Digital Conference

Digital Conference: Marketers Chime in on Elephants in the Room, Known and Unknown

'It Is Not Getting Better in Advertising'

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(From l.) David Cohen, president of Magna Global, North America, and Ron Amram, VP-media at Heineken USA.
(From l.) David Cohen, president of Magna Global, North America, and Ron Amram, VP-media at Heineken USA. Credit: Rob Tannenbaum

Traditional digital is as dead as print. Walled gardens are absolutely a problem. Ad fraud is on the brink of being solved. And consumers have stopped feeling passionate about brands and content.

Those were a few of the statements made Tuesday during an Ad Age Digital Conference panel featuring Lou Paskalis, senior VP-enterprise media at Bank of America; Ron Amram, VP-media at Heineken USA; and David Cohen, president of Magna Global, North America.

The panel, moderated by Ad Age senior reporter Alex Bruell, sought out the elephants in the room, not always happily discussed but crucial to digital marketing, en route to charting the way forward. It revealed there are challenges beyond the industry's oft-cited viewability, ad blocking and transparency concerns.

"We don't have a single source of truth in this business," Mr. Cohen said. "Pick whatever dimension you want. There are single-point solutions and we as marketers need to stitch them together. There is a lot of complexity in the market. The fact we don't have a single source of truth in the business is what worries me."

"There is an existential threat in every corner of our business," Mr. Paskalis added. "We're optimizing advertising and people want storytelling. And it is not getting better in advertising. People are ad blocking because they don't like what we are doing."

Some of the conversation revolved around comments made nearly a year ago today, when former Mediacom CEO Jon Mandel claimed that media agency rebates and kickbacks are a widespread issue among marketers. Ms. Bruell asked her hosts whether a breakdown in trust has occurred.

"Jon Mandel and specific accusations aside, I do think the industry as a whole have changed how they talk about themselves," Mr. Amram said. "The 4A's and ANA can't agree on what transparency is and clearly, we are not speaking the same language. And that leads to a lack of trust. You can even say that the 4A's is acting somewhat guilty. That is the transparency issue for me; if there wasn't an issue then why are we acting the way that we are."

Mr. Paskalis added that if a media agency got caught receiving kickbacks or rebates today, that it would be the "equivalent of a death sentence." Whereas previously, that would not have been the case because "people didn't ask questions."

"Somehow we have divorced efficiencies and effectiveness," Mr. Paskalis added. "We need to go back to what this business is about. We need to ask, 'Is this compelling?' Clients need to step up and pay full value for things that are great, but we need to stop commoditizing everything."

On viewability, at least, the industry seems to have set the standards and made the changes required, according to the panelists. "It has taken us a good four years, but I think viewability is going to be parked in the solve bucket rather sooner than later," Mr. Cohen said.

"I think digital ethics will be the elephant in the room," Mr. Cohen added. "Just because you can doesn't mean you should."

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