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A note on my way to Cannes

Earlier this morning, as he heads to Cannes Lions, Chairman & CEO Jim Bankoff sent a candid letter to our clients about the digital advertising landscape and Vox Media's place. We're pleased to share his thoughts here.

It’s not difficult to read the mood going into this year’s Cannes Lions. Brand-builders are focused on quality, trust and safety, but refuse to sacrifice performance, data and scale - and in the current digital landscape, these priorities can feel mutually exclusive.

But marketers who care about brand identity can no longer afford to ignore context or presentation. The best work too often appears for a split second in a feed alongside fake news, shallow viral videos, and disposable memes - or, worse, haphazardly ahead of unsafe extremist videos. To fulfill the industry’s collective desire for more scale, planners are being pressured to choose between ad units that either annoy audiences or are ignored completely. No wonder media mixes still disproportionately favor broadcast and cable despite consumer attention migrating to digital.

Until recently, all digital advertising was considered the same, intentionally. We became drunk on data (not rosé), completely ignoring the higher values that have created the kind of magic that Madison Avenue was once known for. The desire to target, buy programmatically, and achieve scale seemed to obviate the focus on the foundational ingredients of brand-building: depth, creativity, emotion, adjacency, and trust.

To me, it frustratingly seems that the digital ecosystem has deemed itself incompatible with that pursuit. But I refuse to accept it.

Nearly a decade ago when we started what would later become Vox Media, it became my personal mission to figure out a better way to build a big, high-quality, ad-supported media company. Five years ago, that meant rejecting the IAB standards and developing our own in-house ad platform that could create more beautiful and experiential ad formats that engaged people as well as, or better than, glossy magazines and TV commercials. Ads that people actually paid attention to. If we were a company built on strong storytelling, how could we expect our marketing partners to change hearts and minds with a single creative message mashed into a square box? Since then, that momentum has evolved into one of the most sophisticated platforms in the market.

We call it Concert, the only high-fidelity publisher-led marketplace you can trust.

We’re all familiar with high-fidelity music: sound so clear that nothing gets in the way of the listening experience. High-Fidelity Advertising takes on the same form. It’s advertising that is free from distortion caused by wrong context, profiteering industry incentives, or disregard for the human experience.

It’s where marketers go to engage with real people.
It’s the solution to scale without compromise.
It’s advertising with context.
It’s truly safe.
It’s actually premium.

While we knew the creative technology we built was much better at brand-building than the alternatives, we had to solve the demand for scale while avoiding the easy temptations that we’ve watched so many others give into. So we partnered with two of the best - NBCU and, most recently, Condé Nast. This new partnership not only brought their incredible portfolio of brands into the network, but also added Condé Nast Spire alongside Concert’s suite of audience optimization and ad creation tools. Spire allows us to find valuable audiences on a deeper level. We can now separate the sports-lover from the person who is actually in the market for basketball gear, based on their online actions, clicks, and purchase history.

Put simply, Concert is advertising you don’t have to worry about. It’s a place where you can reach 99% of millennials online across the world’s leading digital brands, where you can know (and name) where your ads actually run, and be confident that your branded content and video will engage instead of frustrate the very people you are trying to connect with.

It’s a big mission. But it’s the right thing to do - for our audiences, for our partners, for the industry.

Whether or not you’re traveling to Cannes this week, I thank you for your shared attention and commitment to quality advertising. For those traveling, I wish you all a safe flight - see you on the other side of the Atlantic. And if we haven’t had a chance to meet in person, I’d welcome the opportunity to say hello.

Onward,
Jim

Learn more about Concert.