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What Can Ellen DeGeneres’ iPhone Tweet Tell Us About Ad Delivery? A Lot Can Go Wrong!

March 20, 2014

Ellen DeGeneres' iPhone is old news. But it's worth revisiting for anyone involved in sharing creative assets, because there's a valuable technology metaphor that her recent iPhone snafu can provide.

For those of you who missed the Oscars, a quick recap: Ellen used a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 to take a selfie of herself and Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Lawrence, Lupita Nyong'o, Jared Leto, Bradley Cooper, and Kevin Spacey -- a photo she tweeted which was retweeted close to 3 million times by the next day, and that drove an estimated 900 Samsung mentions a minute on social media. That's pretty good publicity for Samsung. But unfortunately for Samsung, Ellen's next tweet came from her iPhone.

It's not the end of the world. And it's important to note that Ellen wasn't under contract to use the Samsung phone at all -- actually, using a Samsung for the selfie was Ellen's idea to begin with. But with Samsung spending an estimated $20M in Oscars sponsorships, I'm sure its executives weren't thrilled by the iPhone follow-up. (Nor were Pepsi executives probably, since the pizza boxes Ellen had delivered into the crowd featured Coke logos. Pepsi was a sponsor, Coke wasn't.)

The lesson? When one party generates a message and another is involved in delivering it, it's hard to control the results.

For those of us who think a lot about how we deliver creative assets in this industry, it's a useful lesson to consider. I say that because ad delivery—the hard work of getting the ad file from the creative house to the TV screen -- involves many parties, which means limited control over how the message gets to its final destination.

How many parties are involved in getting an ad on air? Quite a few. For every ad, there's a creative team within an agency that develops the ad. Actually, make that multiple ads, as advertisers often create variations on ads from market to market. There's the media buyer -- often in a completely different agency -- who decides where the ad will run. There is the traffic department -- sometimes within the creative agency, sometimes a third party -- who coordinates the media buy with the commercial assets and the media outlets, sending letters of instruction and creative rotations, and ensuring delivery of the ad. And there is the agency account team, who often have to check with the talent department to make sure each commercial actor's contracts are up-to-date and that it's OK to air the ad.
 
What happens if the contracts are out of date? Maybe nothing. But if something does happen, it often isn't good. For example, actors could force the advertiser into costly re-negotiations. Or, if standard non-competes have expired, you could end up with the embarrassing situation of running a commercial featuring an actor who's recently stumped for a direct competitor.

Essentially, there's a multi-party chain of command -- media buyers, to creative teams, to account representatives, to traffic and distribution, to talent or business affairs, all potentially in different departments and likely different companies -- that need to be synchronized to make sure that an ad is legally allowed to air and makes it to the right air. Often, there's no standard way for communication to take place. Some communication happens by phone, some comes via an email. Some communications include all the stakeholders and sometimes only a few are involved.

All in all, what you're dealing with is multiple opportunities for information to fall through the cracks, with less-than-ideal repercussions. It's not hard to see why -- in the pressure to get an ad out the door -- the coordination of all the moving pieces can be a challenge. It's complicated with many stakeholders in many different companies, all with separate processes. By the way, this process gets repeated every time the media and/or the creative changes -- which means the process can get triggered frequently. In other words, there's a lot of information to share -- and a lot to go wrong.

At this point, you might be thinking: If we can't get the process down managing one person's tweets in the Oscars, how are we supposed to get a process down pat for whole agencies?

One hint might come from this small tidbit: the Wall Street Journal reports that Samsung executives personally trained Ellen on how to use the Galaxy Note 3. In other words, they invited Ellen directly into their own system -- making the selfie simple for Ellen, a third party, to deploy.

Of course, the different parts of the ad delivery process also use their own systems -- to track talent contracts, to manage media buys, to keep track of deliveries to TV stations, etc. I think a lot of the solution to the coordination problem comes from bringing not just the individuals across different teams closer together, but to actually link the systems that each of the teams are using. The closer you put everyone into each other's systems, the easier it is for everyone to work on the same page. Ultimately, you get truly seamless coordination -- and messaging that's easy to share with a few million of your friends.

Via Adage