off the new year with a look back at the changes that have impacted digital advertising and how they'll continue to evolve in 2018.
David Rodnitzky on January 9, 2018 at 11:15 am
Now that 2017 has come to a close, it’s time to put away our fidget spinners and reflect on another interesting year in online advertising. Here’s my summary of what changed — and what didn’t — over the last year.
Things that are still really hard
- Going 100% in-house. Every year pundits proclaim the end of agencies, and every year agencies continue to grow. Why? Because online advertising is complicated, changes quickly and requires an army of full-time employees if you want to do it all in-house. Even the biggest, most fiercely self-sufficient companies still farm out a ton of work to agencies. While the roles and responsibilities of agencies will evolve, their utility will remain.
- Ad tech. Ad tech companies continue to build amazing, industry-changing products. They then sit and watch as their competition copies their innovation and cuts fees. This race to the bottom hurts both the innovator and the copycat. There’s no evidence that this cycle will end anytime soon.
- Monetizing content. Internet users don’t like ads that interrupt their browsing experience. But they also don’t like paying for content. As a result, content publishers are constantly trying to find ads that make them money but don’t annoy or get ignored by users. The latest attempts to monetize users are native advertising and influencer marketing, but the FCC is starting to challenge these approaches as misleading, and it seems that more and more of the native ads I see are clickbait that provides a terrible user experience.
Things that might change soon
- Branding. Branding still matters and will matter for a long time. What’s changing is the way that branding is measured (or perhaps, it will actually be measured) and the degree to which brand marketers start to care about metrics.
- The Advertising-Industrial Complex. Despite a booming stock market, the big holding companies — historically the 800-pound gorillas of the advertising world — are struggling. WPP — the biggest of the bigs — has seen its stock drop this year and has had to lower its revenue projections for the year several times. Some have speculated that the holding companies will soon be acquisition targets by consulting firms. Whether this happens or not, the playing field is changing rapidly, and the leaders of today may not be the leaders of tomorrow.
- Everything becomes programmatic. If branding is changing and holding companies are in decline, we could be on the precipice of a change in the way traditional media is bought — in particular, buying mass media (TV and radio) and out-of-home (billboards, taxis, print) through programmatic exchanges. Some of this is already happening at a very small scale, but that could accelerate as other changes spread through the advertising ecosystem.
Things that haven’t changed
- Fear of automation but continued need for humans. Everybody’s talkin’ about machine learning and AI as looming threats to advertising professionals. Someday — many years from now — everyone in advertising may be data scientists and programmers, but that day isn’t too close. For now, we’ll continue to cower in fear of unemployment but actually continue to benefit from better and better automation.
- Google and Facebook as the duopoly. While I do believe that Amazon is a rapidly growing competitor in the fight for retailer ad dollars, the battle at the top continues to be a two-horse race. This won’t change in 2018, even as Amazon and Apple begin to offer more and more ad products and inventory.
- Better data wins. There are no secret keywords, no ad units that only you can buy and no networks that haven’t been discovered. Winning in online advertising comes down to one thing: collecting more data, analyzing more data and making that data actionable. This will be the case for the foreseeable future.
- People still love Top 10 lists. I could have ended this list at #9, but Top 10 lists always sound better!