Publishers could and would up their game in the coming year to make their platforms easier for advertisers to business with, North said – but the vast majority of growth in digital advertising would continue to go to Google and Facebook, unless media agencies changed their attitude.
North was speaking at Campaign’s Digital Media Strategies event in London, along with Fiona McKinnon, general manager of The Pangaea Alliance, and Laurel Kaye, head of digital display at Wavemaker, in a discussion chaired by Campaign global editor-in-chief Claire Beale.
The current state of affairs in digital media was the result of laziness and groupthink, North argued.
"The vast majority of time spent on the internet in the UK is on everything other than Facebook and Google, and yet 70% of the adspend goes on those platforms," he said.
"The reason is that with all due respect, humans are fundamentally lazy. It’s far easier to look smart as a marketing director when you present one single buy.
"While we try to pretend that we work in some clever science-based industry, we are all part of a herd, and it is very difficult to split from the herd," he added. "It takes a brave marketer, a brave agency. As a client I’d expect to see PPC, social, video in my plan – anything else, I’d ask, what’s that?"
Kaye admitted that clients "often expect to see Google and Facebook on plans, and when they don’t they get a little upset, but we as agencies need to be better at communicating what the right answer is."
For example, Wavemaker has done substantial work on the effectiveness of Facebook for video and concluded that "if it’s over 10 seconds, it shouldn't really be going on Facebook," she said.
The panel also discussed how media owners could best collaborate for mutual benefit. McKinnon, whose sales alliance includes brands such as The Guardian, Reuters and The Week, argued that the starting point had to be the needs of advertisers, rather than publishers.
"We’re not going to be right for everyone," she said. "You shouldn’t just start something up, throw it at the wall and see what sticks. We’ve found a niche, we know which advertisers we’re right for. We know the brands we represent represent transparency, quality and trust."
Last year saw the collapse of attempts by the major news publishers to unite their print ad sales – but North said that should not be seen as a portent for a similar outcome in digital.
"Cooperation is far easier in a growing market," he said. "In a shrinking market, that watering hole is getting smaller and smaller and to let the other person drink first is always a challenge. We’re all growing in digital, we’re just not growing enough."