December 04, 2018

Of the many challenges facing marketers and publishers these days, few are more critical than the need to connect with millennials, a generation now on the verge of two major milestones. First, they are poised to overtake boomers as the largest living generation in America, according to a recent Pew Research Center study. Simultaneously, the oldest millennials will be approaching 40, and their peak earning years. Wary of social media's self-curation, not to mention clickbait, photo retouching, and pervasive identity/information theft, millennials have unsurprisingly pointed to authenticity as a core value sought from brands.

Considering this generation's influence on the future, advertisers and agencies ought to be more careful than ever about where they place ads. Consumers recognize the tacit approval between advertisers and the channels or publishers with whom they partner, and yet, the matchmaking of premium brands with quality content remains a murky endeavor within the digital ecosystem. Month after month, variations of the same article are published bemoaning the juxtaposition of top brands alongside illicit, political fringe, or simply offensive content.

While digital buyers attempt to blacklist the most undesirable sites, digital publishers must similarly defend against bad ads. Those who avail themselves to programmatic advertising demand via the open auction submit to an ongoing game of whack-a-mole — and despite the supply-side platform's pledge to categorically block unwanted ads, some get through the filters each day. Much like the buy-side, publishers seeking to maximize the benefits of automation often find themselves exposed to quality concerns.

To remedy this, digital media buyers have sought to prioritize private marketplace (PMP) deals with reputable publishers, if not rely upon them solely. Eschewing the open auction is a boon for publishers who continue to find their transactions with agencies heavily intermediated. At a minimum, this resurgence is mutually beneficial, but looking at the long game, advertisers, agencies, and publishers are beginning to go much deeper to connect with consumers in a fragmented world.

Brands are fighting for survival amid the new direct-to-consumer economy, driven by an army of disruptive companies both big (think AmazonBasics) and small (upstarts from one-dollar razors to thousand-dollar mattresses). Together they are squeezing incumbents out of an already-stagnant consumer product marketplace. In an environment that is radically shifting, agencies have noted an increasing reliance on content marketing and storytelling, often with social media as a critical component.

On a parallel path, traditional media outlets are determined to maintain quality content while trying to reach consumers adrift in an information-saturated environment. This too requires deftly navigating the opportunities and pitfalls of social media, experimenting with unfamiliar types of storytelling, and testing new avenues of distribution to consumers. Increasingly, brands are expressing a desire to learn from publishers' relationships with audiences to more effectively engage with their customers. The rapid growth of native advertising is tied to this trend, but only hints at the potential.

The future digital economy, inclusive of digitally distributed TV programming (i.e., CTV/OTT), is widely thought to be fueled by data. It is true that data will no doubt continue to lubricate digital transactions. But authenticity will only grow in importance, and pursuit of that will bring two old friends — separated of late by intermediaries — back together again. Continuously enriched through a direct relationship with consumers, brands and publishers alike will possess the key ingredient for cross-platform audience graphing, though on a dramatically larger scale than seen today. As the marriage between TV and digital continues to strengthen, content creators with audiences on both fronts will be uniquely positioned to provide cross-platform reach and sequential creative messaging — "table stakes" in the age of fragmented media consumption.

Technology will inevitably march forward, but success will spring from deeper connections between agencies and content creators equally invested in authenticity — particularly, the venerable broadcast and print partners which bear the same B2C battle scars, and share in the belief that accountability and transparency cannot be compromised.

Jonathan Sumber is the VP of digital sales at Hearst Television.


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