Are We Becoming Small?

Dream no small dreams for they have no power to
move the hearts of men.
-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Johann-Wolfgang-von-GoetheI believe it is time to step back from the online marketing mindset to ask a simple question; are we becoming less worthy of big ideas because we expend so much time chasing minutia?

This is not a rhetorical question. Online marketing is becoming so granular and data driven that few big ideas are emerging that can break through the marketing noise. I think the Vedics had it right when they said that we become our attention.

The best of human progress comes from our dreams. It should surprise no one that the best marketing and advertising emanates from wonder and dreams. Yet any cursory overview of the online marketing landscape reveals a disproportionate obsession with smaller and smaller issues.

Forget about what the trades tell you about dramatic increases in ad expenditures for the industry. While the IAB is busy glad-handing and touting a 23% increase in spending, they completely ignore the fact that unsold advertising inventory is increasing at four times that rate. Trade publications are just as guilty, often touting the latest algorithmic tour de force as a means to no proven end.

I am increasingly bored by the “revolutionaries” who promote relevance and better targeting methodologies as significant steps forward rather than as the contrived means to attract media attention in the pursuit of capital that they really are. The two often appear to be joined at the hip in an incestuous mating dance. Capital chases the spreadsheet driven solutions for marketing and advertising precisely because those signing the checks are often MBAs who never leave home without a spreadsheet.

We began our online advertising and marketing way back in 1996. Back then, putting our URL under an 800 number for our television commercials was about all we did. In the fifteen years since, we have changed our “schwerpunkt” or “focus of attention” many times. What we do with our labor, time and capital matters. Proper allocation of resources is critical for sustainability.

I find it somewhat curious that so many resources are allocated to such small-minded pursuits. I mean this with every fiber of my being. This is a recurring theme in my writings. Have we lost our connection to wonder? Have we set the bar so low for ourselves that we now believe revolution lies in improving a click through rate from .08% to .1%?

Today’s offering began with a Goethe quote and will end on a similar note, this time from the renowned architect from Chicago, Daniel Burnham. It is a cry for us to think big and dream no small dreams.

Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood
and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans;
aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical
diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are
gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing
insistency. Remember that our sons and grandsons are going
to do things that would stagger us. Let your watchword be
order and your beacon beauty. Think big.
–Daniel Burnham, (1846-1912)

About Jaffer Ali

Jaffer Ali is the CEO of e-commerce company, He is a serial entrepreneur who has touched every part of the online ecosystem since 1998. Jaffer is known as a contrarian thought leader who has contributed over 250 essays to industry trades covering every aspect of online media and marketing topics. A collection of his essays can be downloaded for free: Chasing String In The Digital Era.


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