Protectionism in media must be stopped

11 Apr 2017  |  Duncan Trigg 
Protectionism in media must be stopped

Only a free, open and honest process can help digital media reach its true potential, writes Duncan Trigg

With the world of digital media now on an unstoppable train towards transparency, it’s easy for people to get complacent.

P&G’s Marc Pritchard made his already famous speech calling for change, to much applause from across the media industry. The big players have started to go into ultra defence mode, bending over backwards to try and prove that they are trustworthy and transparent.

But transparency isn’t just about siphoning money from the advertisers’ budgets, it’s also about the relevance of the media being purchased. Nobody denies that companies need to make money, but the level of markup has become unacceptable. And we must not let ourselves become desensitised to it.

The resultant ‘protectionism’, which prevents the free flow of information throughout the buying process, has the biggest impact on the industry. If advertisers are happy with the rates they are paying, people tend to turn a blind eye to how those involved make their ‘cut’.

But the whole campaign can and should work much harder, with a ‘joined up approach’ that would come with a free flow of information. It’s an imbalance that urgently needs addressing.

Even now, with all this attention and all these gestures, an absolutely shocking amount of money is still being wasted on markup, irrelevant inventory, and poorly optimised advertising. It is not uncommon that for every £1 a publisher receives, the advertiser themselves can be paying up to £4 or even £6.

The rise and fall of media protectionism

It’s clear that our industry has become far too protectionist. We protect the financial models of those in the digital marketing chain, ultimately funded at the expense of the advertisers and publishers.

Take the big media agency groups, set up and positioned as vehicles for leveraging the agency groups’ global buying power.

Since client contracts are with individual agencies, not these group companies, media agencies aren’t contractually obliged to give detailed disclosures. As a result, media spend often gets allocated according to the group’s financial benefit instead of the client’s.

What’s more, trading agreements require a set amount of spend with a supplier. If they’re lagging behind the amount required to qualify for the rebate, media campaigns are adjusted to ensure that target spend is met.

In these situations, it does not matter if it’s the best inventory for the client. It is not surprising then, that protectionism results in a lack of detailed impression-level reporting, and that logins to the DSP are all too often restricted to the client.

There’s no shortage of media planners already demoralised by their own media plans, only to find red-lines struck through them because they don’t fit with trading agreements.

Publishers lose out as well, as the media giants force them into accepting bottom dollar while charging their clients extortionate prices for the same ads.

It’s incredibly frustrating, given that advertising today ought to be more effective, accountable and valuable than ever before. When ads are bought and sold in less than 200 milliseconds and can be targeted with ever more precise accuracy, we have ten times more power at our fingertips.

Yet we’ve somehow managed to be even less effective at delivering value - largely down to these protectionist practices.

This has all contributed to the rise in clients turning to alternative solutions. Media buying is increasingly being brought in-house, while consultancy firms like Accenture are helping to set up in-house trading desks for their clients.

The exodus has started, and will accelerate as more and more clients look to untangle themselves from their existing contracts and buying models. Transparency now seems inevitable, even if that means re-inventing the complex buying model that has rapidly evolved alongside real time bidding.

Why we need to join the dots of media buying

So where do we go from here? Even if you put ethics aside, the current model is failing clients even on a practical level.

Unable to see what’s happening throughout the whole process, advertisers are making decisions based on money spent and money back, without the detail of what inventory really did the work.

The lack of transparency makes it impossible to see what’s working and what’s not, how clients’ money is being used and the impact that the campaign is actually having on the target audience.

The highly siloed nature of the digital industry complicates things even further. Data science, media buying, creative generation and content are either in different departments or more often, different agencies - distant both from each other and the optimisation of the media buying process itself.

The creatives will have their own vision for the campaign, the data people are trying to optimise around their own rationale, while the higher-ups hand down diktats on what can and cannot be bought.

To make advertising work for everyone, we need to join the dots throughout the whole media buying process.

Creatives and buying, need to work with data planners, ideally in the same team. If you can feed the creative team with live data on how the campaign is performing, you can optimise the creative in real-time to boost the performance.

Content creators need to know who is being targeted in real time, allowing the relevance of the content delivered to be tailored to these targeted groups.

With a joined-up process, everyone works together in the best interests of the brand. No markup, no kickbacks. A 100% transparent process where the price you pay for an ad is the price it’s worth and the user experience is more intelligent, consistent and relevant.

Protectionism stops the real effectiveness that can come with digital media. It stops us from being good at our jobs and undervalues the whole industry. Only a free, open and honest process can help digital media reach its true potential.


Duncan Trigg is managing director at OLIVER Media

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