When he spoke in front of a room of media professionals at Code/Media earlier this year, Gabe Leydon of Machine Zone, the mobile gaming giant, spooked the room with his view that brand awareness, CPM-based digital campaigns will soon go the way of the dodo. There is such a fondness among Silicon Valley types for disruption, or at least the appearance of disruption, that this seemed newsworthy. A young Turk taking on the dinosaurs. But Leydon’s experience with digital media buying at Machine Zone is not representative of the myriad needs of different brands and publishers across the web. To think his experience is universal would be a mistake.
Leydon talked about his company’s revenue model of in-app purchases within a mobile game. For the very particular product that he is selling, heavy advertising on Facebook has proved very successful. Machine Zone pays Facebook a click per install rate, and the more people install the app, the more people get hooked and pay for in-app purchases, which is where the real money is made. Fine. But not all advertisers are Machine Zone; their objective isn’t installs or in-app purchases, but the purchase of flights to new airline routes, or a public awareness campaign to sign up for healthcare, or a sale on stylish sunglasses. The aforementioned examples are just some that I remember from my days running ad campaigns on display, mobile and video. Different advertisers have different goals. Installs are not the only metric that matters. Far from it.
In the talk, Leydon also indicated that publishers avoid quantifying their media, that they are all in on the racket. That is simply not borne out by my experience. What I found when working with publishers is that they are often not as knowledgeable as they need to be about how to earn money online. Publishers are not the enemy; along with Leydon, I blame ad tech. There are always studies showing that bots make up a huge proportion of web traffic. Moat recently made the New York Times with its new product offering, a traffic verification tool. I worked at an ad network that sought to be transparent by using Moat’s technology. But in this age of programmatic buying, transparency and quality fall by the wayside. Digital advertising provides so many more opportunities for advertisers to glean insights into consumers, to create partnerships with publishers, to sell products effectively. I wholeheartedly support more transparency and efficiency in online advertising. Can a one-stop shop really handle the creation, placement and trafficking of online campaigns? Is Leydon’s insistence on disrupting online media buying prophetic or shortsighted? I am reminded of the saying “When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” One company’s needs do not represent the trends of the rest of the industry.