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wenda harris millardWhen Wenda Harris Millard talks, the industry listens. As well it should. One of the smartest, and most formidable executives in interactive advertising, Wenda is co-CEO of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, following top executive positions at Yahoo, Ziff Davis Media and DoubleClick (to name but a few). Credentials don't get more impressive than her résumé in interactive advertising.

At her keynote at the IAB's annual summit in Orlando this weekend, Wenda called for a new era in online advertising; one in which measurement, metrics, analysis -- in short, the science bit of the advertising equation, take a back seat the art part: big ideas, killer creative and "the sizzle, not the steak."

Her plea is very much in line for her exhortation last year at the same event, when she called on marketers "not to trade our assets like pork bellies."

"Where is the creative innovation in advertising?" she asked, faulting publishers and third-party ad networks for driving down prices and overweighting online advertising with "math and science."

As usual, Wenda's right -- or at least partially right.

Tossing out measurement, math and science entirely is something that benefits no one. Without the science, we wouldn't have a marketing discipline to argue over. We wouldn't have advertising technology, metrics, or even an internet, for that matter.

What Wenda really seems to be talking about here is one of the oldest debates in digital advertising: branding versus direct. Properties such as the ones in the Martha Stewart portfolio that she represents cannot grow and thrive on DM or PPC advertising alone. The same holds true for the major news sites, the NYTimes.com and WSJ.coms of this world. In fact, she went so far as to say so.

“It’s the same question the industry asks, when it frets over whether interactive ads are direct marketing or for branding?" The answer, of course, is both, as she herself says. "Data alone is not going to assure we create a successful brand experience. There is art here, literally and figuratively."

Don't believe for a moment that Wenda is exhorting the industry to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Yet her plea for more creativity, for big ideas and for "art" in the online channel cannot and should not be ignored, and not just by those who want to keep big brand publisher properties afloat.

One of the greatest, if most seldom discussed, challenges in interactive marketing is the left/right brain divide. It's not dissimiliar to high school, where you seldom saw the art geeks and the science nerds sharing the same table at the cafeteria. It's not that they don't like one another, it's just that they have very little in common.

Those fundamental human differences carry over into the real world, and into this very real new industry we've somehow managed to create together. Only to move things forward, these two constituencies, who communicate so differently, are going to have to learn to play nicely together. Or at least to eliminate the communication barriers that create friction between them.

Digital advertising means the art can't live without the science, and vice versa. Recognizing these differences, as Wenda most recently did is critical. But the real solution won't be shuttle diplomacy. It will be getting the art and science constituencies to finally share that table and learn how to communicate with one another.

More easily said than done.

Rebecca Lieb

Published 23 February, 2009 by Rebecca Lieb

Rebecca Lieb oversees Econsultancy's North American operations.

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