It’s human nature to separate ourselves into factions. Our strong sense of self is one of the things that separates us from our simian cousins.  We’re simply genetically wired to seek out people like ourselves, and find conflict with others, even where there is none.

We’ve long seen signs of this in our industry – planners versus buyers, online vs offline, branding vs performance. And more recently, those who work in the relatively new area of ad tech being pitted against more traditional strategic marketers.

Us versus them

The distinctly anti-ad tech tone is becoming louder and louder, with increasingly overt criticism of those working in the ad technology space.

Industry veteran Brian Jacobs articulates his position clearly:

One of my main beefs with the online adtech business is how so many people working within it are so narrow in their knowledge and thinking about advertising. Too many seem to believe that the endpoint is the technology and the algorithms, and not helping ensure that each ad works as hard as it can.

We’ve also seen complaints that spaces normally given to discussing advertising in its purest form have been taken over by discussions of ad tech. From the Wall Street Journal earlier this year, referring to the Cannes Lions festival:

Some even complain that ad tech is taking over the festival and that the creativity the event is supposed to celebrate is being drowned out by talk of algorithms and automation and data.

Where do we go from here?

It’s easy for each side to take a defensive position and claim that the other doesn’t get it.  But taking a step back, I’d suggest that while it may seem like their goals are at odds with each other, ultimately we all want the same thing. Creating compelling messages that are seen by the right people should be in everyone’s interest, regardless of which side of the fence we sit on.

We must remember where we are in our evolution as an industry; although it may seem like our convoluted media ecosystem is the height of sophistication, we’re in fact not that far advanced in our journey to truly understand how consumers respond to messages. Only recently have we started to talk about whether ads are seen or not, and the impact that has on a consumer’s interaction with a brand.

And we’ve made great strides in attribution but still have a long way before we truly appreciate what channels and messages are driving positive outcomes for campaigns. Regardless of how creative or in tune with the brand one might be, it requires an understanding of the available data and dare I say it, an algorithm to knit all the pieces of the puzzle together.

A new set of skills

As the industry evolves, the roles within it also need to evolve. We’ve already seen the influx of programmatic traders and data scientists but perhaps what we’re now missing is a new breed of media Renaissance Men (or polymaths, to be gender neutral).  The world of media is not so vast and complicated that you couldn’t have a select group of people with sufficient intellect and curiosity to develop a breadth of knowledge across all areas.

Their focus would be on extracting meaning from the noise and encouraging a synergistic relationship between the various specialists – by putting in place frameworks that incentivise appropriate levels of emphasis in each area, while also retaining an element of creativity. I’d suggest that strategic oversight is rare because there are so few of these generalists who have a deep understanding of every area, especially when digital media is added to the mix. Any brand with complex media and data ecosystems should consider whether they truly have access to such talent, whether internally or via agencies / consultants.

Whose side are you on?

A degree of conflict is a positive thing, when kept in check. By continually questioning and challenging one another, we’re forced to make smarter decisions and ultimately come up with stronger solutions that work for all players. We like to think that there is a middle ground that benefits advertisers, publishers, agencies and the ad tech wunderkind. But this relies on every player having a degree of respect for the others.

So by all means take sides, and be prepared to defend your position. But remember that we all have a part to play.  If you’re a dyed in the wool marketer with 30 years of experience in your field, then your insight is of course vital; but so too the young turks with their algorithms and APIs. And vice versa – many of the fundamental truths about brands that we’ve learnt over decades won’t necessarily change to fit our shiny new measurement platforms.

Play nicely, people.