NFL Rules and Digital Advertising

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Who woulda thunk it?  The NFL was so anxious to make the game safer for players, it neglected to evaluate some of the risks to the league inherent in radical rules changes.  The league didn't have to look beyond the industry fueling its success with more than $8 billion in annual rights fees.  Recently, the sports league decided it needed to institute some rule changes that would reduce the risk of injuries to players known to cause CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) while maintaining the integrity of the game.  But did the league move too far too fast with the new rules without truly measuring the degree of safety required to help the players?  Could the rules be adjusted to a lesser extent and still achieve the same long-term player health benefit?  Maybe.  Instead, the NFL took a page out of the ad industry's playbook and raced to a conclusion, only to re-visit the unexpected conclusion resulting from unintended consequences that might have been prevented.

Over the past 20-plus years, marketers were presented with a steady stream of new media technologies beginning with what we called "online" where static banners were state of the art.  Soon, we could animate those banners and very soon after that we morphed into what's now called the "digital" medium which exploded when technology allowed for videos to be viewed without buffering.  Now, programmatic, connected TV, streaming, AI, VR and more are all part of our daily vocabulary.

Technological advances led to greater innovation.  And, I submit, we also may have set the example of moving too far too fast.  Of course, we should be moving ahead quickly.  Marketers, after all, live on the cutting edge of everything new.  A competitive edge is key.  We are expected to be learning, discovering and testing better, smarter and more efficient ways to invest brand budgets -- all the time.

But, how about guardedly fast instead of blindingly fast?  How about managing the risk inherent in every change?  Did brand boards and investors gain much when millions of ad dollars were wasted on non-human impressions?  How exactly does it benefit a brand when only 15% (or less) of programmatic working media budgets are typically viewed by a real person in a safe environment according to the WFA Guide to Programmatic Media?  Maybe a slower walk would have prevented some digital ads from appearing on non-safe websites and some brands may have dodged embarrassing phone calls or emails from C-level executives or investors.

Of course, we've corrected many of those past issues, but digital technology moves at lightning speed.  Must we always be backfilling to solve problems?  Are we too proud to admit we don't yet know what we don't know?  Let's embrace the future with a clear understanding of the risks and rewards of each new technological advancement.  Sometimes, when we run head down as fast as possible into the unknown, we look around as we chase KPIs and don't know where we are or how we got there.  We need to observe, manage and direct change in smart meaningful, manageable ways.  Even the NFL is figuring that out.

Photo credit:  William Kraus/Unsplash

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