The journey to digital paradise: A little more conversation, a little less rhetoric

As marketing academic Mark Ritson once again unloads on digital media, IAB boss Vijay Solanki fires back

There has been much sound and fury of late about digital advertising. Indeed, some have described digital advertising as being part of the nine circles of hell.

Ritson: Circles of digital hell

To extend (and possibly flog) the metaphor, I’d counter that if we are putting digital in any part of the Divine Comedy then there have certainly been days in the last twelve months that have felt like Purgatory. However, like the souls on their way to Paradise, we are making positive progress and leaving the sins of an emerging industry behind.

Leaving the literary allusions behind, I have no problem with the digital advertising industry being called to account on some of the issues that have been garnering attention. Indeed, some of the debate has helped accelerate industry initiatives to combat poor practice.

However, to write off an industry that is worth $4.3bn a year in Australia as broken and to infer that most senior marketers have collectively been seduced by the emperor’s new clothes is risible.

I know headlines get eyeballs and bums on seats at events but let’s make them real.

Mark Ritson’s views on digital metrics will be debated at Mumbrella360 next month

Take for example the recently quoted WFA study that was positioned by some locally as proof that marketers are blindly pursuing digital.

The reality is that study was based on just 50 respondents globally. And most importantly – while those marketers noted they were not yet convinced about the effectiveness of digital advertising, 75% of them were willing to accept the challenges (and opportunities) digital presents.

Let’s get real though.

The reality of life in 2017 is that for the majority of Australians, life is already digital. A total of 20.1m Australians are online each month, with people aged 18+ spending 82 hours a month online.

Unless there is a cataclysmic global event, we aren’t going to retreat into the old school linear world of appointment viewing on a TV in the living room, calling on our Nokia 2110’s or the ubiquity of the morning newspaper delivery.

There are three key pain points that a lot of the headline grabbing rhetoric has focused on – I want to unpick them a little.


I don’t think anyone would argue against the fact that all ads should be viewable regardless of the media in which they are shown. IAB has been advocating for the Media Rating Council guidelines as a minimum standard for some time (MRC) and brands should ensure they define and agree acceptable standards with their agency partners upfront.

However, the real focus for our industry should be on creating ads that are inherently viewable (and not just technically viewable) regardless of the mediums. They must be ads that achieve the desired marketing outcome.

Viewability will be tackled at Mumbrella360 next month (click image for more)


I think this is a case of ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’. The noise around transparency has been helpful in accelerating a move for greater transparency from agencies.

But transparency doesn’t belong uniquely with one sector of the digital ecosystem. It may lean towards agencies and tech companies, but we all need to get involved, ensure we understand the real issues. It’s incumbent on us all to be asking questions and expecting clear answers.

Transparency: The questions to ask will be tackled at Mumbrella360 (click image for more)

‘Opaqueness’ isn’t an invention of digital, of programmatic, or even of the media industry come to that. So let’s get real.

In my previous life, I was a practicing marketer and I made it my business to find out the value a supplier or a partner was providing. Sometimes this was tough. Many of us will remember the old days of complex kick-backs, volume rebates and rate card deviations.

The key thing is for marketers to ask questions and not stop until they are satisfied they have all their answers. And agencies should better define their value creation and measures of success so everyone is clear.

The basics remain the same as when you approach any new format or technology – set your hypothesis, pilot the technology, test, learn and measure. A great example of this can be found in Tumi’s programmatic experience.


Last but no means least is the preferred whipping post of the industry, programmatic. It seems like some people have forgotten that programmatic is simply a way of trading media. It isn’t a form of advertising in and of itself. It is a necessary and automated way of buying and selling media, driven by the natural evolution of technology in the number of publishers that the internet had brought to us.

Programmatic is a digital version of the stock market’s ‘big bang’ moment when trading morphed from open-cry to screen-based trading. And we have to get real. The clock isn’t turning back; programmatic is here to stay and is already extending to TV, radio and other mediums.

Like any automated process, it is the quality of the ‘engineering’ that dictates how well it works. So, for programmatic this means the quality of inventory; data, optimisation and associated algorithms all make a difference. In layman’s (coarse) terms – if you put shit in, you get shit out. Some tech is better than other tech so take the time to find out which is which.

This is the area marketers should be focusing and asking questions of agencies – and it’s where agencies should be demonstrating value and outcome.

Programmatic – will be tackled at Mumbrella360 (click image for more)

As we move forward through this decade, we will be further propelled into a digital first world, one where digital advertising and marketing will simply become ‘marketing’.

Immersive technologies like 360 video, augmented reality and live streaming are going to re-shape creative and while incredible TV spots will still continue to be produced, the horizons will dramatically open to support a broader range of digital distribution platforms – driverless cars anyone?

One way or another, all of us in the industry are in this together and there’s no turning back. So I’d like to propose that we focus on having more considered conversations and focus a little less on headline grabbing and divisive rhetoric.

m360 2016

  • Vijay Solanki is CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau

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