Pain Over Complexity Will Drive Advertising Innovation

Below is the full text of my MediaPost column this week. I have a feeling that battling complexity and striving for simplicity will become a strong undercurrent in my writing going forward. It’s the mindset of my new workplace and it’s permeating my brain.

Pain Over Complexity Will Drive Advertising Innovation

November 30th, 2007 by Max Kalehoff

One of the most difficult tasks in life is to boil a complex idea down to its essence. Reducing noise and deconstructing a concept to its core enables raw value to emerge, and allows resonance with our most precious human assets: attention and time. Which is precisely the problem with online advertising and where it’s taken us thus far.

As we enter the inevitable clichéd wasteland of year-end reflections and New Year’s predictions, I can’t help but conclude that 2007 was the year of complexity for online advertising. Nothing else stands so strong. From new online ad formats, splintering media sources, devices, intermediaries, distribution and targeting platforms, it’s getting to be a pretty darn complicated ecosystem to get your head around — especially if you’re an advertiser

The situation has gotten so severe that a marketing trade magazine this month devoted a full two pages of text to highlighting parallels in the complexity and specialization among search marketing professionals, medical doctors and surgeons. That’s about as preposterous as saying only highly skilled mechanics should drive cars!

Sure, there will always be specialists with important roles to play, but it’s a massive problem when an industry begins to characterize itself by inaccessible silos and geekery. Perhaps the biggest problem with this mentality is that it spawns black boxes and breeds a “keeper of the flame” mentality. That ultimately thwarts advancement.

But this complexity epidemic has spread to virtually every corner of online advertising — not just search. The result is a darkening cloud of frustration, inefficiencies and skepticism building among many marketers small and large, despite undisputed benefits and unprecedented ROI. I’m not suggesting all the great new advertising technologies and capabilities aren’t wonderful and exciting, but the blunt, underlying pain of convolution is nearing its threshold. Marketers don’t need any more features, options, solutions or clutter. What they need is relief and clarity.

It is for that reason that I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that 2008 will be the year where complexity gone amuck will drive some of the most important innovations in online advertising. But realizing such innovations won’t come easy at all. Inventing and embracing sophisticated technologies and systems, and funneling them into simple, powerful solutions is a massively tough job. But those who succeed will achieve massive traction and competitive advantage. There are a number of new advertising companies seizing this opportunity, and several existing ones realigning along this path.

Of course, the very same problem of complexity that is crippling many marketers also is creating nuisance for consumers. As I suggested, complexity is the enemy of our most precious human assets: attention and time. In this coming enlightenment around simplicity, I hope that marketers keep their own pain in mind when advertising to us consumers. I, too, could use some relief and clarity.

How about you?

Published by Max Kalehoff

Father, sailor and marketing executive.

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