@ IAB: Wenda Harris Millard: 'Too Much Emphasis On Data Is The Problem, Not A Solution'

imageAfter a cheerful awards ceremony, Wenda Harris Millard gave a more sobering Sunday night kick-off to the IAB Annual Conference in Orlando, Fl.: advertising dollars are shrinking and they cannot support major media alone. What is “stunning, sobering, mind-blowingly scary,” is Jack Myers’ forecast of a three-year decline — the first time that’s happened since The Great Depression. After the breathless array of other data declines, Millard paused, asking, “Are we serving cocktails during this?”

Art is gone, science is in: Companies like Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) and AOL’s Platform-A (NYSE: TWX) ask whether they’re advertising and or technology companies. Microsoft’s hire of former Yahoo EVP of engineering for Search and Ad Tech Qi Lu — instead of former aQuantive head and online ad specialist Brian McAndrews — and Yahoo’s decision to tap non-media exec Carol Bartz as CEO suggests that the industry has spoken clearly of what it wants by relegating the “art” of advertising to the back of line behind metrics. Millard, president of Media and Co-CEO of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (NYSE: MSO) as well as the chair of the IAB’s board, says this is a false choice: “It’s the same question the industry asks, when it frets over whether interactive ads are direct marketing or for branding? The answer is, we have to do both. When I was at Yahoo, one of the people on the tech side called display advertising, ‘non-performaning advertising.’ That was the battle companies faced. Some are still facing them.” But the massive reams of data still can’t create compelling messages, and that should be the focus of the interactive ad industry, Millard said. “While it is undeniable that technology is more important to advertisers, and data can give us keen insights into consumer behavior, an over-emphasis on measurement is holding back the business.

Taming the data dragon: In Millard’s view, if the industry leaves marketing to “price-setting media agencies and price-cutting marketers, we will kill this business. “The solution is to help marketers get out of the way of the conversation among consumers and get them into it. The way to do that will involve integrating technology and data specialists into the marketing mix and using the data they produce to inspire the messages. But there needs to be greater balance. Millard: “We have to tame the data dragon. Data alone is not going to assure we create a successful brand experience. There is art here, literally and figuratively.”

— Millard wrapped up the presentation with one of her killer lines: “Stop acting like we’re selling schmattes, and more like the makers of magic that we are. Makers of magic.”