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Reinvent the Web for Advertising? Don't Bother

Big Spaceship's Lebowitz says the Internet 'forces you to adapt or you fail'

The Web can prove challenging for advertisers, but leading industry figures gathered yesterday to say how they would change that dynamic instead chose to focus on how advertising needs to change.

The advent of the Web has proven a challenge to most marketers as audiences splinter and the methods of reaching consumers decline in effectiveness. "Seven Minutes to Reinvent the Internet (for Advertising)" brought together seven ad sellers, buyers and creative executives to brainstorm on how it could be different.

But for most of the participants, the brief was wrong. Instead, they chose to focus on what the advertising industry itself must do to adapt to the Web.

As Michael Lebowitz, CEO of digital shop Big Spaceship, pointed out, the Internet reinvents businesses. Those like the music industry that resist tend not to fare well.

"It forces you to adapt or you fail," he said.

Others struck the same note, reiterating the hopelessness of corralling the Web to fit the whims of brands.

JWT North America CCO Ty Montague, after showing a scene from horror classic The Thing to illustrate his point, summed it up this way: "Ain't gonna happen." Instead, marketing must play into the Web's strengths, he said.

As an example, Montague suggested Cablevision re-engineer its bill into a two-way marketing vehicle. Instead of a static request for payment, he imagined the bill transformed into "William," an online concierge that would collaborate with customers, solicit feedback, reward activity and tailor offers based on individual preferences. Montague, for example, would get offers to contribute content to Current TV.

"William is trying to drive the value of our relationship up—for both of us," he said.

Several panelists bemoaned the state of advertising, encouraging the industry to heal itself.

Rishad Tobaccowala, CEO of Denuo, the futures consultancy owned by Publicis Groupe, suggested blame be passed around. Clients? "Lazy." Agencies? "Fire a few fat cats." The end result: marketing is an expense rather than an asset, Tobaccowala said.

The negative assessments reached a crescendo with Bob Garfield, columnist at Ad Age. Garfield pronounced the industry doomed without hope of redemption—a theme he touches on in his new book, The Chaos Scenario. "To the consumer, all advertising is spam," he said. The solution: "Marketers need to shut up and listen."

Others focused on the nuts and bolts of the ad business.

Rob Norman, CEO of Group M Interaction Worldwide, put forth the idea of a universal "not here, not now, not ever" tag for advertising that would allow consumers to selectively block unappealing ad messages. Troy Young, CMO of VideoEgg, suggested that advertising needs to mimic the tech world and have a "programming interface" allowing assets to be combined and mixed for different contexts. "The media world is ahead of the advertising world," he said. "We have to catch up."

Betawave CEO Matt Freeman made the case that the Internet has largely failed advertisers, in part because of a misplaced notion that it is an advertising medium. He said it is many things—only one of which is an ad vehicle. But too often advertising is placed in communications channels where it doesn't belong. Instead, ads must move from blasting out impressions to carving experiences that attract consumers' attention. "I really think time should be the base currency of the Internet," he said.

Yet in the end, most of the participants acknowledged that there is little they can change about the Web to cater to marketer interests since it wasn't built for advertisers.

"We don't need new formats," Freeman said. "We need to stop competing for attention and start earning it."

Source: Adweek