Ad Network & Exchange Guide

About That Whole 'Pork Bellies' Line ...

Martha Stewart's Millard Explains Her Warning Against Aggregating Content Just for the Sake of Volume

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Wenda Harris Millard addressed the state of the industry at the Interactive Advertising Bureau's annual meeting in late February. Ms. Millard is president of media at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, a role she assumed after many years of leading sales for the world's biggest portal, Yahoo. Among other things, she warned the 400 attendees that we must "not trade our assets like pork bellies."
Wenda Harris Millard
Wenda Harris Millard Credit: Maryanne Russell

That comment has since become both rallying cry and refrain in a discussion about the role of ad networks, exchanges and publishers in the online-ad industry. Abbey Klaassen asked Ms. Millard about that phrase and her role in the space.

Ad Age: What did you mean by trading ad impressions like pork bellies? That has turned into an infamous and oft-repeated line.

Ms. Millard: I wasn't damning anything -- there's a lot of room for everything. There's room for networks, room for exchanges. What I'm damning is the aggregation of content to create volume so that you can depress price. I have a genuine concern that we not be too quick to commoditize the digital-marketing business before we've really had the opportunity to clearly establish its value proposition. I appreciate what technology has brought to the marketing party ... [including] the buying and selling of media. But technology is not going to provide every solution that we need for intelligent digital marketing.

The notion that simply aggregating masses of inventory without consideration and appreciation for the content and the context ... is basically just creating volume, which leads to lowering prices. Where in that equation is the discussion about value? Where in that equation is brand stewardship?

As a publisher, I've got a brand name. ... There are brilliant brands on the publisher side, and heaven knows there are brilliant brands on [the] marketer side. And there's a lot of human intervention and human skill that goes into that. And so the idea that you're just going to create technology infrastructure that allows buying and selling and media without consideration of environment and quality human creativity is what the pork-belly comment was about. Admittedly, advertising has been unbalanced -- there's been so much art and not enough science, with exception of direct marketing. And technology has helped us bring the business into more balance. But we don't need to tip the scale all the way the other way.

Ad Age: It sounds like you're really talking about the idea of branding.

Ms. Millard: If you think about what does advertising do, it creates desire and eventually causes transactions. But you have to be able to create desire, and there's a lot of art in creating desire. It is about the right ad in the right place at the right time ... and that's about creativity and environment.

Ad Age: You've thrown your support behind one of the ad exchanges, assuming a board seat with ContextWeb's Adsdaq. Why do you feel comfortable with that?

Ms. Millard: I'm quite supportive of ContextWeb because they're paying attention to all parts. They're using the technology and scale, but they're paying attention to the context, and, very importantly, there's full transparency on both sides of equation -- in other words, to the publisher, the seller and the buyer.

The publisher or owner of inventory sets the price: "I will not allow my inventory to be sold for less than X." The buyer knows what she's buying. ...

The issue of transparency is very, very real with the ad networks. But with ContextWeb and its exchange, there's a real win-win there for the buyer and seller. I like the opportunity to fairly value inventory. Their pricing schematic fairly values in that open marketplace this inventory in a way that not all but many ad networks do not. I have respect for their proven ability to create value.

Ad Age: Are you talking about value similar to what you can create on your own?

Ms. Millard: If I'm selling it face to face and working on a business solution, I can create a lot more value than the technology can. I should say that right now I'm not using any networks or exchanges for excess inventory, but I'm small-scale -- 4 million uniques and growing. But from an industry standpoint, there's a lot of inventory that will go and does go unsold unless you have help. Networks are very, very important in the ecosystem, and those that help to create value, particularly when paying attention to the context -- that to me is really interesting, really important and is why I chose this board seat with this company over some others.

Ad Age: Are you getting the sense that publishers are starting to take a second look -- a more critical look -- at the network space?

Ms. Millard: I think they definitely are. First of all, people are going very fast up the learning curve. There's a better understanding every day about how this business works, and there are new alternatives. You look at, for example, what Forbes is doing pulling together hundreds of financial blogs. You look at Martha's Circle. Networks are creating a scenario where the conversation is revolving around price, and it should be around value. We're too new here to be talking price; we should be talking value. We have not established the value proposition here. I'm excited about people waking up to this.
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