With sessions titled "Evolution or Revolution Part II," "Marketing Will Change Forever," and "Citizen Mobile," 2013's Advertising Week, at first glance, seemed destined to be yet another lengthy ad industry pep rally, filled with the usual overabundance of hype.
Without question, the week featured its fair share of buzzwords and dreamy future-speak. But, it also saw a surprising level of realism by participants, who appeared reticent to wholeheartedly endorse the industry's latest hot trends.
Not So Big Data
The critical importance of big data, for example, was questioned at Tuesday panel moderated by OpenX CRO Jason Fairchild. When Mr. Fairchild asked how publishers without heaps of data could still use it to succeed, he was met by a series of lukewarm responses.
"Content, in the end, is equally as important," answered BuzzFeed's CRO Andy Wiedlin, dismissing the question's premise. "This idea of running banner ads and working on the call to action, things like that, it's okay. But, it's more important to create content rich units that people identify with and click on and share."
"I couldn't agree more," responded Akshay Kothar, the co-founder of Pulse, which was acquired by the data-rich LinkedIn in April.
Forbes CRO Mark Howard, next to answer, joined the chorus. "I would have to agree the context is equally as important," he said.
Not Really 'Real Time' Marketing
So it went for much of the week. A panel about real time marketing moderated by Ad Age's Tim Peterson noted, among other things, that real time marketing takes a lot of planning and is often less real time than people think.
Oreo's famous Super Bowl tweet, for instance, was revealed to be three years in the making in an comment by Jared Belsky, executive vice president at 360i, the agency behind the tweet. The three years, Mr. Belsky said, were needed to "develop a great social foundation, build an engaged community, become more nimble and be ready for a situation of that magnitude."
The statement took some of the magic out of the moment which, for many, put real time marketing on the map.
Doubts About 'Programmatic' Upfronts
At AOL's "programmatic upfront" buyers listened to a pitch high on theatrics and low on specifics and then proceeded to tell reporters that committing programmatic dollars upfront still didn't make total sense to them.
Days later, the "programmatic upfront" hype-busting continued. At a discussion led by Rubicon executive Jay Sears, a group of agency trading desk executives shook their heads at the concept of hosting an upfront for programmatic by itself, arguing it should have been wrapped into the normal upfront season, if anything.
"What buyers and sellers need is programmatic as a capability incorporated into existing upfront discussions," Mr. Sears told Ad Age. "A standalone 'programmatic only' upfront is valid as a marketing mechanism and a stepping stone to get to the larger more integrated single upfront discussion."
Speaking with an Ad Age reporter, one executive noted that the type of deals AOL announced this week were, in essence, private marketplace deals that have been taking place for years. One difference this time, perhaps, was that the press was invited to watch.
The Future of TV Is ... in the Future
At a panel discussing programmatic television ad buying, ESPN executive Eric Johnson expressed doubt about his company's plans to sell that way despite an announcement a day earlier that ESPN would join IPG's MAGNA Consortium, a group dedicated to moving the television advertising in a digital direction.
"Go easy on us here, but how do you see the pricing models changing and how do you want to test that with us?" asked MAGNA Consortium CEO Tim Spengler of Mr. Johnson.
"Can I address the programmatic television concept, because I keep hearing that come up," Mr. Johnson answered. "From our standpoint, we haven't really done programmatic television, we haven't done programmatic video and I don't think we will."
"You can head out," replied Mr. Spengler to awkward laughter.
Mr. Johnson eventually backtracked, slightly, but the message was delivered.
Marissa Mayer, Not That Interesting
And then there was Marissa Mayer. In a conversation between her and veteran newsman, Charlie Rose, Ms. Mayer did her best to say nothing buzzworthy at all. When asked by Mr. Rose if Yahoo would "double down" on original programming, Ms. Mayer wouldn't commit. "I think that we need to make a precise number of bets," she said, not offering much by way of specifics. When Mr. Rose asked if she would like Yahoo to be considered in a league with Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon, Ms. Mayer replied "not really."
Perhaps desperate to make the conversation interesting, Mr. Rose later asked Ms. Mayer about her Vogue photo shoot, in which she was photographed lying upside down on a chaise lounge, holding a tablet that appeared to display an image of her face.
When Ms. Mayer tried to downplay that as well, Mr. Rose simply held the photo up to the crowd and smiled. It was that kind of week.