The Advertising Generation Gap


He “doth protest too much, methinks.” Shakespeare's dic­tum seems well suited to the broadcast thought-leaders who are protesting online advertising trading.

News flash! Online trading already occurs. It's happening in every sales department and rep firm cubicle … today, right now! Pitches and proposals sail through online technology everyday. It's called e-mail.

Face-to-face selling is now the exception, not the rule. Media buyers send e-mails. Sales reps respond by e-mail with a proposal and attach a few “one sheeters.” It's a clunky, unorganized, inefficient “system.” But it's what evolved when technology took a dominant role in our business.

We've migrated from manually written traffic logs. We no longer cut and splice 16mm film and wouldn't think of running a commercial from a film chain with slides and a cart.

The disconnect in today's discussion of online trading isn't one of technology. It's more simply defined by an old-fashioned concept facing every family with teenagers: the generation gap.

Our industry suffers a generation gap between buyers—mostly 20-something women who grew up with a computer mouse in one hand and a cellphone in another—and sellers, 50-something executives who struggle to stop the VCR from flashing 12:00 a.m. Neither speaks the other's language or understands the other's technology.

Several high-profile media executives have told me they don't understand computers, don't like to use them, and struggle to turn theirs on every morning. They believe their sales reps still go out everyday and make in-person calls all day. The business, they say, will never go to an online trading platform where computers organize, systemize, facilitate and process sales. Really?

Like it or not, technology now drives our business and, to the extent it expedites product or process, it enhances profit margins and efficiencies. Online trading is here, and it's here to stay. To rid the industry of it means removing computers and cancelling e-mail accounts for sales reps. We know that won't happen.

The discussion, then, is not if or when—but how—online trading will develop. Will the industry choose an auction environment where sellers throw spots up in the air for sale to the lowest bidder?

Or, will the industry adopt a platform, which keeps all players in the game, preserves the art of negotiation in the buy-sell process, systemizes the buys, expedites sales, downloads commercials for immediate air, simplifies the cancellation and make-good procedures, and interfaces data across a common device? The choice seems pretty clear.