Am I Right? - Jaffer Ali

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Cover image for  article: Am I Right? - Jaffer Ali

Experience without theory is blind, but theory without experience
is mere intellectual play.
--Immanuel Kant

I write a lot, no doubt about it. In fact, I've written more than 250 articles in the past 10 years! That's a lot of time spent on an avocation that reaches a rather limited audience. And it's a good bet that a majority of readers loathe what I write, for much of it involves puncturing the latest bubble-headed idée du jour.

The chief reason for me sitting at my computer and staring at a blank page is that the act of articulating my thoughts helps to clarify them for me. Over the years, an almost Socratic process has emerged between my computer and me.

I write mostly about advertising and media issues. As the CEO of Vidsense, a video content network, that only makes sense. On the surface, many of my musings have a "theoretical" flavor. Maybe it's because I usually incorporate one or two appropriately sage quotes from the thousands I've collected over the past 30 years.

Today's offering from Kant ties in theory and practice, a most humble combination. When I read Kant's quotation above, I was hit with the realization that while I write forcefully, I probably have not been forceful enough regarding certain themes covered over the years.

What, not forceful enough?

When I surmised on occasion that "content is better bait than ads to deliver audiences to advertiser websites", was I merely indulging a theoretical assumption? Was it what Kant would call, "intellectual play"? The answer is absolutely and categorically NO! That's because in addition to a media company we also own a marketing company, so every single thing I write about is "theory" in actual practice.

When I suggest that an invitation to view an ad-free video duet of James Brown and Pavarotti will deliver more people at a better rate than an ad for multi-media speakers, this is not idle speculation. We are doing it, despite the fact that straight DR campaigns are not exactly what we had in mind when we first envisioned our media model. That's because DR-related ad rates are significantly lower than brand-related rates.

Our media company does not accept outside DR campaigns, preferring instead to use our own content to drive our own campaigns. Simply put, we would rather sell advertising to others than utilize our own media for DR. If you own media, you will understand what I'm talking about. But we are content using what we have absent the brands rushing to us.

If you are a brand or a marketer and are not yet using content as bait to attract and deliver audiences to your own web offerings, you are simply wrong. I might suggest even stupid. Is that forceful enough? In the Pavarotti/Brown example cited above, the average person stayed over 4 minutes on our offer-destination site. A good number actually watched the video multiple times. What is 4 minutes+ of audience engagement worth to a brand?

I used to be intent on promoting a "new" paradigm for the online ecosystem. The idea that content could be used to entice people to click is simple but not so very new. But if I told you how many idiotic agency and CPG folks could not grasp the simple notion that audiences would be happy to consume chosen content on a single sponsor's branded site, in scale, you would not believe me. Seems like I just crossed the line from forceful to downright rudeness.

The offshoot is that I no longer care whether or not what I write strikes its intended chord with anyone. I write now mostly to vent against convention and to reassert and further refine my own beliefs. To that end, it's my opinion that online advertising is failing. Despite annual spending increases on Web advertising (that, by the way, do not keep pace with Web growth) our online ecosystem is an unmitigated mess.

We recognized early on that no one wanted more ads, and that the proliferation of millions of new places to avoid them could only lead to one conclusion; using great content, instead of ads, is a much better media currency to sustain attention. Once we switched to better audience bait, we caught lots more consumer fish. It's really quite simple: Prospects will become customers if you treat them with respect and give them what they want.

I am approaching a point of indifference as to whether or not anyone buys into what I have to say. Common sense and proven performance notwithstanding, I am no longer interested in intellectual play. So, am I right? You decide. In the meantime, we have sales to make.

Jaffer Ali is the CEO of the video network, Vidsense. To contact him, send an email to

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