There’s No Humor In Ignorance

It’s been almost a week since Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrapped up his testimony on Capitol Hill, and digital advertising still doesn’t get it.

I know. Congressional testimony began to mimic those awkward moments when you have to explain modern technology to your hopelessly lost elderly relatives. Yes, it was painful for a bit.

Like I said, though, it’s been almost a week and I still see people with 20+ year careers in advertising and technology making fun of our elected representatives and lambasting them for their rudimentary understanding of digital advertising and Big Data. That’s precisely the wrong attitude to have.

It’s surprising to me that advertising veterans who have been servicing clients for as long as they have still don’t get this. The ultimate success of your strategic plans and campaigns depends greatly on your ability to explain them so that somebody who doesn’t know a thing about your industry can easily understand your recommendations and why they make sense in the context of their business.

For a long time, the game has been about knowing all of the esoteric details of things like ad tech, targeting, how data plays into strategy and how consumer technology works, but only diving into those details when they’re needed. The vast majority of the time, in order to understand why what you’re saying makes sense, a CEO or a CMO wants to understand that you know all this, but is looking for a simple explanation or analogy about why approving your strategy and plans is the right thing to do. One of the most valuable skills in our industry is the ability to explain complex concepts simply, and do it on the fly.

We should apply those skills not just to clients, but to our elected representatives that want to understand Facebook better. They want to know things like how companies with a little bit of money to spend and some insights into data can create ideological echo chambers. They want to know whether Facebook is violating people’s privacy. They might be looking for a potential role for the U.S. government in further regulating the space. Facebook and Google together will capture close to two-thirds of digital ad spending this year. A lot is at stake.

That’s why we ought not to be celebrating or ridiculing the fact that Congress asked the wrong questions, or appeared clueless, or didn’t “do their homework,” before questioning Mark Zuckerberg. The pointing and laughing will stop once stakeholders realize one very important thing: These people don’t require your understanding of all the esoteric details. They’re perfectly capable of crafting legislation without it, and you won’t be laughing if and when they hand down new regulations that appear ham-handed and misguided, but choke the life out of your business notwithstanding.

Maybe Zuck walks away from this and legislators realize they need more guidance before they come to any conclusions about whether our business needs more regulation. That would be a good outcome.

But if they decide digital needs to be more tightly regulated? Will you regret not taking better steps to educate and make sure our elected representatives understood our business more comprehensively?

By Tom Hespos

Tom Hespos is the Founder and Chief Media Officer of Underscore, an integrated media firm focusing on health and healthy brands. 


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