Dreaming about digital sheep in an electric haze

27 Aug 2010  |  Greg Grimmer 
Greg Grimmer

Greg Grimmer, partner, Hurrell Moseley Dawson & Grimmer, argues that although online media is "currently very in vogue due to immediate measurability", we can't rely on numbers only - so avoiding becoming a "digital sheep"...

Two pieces of mainstream media news caught my attention this week; the Deloitte report on television (TV advertising is great - online and mobile less so), and WPP's profit figures citing traditional media's fightback against the web as a reason for their rude health. So I thought we could take a look at the some of the aspects that are holding digital media, and indeed digital revenues back.

Or perhaps more truthfully, I will give my view on effectiveness within Digital Media advertising today, and why it is like counting sheep.

Thinking about this, I was reminded of some advice given to me very early in my media planning career by one of my first Planning Directors: "As soon as you spend it, measure it."

The measurement meant wasn't the counting of eyeballs, but the creation of bespoke research to ascertain the positive effect, if any, of the actions of myself and my colleagues.

This simple and effective advice saw me through the first decade or so of my career in the halcyon days before media fragmentation, and certainly before the digital explosion that hastened the onslaught of the information age.

"But what have sheep got to do with anything?" I hear you ask .

Well, the notion of counting sheep to get yourself to sleep is hopefully something you wont be thinking of over the next couple of screens, but those that are interested in ovine metrics might like me have come across the old adage of there being ten sheep for every one person in New Zealand.

"When you are counting in millions, the actual number becomes far less important than the overall picture you are trying to paint... It is worth remembering that we should keep all numbers relevant, and bigger sometimes brings with it less relevance..."

Well, due to the power of god's own interweb you can rest easy. This fact, according to the kiwi governments own website, is indeed true.

Unfortunately, the same site then spends too long telling the WWW audience that this is statistic is contrary to many ill placed Australian notions that there are in fact only three million kiwis and sixty million sheep, a ratio of twenty to one.

You know what guys - twenty to one, ten to one, that's still a lot of woolly friends - and by making the number more accurate it doesn't change the joke.

When you are counting in millions, the actual number becomes far less important than the overall picture you are trying to paint.

If New Zealand Farmers could successful bred and sell sixty million sheep then this would indeed be a better number than forty million. If the natural resources or the market could not take this number then sixty million would be a bad number.

Online marketing, like antipodean sheparding, is full of big numbers. A Google being the biggest number of all of course. But, as we all proceed in our digital lives, it is worth remembering that we should keep all numbers relevant, and bigger sometimes brings with it less relevance.

Whilst it may seem difficult to believe for those of a more tender age, the paucity of information in media was a true phenomenon until at least the mid Nineties. Therefore, the judicious use of quantitative data to ascertain the success and justify the continuation of media investment was a simple but useful lesson.

Now as we enter the second decade of the information age, I am reminded of one of my favourite Oscar Wilde quotes now over one hundred years old but never more apposite: "It is a very sad thing that nowadays there is so little useless information."

Within my new silo free agency I was discussing this phenomenon with an account handler and a copywriter, and all of us were bemoaning the fact that our latest TV commercial wouldn't be judged for four/six months whilst its online cousin was being judged by its click through rate ONE DAY after launching.

As we enter the second decade of the information age, I am reminded of one of my favourite Oscar Wilde quotes: "It is a very sad thing that nowadays there is so little useless information."

The availability of the data means that decisions are often made to change, stop, or amend, far quicker in online than in other media channels.

"Why did you change it? Because I can." This should be the mantra we should all try to avoid.

We shouldn't however be surprised by this. It is with in the professional lifetime of most people in media that decision making, amendment, and approval, has transferred from Royal Mail, to telephone, to fax, to Email.

A process that may once have taken weeks, is now often actioned within hours (if not minutes).

So, the future for the bright, is digital.

We must acknowledge this and that it is a one way street.

There are no negative integers in binary.

We are stuck with a new marketing world that gives us great measurability and crucially immediate measurability.

One of the much returned to debates in marketing strategy, forever highlighted by the always assertive Professor Patrick Barwise is that of Efficiency versus Effectiveness. This debate is never more relevant than in media investment, targeting, and deployment.

Online media - and specifically I will focus here on online media as opposed to the vague term, "digital media" - especially search, and some elements of display, are currently very in vogue due to their immediate measurability.

"Numbers are vital, but to rely on numbers only, or to follow only the biggest most immediate numbers, will only involve lots of worried sleepless nights - even given the presence of electric sheep."

They are also manipulated to become 'more' efficient through a combination of human and technology inputs. Indeed their effectiveness is also trumpeted due to the simplistic ROI that can often be shown in a dollar in / dollar out fashion.

This however is the nub of the issue.

Online media is very good at counting.

E-commerce businesses make a science out of this methodology and indeed Google as the world's largest, most powerful, media owner, built it's 'do no Evil' Empire out of this base simplistic counting process .

However, we should not and indeed must not conclude that, because we can count direct actions (even in dollars, pound or Euros), we are making a positive contribution to the advertising effectiveness debate. Numbers are vital to the role we all play in the marketing process, but to rely on numbers only, or to follow only the biggest most immediate numbers, will only involve lots of worried sleepless nights - even given the presence of electric sheep.

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