Smart Brand Managers are forever scrutinizing the value they are gaining from their agencies. All too often, this value judgement lands on the desk of the chief creative officer and of course it should; but it needs to land equally on the desks of the head of strategy and the head of account service.

The ad industry has forever been trying to accurately respond to the old quip, attributed to John Wannamaker, “Half of the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

Recently, Marc Pritchard of Unilever announced their “People First” initiative. As stated in CampaignLive; “a structure in which talent from roster agencies across holding groups are brought together under one roof to service the FMCG giant’s North American fabric care business.”

This is a client, a great client actually, doing everything he can to unlock value from these relationships for his brands. Multiple agencies, multiple brands, massive media spend, redundancy and not enough of a payoff; or at least that’s what we can infer from the directive.

I don’t know Marc Pritchard, but really appreciate his efforts not to throw the baby out with the bath water. In the article he talks about bringing all the various agency creative together as a new model effort to find value by uniting the agencies in one collaborative effort.

I’ve run huge global brand development sessions with agency partners and client brand teams from all over the world. The largest initiative included participants from 16 countries. The approach can work miracles in ideation and equally important in getting everyone on the same page. Getting everyone on the same page with a big brand idea requires great talent in the room, a hugely collaborative effort, and egos left behind.

Believe it or not, it is rarely the creatives who do not play well with others. The minute the big idea is agreed, it’s the agency business leads who start tearing at the budget like lions on a kill. Unless a client is willing to address the budget and compensation in an equally unilateral manner, it is very tough to make the collaboration and the outcome stick.

I’ve worked on both Unilever and P&G brands and these are smart people with massive resources and still they are struggling to realize the promised value in the age of “new media.”

These initiatives can work but to my mind, the real culprit is the industries’ addiction to its own hype. The ad industry did not invent Google, or Facebook or any of the other super creative things that are reshaping the world; all we do is figure out how to monetize these things to our advantage and now clients are finally asking; How do all these exciting pieces of content you create make me money and build my brand?  Clearly there is benefit; but how much return is in that investment?  Spending less on creative and eliminating this redundancy is helpful to a brand if all the collaboration works out; but this is a client-driven attempt to solve an industry problem. We need to get better; showing and proving our value in context of the media and not just the execution itself. Possibly one of the worst things to have happened in the advertising industry is that media was cleaved off from the agencies and became independent. It is not a matter of church and state; it is a matter of execution of ideas, and ideas cannot be separated from the media that gives voice to their expression.

Blockchain could save the media environment for brands. There has been a fair amount written about how blockchain might result in greater transparency in media buying and tracking; if it all works as conceived, it will also be a boon for content creators enabling direct engagement with audiences and direct payment too. This advancement has the potential to put more leverage back on the side of creators like musicians, film makers, photographers, writers and journalists too.

Blockchain has potential to greatly minimize the prevalence of fake news and level set social media networks too. This is particularly important for brands. In the world of robotic ad buys, ads can end up being dropped into the most unsavory of contexts. As a brand manager, if my banner ads were popping up in the social media feeds of people who do not share the same values of the brand, I would be very concerned. How can a brand live its truth when its lived experience is often in direct contrast to the social responsibility ethos it seeks to express? As the old adage goes, “you are the company you keep.”

As an example, racists buy cars, houses and cappuccinos. They have jobs, pay taxes and in general, contribute to society; but some of the values they keep are values most brands would never support.

For legacy media outlets with legitimate journalistic integrity like the NY Times, fake news is rarely, if ever, an issue. Ads served in this context are elevated by the integrity of the enterprise.

For lesser media properties and the robotic ad placements that serve them, brands can end up in context of uncorroborated reporting, fabricated events and misinformation. Corroborated reporting is a hallmark of journalistic integrity. Fake news even fakes corroboration.

Blockchain has the potential to minimize this activity forcing down onto this media a governance of integrity through the use of corroboration across a blockchain ecosystem that would fact check content and give brand managers and media buyers leverage, insight and security in knowing that their brand is not being used to legitimize fake news and in turn be diminished by its participation in the fakery.

This would reward journalistic integrity with greater ad placement and minimize placement in fake news and hopefully, choke-off its source of income. The bigger issue though, is a societal issue; we have a culture that seems to not care if news is fake. As advertisers, we have an obligation to uphold the integrity of the media, without it we risk casting brand reputation to the dogs.

Does Facebook invade your privacy? This is a big issue on many fronts. Facebook and the Web, in more general terms, and other technologies have redefined what is possible in terms of worm-holing into our lives. This is old news at this point. What’s a little shocking is that the social media wunderkinds come across so apologetic, as if unaware of the havoc they have wrought.

Can they be that ignorant of their own business model? Of course not. They just assume the rest of us will keep buying the aw-shucks act.

I’m a fan of the European opt-in model, and I think more Americans should be as well.  Here’s why: All this invasive technology is not going to stop; in fact, it’s going to get worse, much, much worse. As the internet of things comes on-line, more and more aspects of our lives will be under the microscope, more data, ever more personal.

As Americans, we are a bit naive on the topic of privacy and the abuses of privacy that have gone on and continue to go on all over the world. We live in a country that ostensibly does not make a habit of spying on its citizens. And even if we’ve crossed that line on occasion, for the most part, we’ve been spared the abuses of family members disappearing forever in the middle of the night at the hands of our government. God Bless our democracy.

But this happens every day in many other countries. Can it happen here? Could it? Is it starting to happen now? But this is big business spying on us, not big government. But who owns the right to your data? Who owns the right to your privacy more than you? The big question is, who owns the internet? What rights does the government have? Will they exercise these rights to protect us and leverage available data from all the businesses who ride the internet for our benefit, to help protect us and our rights? Or not? These are vexing questions. That’s why I favor the opt-in model.

Social media exploited a free communications channel, or one made free by our government and built business models that in turn exploit our privacy. Not only does the model make money selling our user data, it’s also evolved to an ad server. The majority of these ads are useless and annoying clutter, the junk mail of the internet. What value are they really providing us? To my mind there is very little exchange of real value to anyone, in any party, beyond the ad revenue to the social media channel.

When we subscribe to a print publication, we opt-in. We’re agreeing the publication provides value to us in some equal measure of our money. Why should online media channels get to play by different rules? Opt-in increases the value exchange and gives us a voice in the matter. It also forces a quality dynamic down on the media channel and the advertisers. Because if it’s just so much crap, we’re gone.

Facebook is nearly a monopoly and opt-in would invite more competition; which of course, will drive improvements in the marketplace.