As published in Ad Age
I think I may be the loneliest woman working in ad tech today. This post is my virtual version of yelling atop a NYC rooftop where there’s therapeutic relief knowing that everyone can hear you but no one actually does.
The heart of the matter is simple; I am in the ad tech world as a startup CEO but not of the ad tech world.
I have been a marketer for thirty years starting in the 1980’s. I was lucky enough to be around during the remarkable transformative years when the ad business ala Mad Men became the marketing business we know today. The marketing disciplines, methodologies and systems we throw around a lot today are barely 25 years old and were created during these formative years.
We were tackling many new marketing channels; co-op programs, visual merchandising and direct marketing. There were new types of multi-channel programs we had to formalize; from reseller to telemarketing. CRM was barely a twinkle in anyone’s eye and big data meant how high the computer readout stacks were. “New” ad technologies” like Cable (1990s) and Internet (2000s) “disrupted” older media and solidified concepts such as CPM, impressions and predictive modeling.
This long view of marketing is an incredible advantage for our venture but it also draws an invisible circle around me. This, coupled with my deep understanding of the tech side of ad tech — the ad serving, the RTB and bots — all of it, scribes the circle ever deeper in the ground.
I mean — it turns out I know too much.
I know that between the algorithms and impression pushing platforms, marketers struggle to create quality engagement with real people. I know that the fragmentation of ad tech creates operational chaos for agencies and advertisers alike. I also know that so much dishonor pervades the business and this ultimately is why I feel so lonely.
How does one deal with the burden of this knowledge?
Do I tell my brand friends that for every $1 of active media they allocate only about 40 cents makes it into market by the time the exchanges, data guys and fraudsters have had their way with the budget?
Do I explain to my agency friends how the exchanges bots are always optimizing to the RTB algorithms in DSPs so that “miraculously” the exchanges deliver to the exact metrics the agency sets?
Do I continue to try and get tech partners to understand that programmatic ultimately will usher in a new era of transparency and their arbitrage days are numbered?
And how do I rationalize to potential investors that the crazy 70%+ ad tech margins they are used to were built on pillars of impression fraud and thus not sustainable? And how do I get them happy with the 45% margin our venture delivers that is both honorable and sustainable?
The circle of seclusion tightens because while I left the land of marketing eight years ago, I don’t really belong in the world of ad tech either. My supportive but puzzled marketing friends can’t fathom why I would spend the most lucrative part of my career taking such a financial gamble as launch a startup.
My close technology colleagues don’t understand my obsession with quality audience engagement that, in their mind, doesn’t scale easily.
So I stand alone, keenly aware I don’t belong anywhere and that I am, quite literally, in “no man’s land.” While I may be a solitary voice, I am not willing to accept the status quo and our venture reflects the highest standards of quality and transparency I would want to buy if I were a customer. We may be almost alone now but not for long. I know this and I just have to remember it when the loneliness gets too hard to bear.
There — now that that I got that out there, I feel better. Back to work.