In an ideal world, publishing and advertising executives would realize that without the other, they don’t have a prayer.  That’s “ideally speaking.” Realistically, each party thinks it’s the main event.

Ever since working in the media business, I’ve worn two hats: a content maker and a revenue generator.  I like, appreciate and respect both sides of the coin, but if I were to speak truthfully, I’d argue that no self-respecting advertising exec would be particularly proud of where advertising is today.  Let me explain.

Let’s face it, advertising is more art than science, and right now the art is floundering and the science is one downward spiral to the lowest common denominator. It’s increasingly efficient, sure – but I’m not sure if (at the macro level) it’s all that effective, creative, or much else.

The last great advertising innovation was indeed Google’s AdSense (and as far as innovation goes, that was lifted from, which in turn just applied classifieds to Web search).  And, that was search, i.e. direct response.  Branding – let alone branded content – is on its eight mulligan, it would appear.

Of course, part of the problem/opportunity is fragmentation, which has led to what we now call programmatic buying (PB). In case you’re wondering, PB is an automated approach to media buying through demand-side platforms, trading desks and advertising exchanges at the expense of traditional methods (RFPs, negotiations, IOs).

It is convenient, given the Web’s high level of fragmentation –but any media buyer who thinks she is doing a brand a favor by serving up an ad “anytime, anyplace, to anyone” based on data alone is crazy and would never get my advertising budget. Meanwhile, anyone who rigidly ignores the other side of the debate is equally foolish.

Last month, we asked whether programmatic buying would lead to the death of the salesman.  It’s worth noting that everything once believed dead is thriving (or at least, surviving and partying like it’s 1999).  Case in point: the 30-second ad spot isn’t dying by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s becoming increasingly ignored both on television and online – so marketers will eventually adopt online ads as a younger generation takes the helm of the decision-making process and budgets.  I think it’s less about marketing dollars pursuing audiences, and more about who’s making the decision.  With an increasingly young and digitally native CMO running the show, it is a matter of time (or so they say).

Ultimately advertising falls into two buckets: those that may be bought programmatically, and those that aren’t really made to fit into a cookie-cutter process.  An example of that is native advertising, the latest buzzword — which, to quote a wise man, is half-hype, half-need.

It’s no surprise to see the buzz and excitement around native advertising: being able to take a perpetually money-losing proposition like content creation and make it profitable is something that will get many people excited. But whether or not we deliver on that promise remains to be seen.

The reality is that advertising is overrated in every sense of the word.  What is underrated?  Ultimately, it’s helpful to think of the 4 Ps of marketing: product, promotion, price and place.  Advertising of course falls under promotion.   Increasingly, advertising is ignored at best and mocked at worst.  The product (or service) is paramount, with customer service and word-of-mouth (a form of promotion, and amplified through social media) completing the equation more often than not.  I know what the cynics will think when reading that: how can one inform the consumer about the product/service without advertising?  That’s a  valid argument. Advertising is important, of course, but its influence is small in both a relative and absolute sense. Yet, as a global $500 billion industry, it has a massive economic impact.

Conversely, content’s influence is compounded when you consider that it’s historically been a money-losing endeavor, whose creators are underpaid, ridiculed and questioned until they attain the pinnacle of their trade.  It’s a tragedy.

The Greeks invented the tragedy.  Too bad they didn’t have better advertising back then.