The Song Remains the Same at Ad:Tech Chicago

Chaos, ROI, Measurement Still Topics of Debate; Social Media Only Newish Note

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CHICAGO ( -- Traditional media and agency models are in chaos, social media is ascendant and digital media is in dire need of metrics to help it better demonstrate its value, attendees at the annual Ad:Tech Chicago conference were repeatedly told this week.

Rishad Tobaccowala
Rishad Tobaccowala
If that has a familiar ring, it's likely because the only things that seemingly don't change in the in-flux world of advertising and media are the topics of discussion at the conferences intended to detail how everything is changing.

Or so it sometimes seems.

"It's funny," said Christopher Miller, DraftFCB's digital group management director, during a roundtable that discussed whether the phrase "modern agency" is an oxymoron. "I remember having a similar discussion 10 years ago at Ad:Tech," he said.

Of course, the repetitive nature of the questions doesn't make the dire circumstances prompting them any less imposing. Rishad Tobaccowala, CEO of Publicis Groupe's Denuo, kicked off the conference, warning attendees that they are entering an "age of chaos" in which "only the schizophrenic will thrive."

To Mr. Tobaccowala, and seemingly most of the presenters at Ad:Tech, the driving force behind the confusion and opportunities confronting marketers today is the rise of social media, which he described as a "tsunami that will overtake marketing."

Not surprisingly, social was a hot topic on the trade-show floor, which seemed significantly scaled back from previous years. One packed workshop featured executives from Six Flags and Procter & Gamble discussing successful programs they'd developed with social networks.

Six Flags' director of digital and direct marketing, Jackie Gagne, described how the marketer integrated itself into the teen-focused MyYearbook network to drive more than 1 million user clicks on Six Flags-sponsored content. The centerpiece of the program was an interactive roller-coaster ride, in which users could add their faces and their friend's faces to the coaster and send it out to friends. Users sent out more than 150,000 coasters. A related contest to pick the "scariest coaster face" drew more than 530,000 votes and 17,000 comments.

All told, Ms. Gagne said the marketer realized more than $2 million worth of exposure and engagement for a fraction of the cost. (She didn't say how small a fraction but only chuckled, saying, "Less than $2 million," before turning to MyYearbook CEO Geoff Cook and jokingly apologizing.)

At the same time, however, other veteran marketers were warning marketers not to be seduced by the power of social media before they understood it, as well as its place in their messages.

"You can go running after the next shiny thing, but it has to be driven by a core insight ... not by somebody's ego," said Brian Maynard, director-brand marketing for Whirlpool's premium brands, Kitchen Aid and Jenn-Air.

Mr. Maynard said he'd once fallen victim to that tendency, building a "virtual dinner party" on Kitchen Aid's website that "got way out ahead of our objectives."

"I think four people interacted with it, including my mother, who had dial-up," he said. "And it won an award."

Another perennial topic raised early and often at Ad:Tech was online media metrics, and what role -- if any -- traditional media measures ought to have online. Opinions varied.

"Standardization is a red herring," said Todd Teresi, chief revenue officer at Quantcast. "Marketers have to define their own audiences."

Jon Gibs, VP-media analytics at Nielsen, disagreed, saying traditional measures of reach and GRP would ultimately reign online as they do offline. "I'm betting on the past," he said. "It comes down to three core questions: How many people did I hit? Who did I hit? And did it work?"

The discussion was one of several at the conference that got a bit chippy, as ComScore co-founder Gian Fulgoni challenged Mr. Teresi over Quantcast's use of certain tracking cookies. In other events, Major League Baseball Advanced Media CEO Bob Bowman called out Nielsen NetRatings for massively understating his site's traffic during a speech, saying its methodology of using online panels to measure traffic simply doesn't work. And, after General Manager John Cantarella decried "parasitic aggregators" during a roundtable, Connectual Managing Partner Aaron Goldman, who was moderating the session, mock-sneezed "HuffPo," in an attempt to clarify which parasite he thought Mr. Cantarella had in mind.

While many of those squabbles and problems are familiar, the trends in favor of solving them have reversed in some cases. Ten years ago, of course, agencies were hurrying to unbundle their media and digital offerings into stand alone silos. Now CMOs in attendance seemed to express a clear preference for do-it-all shops.

"I think unbundling made sense to accountants and shareholders, but not to clients," said OfficeMax CMO Bob Thacker. "We're bundled now and that really works well."

Added Mazda Canada President Don Romano: "This is not one of those times when a lot of hands in the cookie jar is a good thing."

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