Ad Agency ConfabLeaves TV on Pause

Chatter about digital takes center stage at Four A’s meeting
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The American Association of Advertising Agencies conference in Austin, Texas, last week kicked off with a tape of the commercials that aired during the Super Bowl. But there was relatively little talk about TV again until three cable network presidents took the stage late Wednesday morning. And by that time, many attendees had already headed out of town.

The Four A’s called its conference “Transformation 2011,” and dealing with both the opportunities and challenges that digital technology creates is important to both the agency business and the marketing community. Nevertheless, considering the amount of money media agencies make buying time on broadcast and cable, and how much ad agencies are paid to create commercials, some attendees thought the medium that drives the industry got short shrift.

Top sponsors of the conference included a number of Web and digital companies such as Yahoo, AOL, Transis, Aperture and Google. TV was represented by NCC Media and Canoe Ventures. A broad range of digital companies made presentations, ranging from technology giants Cisco and Microsoft to smaller players such as, which sells celebrity endorsements in social media.

Horizon Media CEO Bill Koenigsberg, chairman of the 4A’s Media Policy Committee, acknowledged that while TV is the biggest part of the industry financially, the preponderance of talk revolves around digital—and that was reflected in the conference agenda. With only a day and a half to program, and an association with a broad array of issues, there wasn’t much time for traditional media to be well-represented. But Koenigsberg added that “transformation is happening in the television world as well.”

Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau President Sean Cunningham said “one of the reasons why there’s more of a non-TV focus at these conferences is there is more of a collective sense that [digital] instruments need to really evolve…because they’re not natural advertising instruments. Television is a natural advertising instrument, and it’s evolved. Ultimately, marketers vote with their media investment, and the media investment behind television and cable television has been stellar. And with good reason. We’re a fully evolved advertising, messaging, selling instrument.”

As TV becomes more digital, the distinction is becoming less profound. But marketers are increasingly relying on digital. “Digital pervades everything because video is digital, experiences are digital, search is digital, social is digital,” said Tim Spengler, president/U.S. at media agency Initiative. “Those are essential to effective brand communications today. Not in a vacuum, but as a complement to other media forms like TV. Good luck breaking through without those digital components. They are core to any successful plan.”

At the conference, there was much talk about data and how to use it. One advantage digital marketing appeared to have over tradition media was better measurement and a clear trail showing how sales resulted from a particular ad on the Internet. Experience has proven that good measurement of digital media, whether online or mobile, is more difficult than first thought.

There is “a real crisis going on in the media measurement world,” said Alan Wurtzel, president of research at NBC Universal. “We are no closer to the holy grail of single-source, three-platform measurement than five years ago.”

After the Wednesday panel featuring AMC President Charlie Collier, History and Lifetime President Nancy Dubuc and Animal Planet and Science President Marjorie Kaplan ended, Ken Simon of Microsoft Advertising issued a challenge to TV. With gaming, social media, video chat, live sports, programming from Netflix and more boxes in homes than any TV distributor other that Comcast and DirecTV, Microsoft’s Xbox is a player in “the war for the living room,” and advertisers are noticing, Simon said.

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