Scott Karp’s written a great post on whether media is a commodity. By media, he means “media space”, ie, advertising. He’s riffing on a MediaPost report to the effect that eBay has pitched the idea of a media buying exchange to – get this – the Association of National Advertisers.
So can eBay (or someone) build a truly efficient electronic marketplace for media, which could further open up the game to content creators of every size and shape (i.e. bloggers and the like)? Only if the Big Advertisers are willing to play, and that will only happen if there is some industry standard for evaluating the options, i.e. which stock should I invest in? Brand-building advertisers with long purchase horizons (e.g. luxury cars) can’t buy based on clicks, so the Google model isn’t going to work for the whole market.
What technology companies don’t understand about advertising and media is that audience matters – that’s what advertisers are buying. And context matters, especially when it comes to brands. Whoever can come up with an efficient way to factor reliable measurements for audience and context into an electronic marketplace for media buying will have the next AdWords (and all the cash that goes with it).
Scott’s written some good stuff recently as a corrective to the algorithm-drenched hysteria of Web 2.0. I think what he’s said here is right too – you just can’t measure everything, and one of the key things you can’t measure is an audience’s relationship to its media. And if you can’t measure it, you can’t sell ads on it in anything like a mechanical way. And if you can’t sell in a mechanical way, you end up hiring human beings who pitch to clients and draw up readership surveys and explain “brand effects” and other such dark arts. In other words, traditional media sales.
These things are important to clients and, I believe, will continue to be so. Which isn’t to say we couldn’t do it better. Panel-based measurement will get better and more integrated with “mechanical” data as we move forward. But anyone who thinks that we’ll end up with a completely measurable advertising industry just doesn’t understand advertisers or audiences. It’s always going to be a bit messy, I’m afraid.