Can killing the clickthrough put digital advertising where it needs to be? [IAB]

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The DMMA, a voluntary non-profit body which represents the interests of the South African digital industry recently rebranded as the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) South Africa. This afforded its chairman Jarred Cinman the opportunity to attend the IAB Leadership Meeting in California. We asked him to share some of the trends, lessons and debates coming out of the conference.

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The IAB — apart from now having licensees in 42 countries — has a full-time staff of over 50, with headquarters in Manhattan. The conference is sold out and boasts speakers from major players like Google, Yahoo and Wells Fargo.

There are two startling things about being forced to think of the global internet advertising picture, instead of a local one. The first is just how big some countries are relative to others. Countries like Mexico and Italy for instance dwarf South Africa’s digital adspend by a factor of 10 or 20. The US by many times more than that. The second is that all of these countries share a similar frustration to how little of the overall advertising pie digital has managed to claim.

In the content of the opening address by Randall Rothenberg — the diminutive, galvanising IAB president and CEO — runs a deep sense of dissatisfaction with where digital advertising finds itself. The newly elected Chairman, Vivek Shah, is even more explicit. He argues that this will be the last conference where the “clickthrough” will be mentioned as an important metric for digital campaigns. He also bemoans the poor creative work visible in banner advertising — we have, he says, systematically taken the perfect product and broken it.

In informal discussions with representatives from Europe, South America and the Middle East, the same kind of sentiment is ubiquitous. Advertisers are not spending the money they should be on digital marketing — and its going to take some radical new paradigms to change this.

Sitting here, and meeting colleagues from other parts of the globe, is both inspiring and humbling; motivating and overwhelming. A country like South Africa lags a frightening distance behind most of the other markets represented here in almost any metric you care to measure. To be it is the only African country in the mix; and its economy is a fraction of the size of the typical European or North American one. So the comparison strains at that point. Nevertheless it shares both challenges and the opportunities with its wealthier counterparts.

The keynote speaker this evening was Nick D’Aloisio, the 18-year old founder of Summly, now Product Manager at Yahoo. He has accomplished more at that age than many entrepreneurs will accomplish in a lifetime — and his story is fascinating as much for its rarity as what one can learn.

D’Aloisio is almost impossibly insightful and eloquent, and its hard to imagine a less typical teenager. He spent most of his presentation discussing the new Yahoo News Digest app — his project after the internet giant bought Summly two years ago. Whether that app is as revolutionary as he thinks remains to be seen but at month old, it’s already in the top five news apps in the Apple Store. It is notably free of advertising and seeks to present, twice-daily, a short burst of every news story you need to know. Like a modern-day Nine O’clock News it’s the same for everyone and trades on the idea that what people really want is for someone else to decide what they need to know about.

The reaction to D’Aloisio is interesting. Part jealously. Part admiration. Part disbelief. Rothenberg interviewing him on stage brought to mind Salieri sitting down for tea with Mozart.

At the end of the first day — really just an evening — my mind is already buzzing with what I need to bring back home. For one thing it’s scary to see how much stronger, well-funded and more serious business in some parts of the world. Having a full-time staff with strong lobbying skills is a massive asset and is a model that could be applied to a lot of other countries. There’s also space for some countries to resolve their relationships with global players such Yahoo and Google.

It is comforting however to know that people around the world are grappling with many of the same questions around digital advertising. How do we persuade advertisers to direct significant spend toward our medium? And how, in return, do we offer them value at least commensurate to what they’re used to getting from traditional advertising?

The IAB has set up a project called “Making Measurement Make Sense” (or 3MS) to try and introduce a completely new metric for measuring the value of digital advertising. It will try, shortly, to unseat old metrics like impressions and clickthroughs which it’s gambling will make advertisers think a whole new way about the power of digital. That’s a lot of years of habit to break but since digital is, inarguably, the medium of the future it’s going to have to crack this code sooner or later.

It feels a lot like I’ve just gone to big school.

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