Razorfish’s Kokich: End the Last-Click Conspiracy

Clark Kokich is chairman of Razorfish, the Publicis Groupe-owned digital agency he led as CEO for two years and been with for a dozen years. Kokich, an agency veteran, took time to explain in greater detail five recent tweets he sent on the state of the ad business. He explains the power Amazon has to shake up the ad world thanks to its trove of data; why what brands say about themselves isn’t that important anymore; and the case for fearing Google’s might.

I’m not sure if advertising is dying. But I’m pretty sure nobody will miss it much if it does.
I can remember years ago your then-boss Brian McAndrews telling me the company website would be “the new 30-second spot.” But looking at the numbers, TV advertising is doing great. Most even expect it will fare just fine in a double-dip recession. What’s going on here?
Was Brian wrong? I don’t think so. Sure, television is still important, but is it the central expression of the brand, or is it just one more tool in the kit? As for advertising dying, obviously it’s not. From time to time it still makes sense to spend a lot of money telling people what you want them to hear when you want them to hear it. But is that where people are learning about brands today? To some extent yes, but more and more they’re learning from each other. In this environment, what you say is less important than what you do. As Ben Franklin said, “Well done is better than well said.” And if advertising does die, who will mourn it? Certainly not the consumers who have spent their lives being inundated with irrelevant, repetitive, and just plain old stupid ads. Maybe if we could reduce the volume and increase the quality, things would change, but I don’t see any hope of that happening soon.I can never figure out if I should love or hate Google (the company, not the search engine).
Should agencies, advertisers and publishers still view Google warily? What’s the case for “hating” Google?
As a marketer, it’s easy to love Google. What could be better than being able to reach people at the exact moment they are looking for you, and then to only pay when they actually take some sort of action. Even better, Google (along with all other search engines combined), can provide this miraculous service at scale. Here’s the downside. Google is arguably the biggest benefactor of the “last-click conspiracy.” Despite scores of attribution studies proving search is typically overvalued in the digital media mix, the simple cost/action model is just so darn appealing the industry keeps using it. It seems to work for everyone, except of course for clients, who are misallocating their budgets based on overly simplistic metrics. What’s even more distressing, I sometimes feel we’ve raised a generation of young marketers who believe that direct-response metrics are the be-all and end-all of marketing and brand building. They’re not. Creating and maintaining relationships with loyal customers is a complex, layered activity. Simple cause-and-effect solutions are not enough. Truly transformational ideas still require a healthy dose of insight and imagination. Where will they learn those skills?

It’s hard to come up with a reason why Amazon won’t be successful in the online advertising business.
Data is the new gold, it seems, in online advertising. What’s the big opportunity for a data goldmine like Amazon to become a big player?
One word: Scale. Behavioral targeting is a powerful tool. Direct marketers have known for years that knowing what you do is more valuable in targeting than knowing who you are or what you think. So how have we used that powerful tool? We’ve used it to saturate our best customers with the same message over, and over, and over. Why? Because we just can’t find enough of them. Amazon will help to solve that problem. Amazon knows what people do, and they know it for a huge percentage of the population. Amazon won’t replace other tools, but my bet is its ability to implement behavioral-targeting at scale will be met with open arms in the marketplace.

In media buying, the advantage of scale is being replaced by the advantage of real-time data capability.
Last I checked the majority of media buying was still based on scale. The upfronts don’t seem to be going anywhere. Does this mean that in the future you believe aggregating lots of demand as leverage on price won’t be as critical?
It all depends on your view of the future. I see a future where the vast majority of video entertainment will be nothing more than a data file residing in the cloud, which we will download when we want it to the device of our choice. In that environment, the buying and selling of video advertising could very well look exactly like ad exchanges do today. If that happens, the size of your budget won’t determine success. The winners will be the organizations who are the most adept at deploying sophisticated real-time analytics. Of course, this is an “out there” prediction. Probably won’t happen. Yes, technology has repeatedly transformed — and sometimes destroyed — entire industries. Advertising will probably buck the trend. Maybe we’re special.I wonder how many marketers my age (59) are running towards the future with enthusiasm.
It seems like just about all CMOs at least talk the talk on digital. Are they not yet walking the walk? What will change that?
There’s no question there’s a growing cadre of CMOs who are enthusiastically embracing the future. But in my experience, they’re younger – not quite digital natives, but definitely young enough to have spent the bulk of their years in a world where digital was on the rise. These are folks who look at the gut-wrenching changes of the past five years with a sense of optimism and enthusiasm. They get a kick out of helping to invent the future of marketing. For those who are older, it’s a real shock to the system. Most of us assumed as we approached the ripe old age of 60, we would be the “experts,” and that young people would be coming to us for answers based on our long years of experience. It’s not happening. The reality is there aren’t any experts. Nobody has the answers. Instead, we’re all just fellow travelers. Some of us love it. It’s exciting to still be learning and growing, to be part of a dynamic industry in constant flux. But for others it’s pure misery. They have a very hard time accepting the fact that the crew of Millennials on the floor below them may just have a better grasp on what’s really happening than they do.

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