The Oath debacle and the future of advertising

advertising
Image credit: Mc 243 / Shutterstock.com

The demise – or virtual demise – of Oath is, as Richard Windsor says, hardly a surprise. At the time it all took place, it was like watching the really cool kids pick their football teams. The coolest kids got picked first, the under achievers last.

The days when Yahoo or AOL were cool kids were already long gone, if they were ever really cool in the first place.

What is surprising is what Verizon did, or tried to do, with the resulting company. They tried to make it into some sort of advertising machine that was doomed to failure before it even happened.

The fundamental problem was that Oath was the result of people in the technology, and particularly the telecoms industry, mistaking loads of data for an advertising company.

CEO Tim Armstrong even said at the time, ‘the combined company’s services will “reach over a billion people each month.”’ This is true.

He also said, “it is not the opinions of pundits, nor about the competition, it is about our ability to maniacally focus on delivering magical services to mobile enabled consumers.”

Clearly this is a case of imagining that the truck loads of data being sucked into machines every day can somehow be turned into gold in the form of personalized services and magical mobile moments. Perhaps they thought that AI would somehow help but as Tony Poulos pointed out, from personal experience, that concept is ludicrous. And ‘advertising claims to be an early adopter of AI but I’m not sure how it is going to cope with two or more people using the same device for browsing and shopping and distinguish who, in particular, is interested in car parts or lingerie’.

Quite.

And, of course, when Hans Vestberg arrived from Ericsson as the new CEO and said out loud that Verizon would ‘keep pursuing its current 5G strategy but he did not “see anything new on the horizon” to pursue media content, the end was nigh. That banging sound you heard at the time was the last nail being bashed into the coffin.

The bigger point here is not that Verizon picked the scrawny kids, nor that they overestimated the window of opportunity that existed to climb on that particular gravy train but that the ‘new’ advertising model is flawed and deeply so.

The advertising industry is in denial. This is not surprising since Facebook, Google and (not many) others are making hay while the sun shines (and need to to fund all the hassles that are coming their way).

Yet, soon the advertising juggernaut will realize that its wheels have come off, that people do not like to be bombarded by irrelevant crap (to paraphrase Mr Poulos) and they will have to go back to the drawing board if they want to avoid a privacy, security and ‘bullshit in advertising’ backlash which could scupper the whole industry.

In fact, an actual drawing board in an actual meeting room might be exactly the place to go back to.

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