A Digital Tree Fort in TV’s Backyard


Apparently, I run a video ad tech company. At least that’s what the omnipresent “lumascape” .ppt slide tells me.  I gotta tell you something. I’m really sick of that slide.

In my view, I head up a team of folks that helps brands tell a story.  I run a story company.

Humans are naturally open to stories; especially those that can help us locate some sense of ourselves in the toil and tumult of our lives. A bat relies exclusively on echolocation – an outbound sound and corresponding bounce-back echo – to orient itself and find what it needs in a dark world. Stories told to us by parents, friends, bosses, kids, politicians, media, music, and yes, brands are like a reverse- echolocater. We sift through the flood of inbound narratives for a connection, authenticity and meaning.   We try these stories on like we would a new coat to see how they make us look, how they make us feel, how they augment or change the personal narrative that each of us writes and re-writes about ourselves every single day. Stories, the scaffolding that holds up important parts of our lives, are the core reason my company exists.

TV is a pure story medium and branded narratives have been woven into the fabric of the overall experience. :30 seconds is not a lot of time but provides a gift of productive limitation; the narrow time constraint is the grinding stone that sharpens the need to communicate quickly, effectively and powerfully.

And it works. TV is the premier brand-building medium on the planet.

We all know when it’s good and we all know when it sucks. The creative is annoying, assumptive and repetitive. The story does not connect. But if you are like me, more than once you’ve reversed the DVR as you are skipping through commercial breaks when you saw something that resonated.

The Luma Slide is a brilliant representation of only one of the powerful forces shaping our industry, but I fear it’s overweighted. Our priorities are geared towards the “exit.” Or the multiple. That alone is not a good thing.  A frenzied focus on these levers of success leads to questionable execution practices, especially in video where the underbelly of viewer-less impressions has yet to be truly exposed. A frantic rush to meet impression goals and the chicanery that ensues is not a solid foundation for the future of branded storytelling. We kid ourselves that huge TV budgets are coming this way just because we want them to.

We succeeded in building a very cool digital tree fort in TV’s backyard. In some respects, the Lumascape is the ONLY blueprint we’ve used for its construction.

As a kid, my friends and I built a tree fort in the hills behind my parents’ house in Southern California. It was a place to have epic battles with invented foes defending or maybe expanding our empire of haphazard planks and nails.  When the sun set however, we still had to go back into the house to get fed.

IP delivered video is a tremendous opportunity for the customer and the advertiser. We can’t sit in our digital tree fort and expect everyone in the neighborhood to automatically understand or even see the value and potential that we have bet our careers on.

To move into the big house, we in the video ad tech industry have to accomplish three things.

  1. Focus on the story. In IP delivered video, well over 90% of the ads we serve are re-purposed TV creative. That’s like taking a banner ad and putting it on a billboard. TV spots are created for a medium built on the assumption of a passive audience. We can do a lot better than this. IP audiences are empowered, they are in control.  Who wants to be the first to figure out how to reach and influence the next generation of consumers?  That laboratory has been open and available for years.
  2. Measurement. The simple truth is that today in digital video, we cannot tell an advertiser WHO watched the spot as well as TV can.  We can tell our clients cool tidbits, in actuals no less, about VTR, CTR, Geo, etc., but we have yet to improve on current TV measurement that can estimate the age and gender of the viewer and then estimate how many of those folks there were. OCR and VCE are big steps in this direction but I predict short-term chaos as we try to force fit demographic guarantees against a growing but limited impression set. Here’s a question… if Tide and Lexus have vastly different products, customers and business metrics why do they share the same media metrics? One hopes that out of the short term chaos will come very creative ways to segment and measure audience and effect.
  3. Quality of Execution. TV advertisers never have to worry about the quality of execution. It’s running on NBC or Discovery. It’s queued up in a master control somewhere. There is a log of when it will run. Here is the time it will run. Agency and advertiser can actually see it live. It is broadcast. Or better said, cast out broadly where everyone can see it. In IP delivered video narratives, it’s hard to know where it has run. Some exit obsessed vendors have established creative if not downright fraudulent methods of delivering against impression goals. In many cases, advertisers do not know if their carefully crafted brand narrative ran on a porn site or in East Timor or both. Fraud happens in the dark. We need to accept the bright light of executional transparency equal to or better than what exists currently in the TV world if we are going to grow this from a tree fort to a mansion.

TV storytelling is like talking to a child. One simple, perhaps creatively told message, repeated consistently. The key is to figure out the times where our story and its influence will be greatest.

I’d argue that our audience(s), armed with tremendous digital tools, have to be targeted as adolescents now: jaded and oversold to their entire mediated life, always assume bullshit first and have become adept at avoiding what they don’t want to see/hear. We have to be more creative, employ multiple approaches to story, delivery and feedback to understand our effectiveness.  We have to be more honest in our motivations and our executions.

We are in the midst of a wholesale change of how we create, distribute and measure branded storytelling.  It is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I want to tell a story to my grandkids of being part of an industry that rose to the occasion. I want to tell the story of when we grew up.


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