Over the last two weeks, I've been invited to sit in a handful of meetings between an online publisher and a variety of different ad networks.
The publisher was talking to the ad networks about how best to incorporate some out-of-the-box thinking in different RFPs that he was receiving. In each case, the representative from the ad network listened politely, nodding and agreeing that the thinking, even though different, was terrific.
And that it would never get past the media agencies.
Not that brand marketers wouldn't like the thinking, mind you. But rather that the media agencies wouldn't buy it. And since marketers basically buy their media agency's recommendation, it's the media agencies where out-of-the-box thinking goes to die.
"The problem," one of the ad network people said, "is that media buyers all have these little boxes that they need to check off. The boxes are all based on filling so many impressions for so much money. When the boxes are checked off, their job is done and they get to go home."
In other words, their objective is really to fill in the boxes, not to think out of the boxes.
"Out-of-the-box thinking," this person continued, "needs to be approved from someone in the C-Level Suites. The problem is that the C-Level people are all out on the lecture circuit talking about how the industry needs to incorporate out-of-the-box thinking."
"Yet their people back home are all rewarded for staying within the little boxes on the RFP and filling them in as quickly as possible."
What I've been able to garner from these meetings with the ad networks is that when a marketer asks for out-of-the-box thinking, the media agencies say that the ad networks and/or publishers aren't supplying any. Or, that it's too hard to scale out-of-the-box thinking.
And, they're right about the latter.
Out-of-the-box thinking is non-scalable thinking, at least to start with, as it is a new way of thinking.
And any new way of thinking, if it's truly any good, always starts in a much smaller box.
Fortunately, we know that good things often come in small packages. And perhaps if media agencies continue to be remunerated based on delivering big audiences rather than big thinking, the best option is to use less of their thinking.
At least, that's what this publisher is thinking. To go directly to the marketers themselves, have them buy into his idea, and then deal with the ad networks directly as distribution partners.
After all, media agencies, are for the most part, impression brokers, buying and selling eyeballs. What this publisher wants to sell is interest, not exposure. Involvement, not impressions.
He has a way that works.
And he's tired of having the media agencies say it won't.