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MEDIA PERSPECTIVES - May 20, 2015

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Technocrats Go Home and Take the Short Cut
By: Jaffer Ali
(Originally Published: October 13, 2008)

As the former CEO of an online media company I do my best to stay abreast of the changing media landscape. In addition to a fair amount of time spent reading and writing trade articles, I belong to several industry discussion groups. I have come to the conclusion that there is a crisis of creativity in the media business in general and in the online space in particular. In fact, the problem is so severe it would appear that creativity has virtually fallen off the media radar.

The online arena has been ceded to technocrats and quants (read "quant" as a practitioner of quantitative analysis who reduces every advertising opportunity to the immediate transaction). Conventional wisdom holds that technology can lead us to a better place by yielding to those who preach technospeak over common sense and experience. But as is often the case, conventional wisdom is anything but wise; pure hogwash in this case. Technology is not saving the advertising industry, it is destroying it. Technology companies fancy themselves the new media standard bearers. And while they may understand technology, they have forgotten how to communicate. They spew bits and bytes when they - and we - would be better served by a well-turned phrase or two.

The root of the word "measure" comes from the Sanskrit word "maya" and it means "illusion". You can talk behavioral targeting all you want and develop massive databases to support your folly, but it doesn't speak to QUALITY. It doesn't speak to VALUE. There is no romance, no engagement. The world of the quant begins and ends in the check-out line.

When created with soul and spirit, good content and good advertising produce a cooperative, symbiotic relationship between brand and consumer. Those who seek to truncate this dialogue devalue the essential role trust plays in creating brand loyalty. They in effect bring a proverbial knife to a gun fight. And whereas they can tell you precisely how much everything costs, they know precious little about what anything is worth.

MBAs and glorified bean counters are the new ringmasters in the media circus. They promise better results, but their reductionist modus operandi crushes any meaningful relationship before it has a chance to breathe. Besides, do you really want to surrender your brand's identity to a bean counter? Where's the fun in that? Or, as Dr. Phil would ask: "How's that working for you?"

The essence and foundation of a brand is its relationship to its customers. Destroy the relationship and you destroy the brand. It is no wonder that brand loyalty is at an all time low. Loyalty is a function of trust, and when you are blindly and obligingly influenced by the illusion of measurement, you have already forsaken trust.

Do technocrats and quants have passion for the truth? Is there even room for thought and meaning in their brave new world? Or are they too busy building a temple to the false idol of the spreadsheet? They would be better served to heed the sage counsel of Descartes who said, "A simple man with passion will be more persuasive than the most eloquent without."

As the Captain of Road Prison 36 of Cool Hand Luke fame would say: "What we got here is... failure to communicate." We have become the very cynics Oscar Wilde warned us of, devoid of passion for anything except the latest, fastest way to measure the width of a gnat's behind. Where's the romance? Where's the emotion? Where's the beef?

In our pursuit of immediate gratification, we've seen a financial tsunami sweep our economy off its feet - a media-driven Frankenstein's monster of our own creation. And like Frankenstein's monster, its next victim will be its creator.

But we can't blame only the technocrats. The venture capitalists that fund the illusion are equally devoid of corporate soul. They too are quants, sharing the same deficient DNA from the same evaporating gene puddle. Talk about Darwin's waiting room! These folks are straight out of a casting call for Deliverance.

It's time to get real. When the digitalization of content and media supplanted analog distribution, the die was cast. Old time media folks didn't understand the technology, and new media types didn't know how to communicate. We've made the trains run on time, but we have no idea where we're going, or why. I suggest we tear up the schedule, settle back for the ride, and take in the view. In the meantime, the quants can get off at the next stop.

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Original Article: Technocrats Go Home and Take the Short Cut

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