Two weeks back at the IAB networks and exchanges conference in New York City, Doug Weaver used his keynote address to attack complexity as it relates to online ads. He flatly challenged the notion that online advertising needs to be complex, but rather postulated that we, the industry, purposely make it complicated because it makes us feel special. We understand the jargon and the three letter acronyms and having this understanding makes us feel smart.

I admired Doug’s courage for calling out a room full of his peers and advocating for a move toward simplicity.

My thoughts about complexity were redoubled during my weekend escape to Denver this holiday weekend. As I was boarding my Continental Airlines flight from Newark to Denver I waited patiently as the gate operator called on no fewer than 8 special groups of passengers to board the plane before me – each branded with their own special group name:

One pass members
Global services members
United first
United business
Platinum customers
Presidential plus
1k customers
Star alliance gold

It’s probably true that these special groups make the people in those groups feel special. Starwood hotels has done famously well by making it’s customers feel special. But at what point does this overt complexity lead to diminishing returns in satisfying customers and even to outright business inefficiency?

How much must it cost for Continental to maintain 8 separately branded customer loyalty groups?

On the opposite end of the complexity spectrum from Continental, there are some companies that are actually doing quite well building a business on simplicity. Look at Livingsocial and Groupon – local deals at 50% off has to be the simplest business plans out there.

If you can’t explain your business model to someone in less than 100 words – you are losing customers due to complexity.

Keep it simple – Complexity is the enemy

Complexity is the Enemy