This piece is the first in a two-part series by Stephane Pere.  

It was fun to be in the media industry. Those ‘good old days’ of boozy lunches that lasted until 3am, parties in penthouse suites and unlimited expenses. Do you remember the most outrageous event you organised for a client, the biggest bonus you scored or the most disruptive campaign you launched (with the most costly celebrity attached)? Perhaps you partied so hard, the memories are somewhat champagne-soaked, but we knew we were onto a good thing.

Exactly 10 years ago, I was working in sales at Yahoo!, in charge of automotive brands. In my role, I was gifted with a free pass to organise a special event for my clients. The remit from my manager was, ‘Do whatever you want’. When I suggested a bespoke driving session with a selection of legendary sports cars, the reply was, ‘Yes, and…?’, so I proposed we do this on the road, not on a circuit. Still, my manager probed me. ‘Well, we’d need people to look out for police.’ And so, the plan took shape. A few weeks later, I was standing in front of a castle, surrounded by two Ferrari’s, a Lamborghini, Corvette and a Porsche, with a jeep and a chopper to scout for cops and clear our route. It was an unforgettable day. Yet see how Yahoo! is doing today.

In the year 2000, one issue of The Economist completely sold out for ads. That magazine was so thick with these ads that they had to turn clients waving money away. It was so thick that no industrial stapler could handle it. At this time, globalisation was leading the growth in media and marketing, with businesses focusing on acquiring customers in new markets. The buzzwords were, ‘branding’, ‘international’ and ‘reach’. In both TV and print, the aim was to broaden your audience and grow your advertising revenue with it.

Shortly after, online consumption boomed and became a media in its own right. Publishers were willing to expand, but sometimes at the cost of diluting their editorial positioning and their company DNA. It was all about Web 2.0: blogs, vlogs, posts and forums. Everyone was trying to boost their traffic and their ad inventory with it.

Online advertising became a real opportunity, and everyone benefited from double digit growth. Many publishers, and legacy publishers, adopted a strategy previously associated with a dodgy ‘80s haircut: The Mullet. That’s a short crop in the front and plenty of length at the back. In publishing, that meant premium upfront content on the homepage, with most inventory on blogs or other user-generated content. And then anyone with a computer, or a smart device, became a publisher too. Consumers spent more time online, yet on a hugely fragmented media landscape.

And to make sense of all this supply, tech was designed, and utilised, to qualify the audience at impression level. Whereas publishers used to sell affinity with the target audience, marketers started to look for granularity. With the introduction of Cost per Click and Auction from Google, branding and performance campaigns began to dissipate. Through the years the risk shifted from the marketer, to the agency, and eventually, to the publisher. In parallel most of the Digital Advertising market geared towards Google and Facebook.

The final nail in the coffin was that relationship deal breaker: trust. Marketers suffered at the hands of fraud, non-visible ads and non-human traffic and, in turn, consumers raised more and more concerns about their privacy as well as being exposed to intrusive ads. Ad blockers installs boomed and then advertising went native.
The party is well and truly over. Welcome to a media landscape where consumers want content for free, with no advertising, nor tracking, and where news publishing is in its death throes. Welcome to a world where publishers and agency business models are at risk, and where marketers need to maximise their return on investment more than ever.

Google and Facebook are dominating the scene – capturing 76 percent of the internet advertising growth and 52 percent of total Mobile marketing spent in the USA in 2015.

Meanwhile the media industry is still reactive, running away from the digital tsunami, arms flailing. Suddenly it feels like no one will face that wave. But, it doesn’t have to be that way…

This piece is the first in a two-part series by Stephane Pere.