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Dominic Mills 

Adland inflation basket: Cannes out, Greggs in

Adland inflation basket: Cannes out, Greggs in

Dominic Mills reviews the goods and services that adland will either ditch or embrace this year, as economic necessity demands. Plus: The IAB's 'meta' research fail

The annual ONS inflation basket, published last week, always offers a fascinating picture of British socio-economic trends.

Out of this year’s basket go items like pork pies, small TVs, camcorders, full-leg waxes and Edam cheese.

In come quiche, high chairs, girls’ leggings, prepared mashed potato (Smash - hooray) and raspberries. You can get the full lowdown here from tables two and three.

But imagine if this exercise was carried out in adland. What would be in, and what would be out? You will have your own views, but here are my suggestions.

Cannes - Out

This is not a negative comment about Cannes in and of itself, but it is clear that adland will be spending less on Cannes this year, and its effect on the inflation basket will be muted in three ways. First, Cannes has kept awards entry levels and tickets at the same or lower prices this year; second, fewer agencies will be attending (after all, if Publicis has banned itself from entering, it stands to reason it won’t be sending any delegates...doesn’t it?); and third, adland demand for the Euro will fall, and given the relative strengths of the £/€, this can only be good for adland inflation.

Greggs - In

Money not spent in Cannes can be recycled into more entertaining of clients and staff. But not in pricey restaurants. Oh no. Instead, hoping to get a bigger bang for their entertainment buck, agencies will spend more money in places like Greggs. They win in two ways. First, clients will appreciate the appearance of thrift; and second, agencies can claim trips to Greggs as ‘ethnographic research’, on the basis they are observing consumers in a natural habitat.

Note: a) this does not apply to KFC and b) this does not apply to any agency or individual entertaining me.

Awards schemes - In

The last few years have been marked by a proliferation of awards schemes and categories (e.g. Best Use of a Sausage Roll - Greggs or other - in a Programmatic or Data-driven Campaign). This will continue, especially as awards organisers seek to capitalise on agencies desperate for a bauble but who are giving Cannes a miss.

In addition, on the basis that awards schemes are far more lucrative for publishers than, well, publishing stuff like news, and capitalising on Cannes’ absence, entry prices will rise.

Original research by media owners and trade bodies - Out

Original media-owner research is expensive and, for media owners trying to get the jump on their rivals, carries the additional jeopardy that it might not produce the desired results. Instead, we’ll see more ‘meta’ research, which is quick and dirty, and more open to manipulation (see IAB research story below).

Diversity/bias training - In

If it wasn’t too late to start a new career, I’d reinvent myself as a trainer or consultant in areas like diversity, unconscious bias exclusion, sexual etiquette and so on. Demand from agencies will soar as they become increasingly desperate to avoid headlines of the kind that hit The&Partnership last week.

Liability/gender pay consultants - In

C4 News ran a thoroughly enjoyable interview with squirming ITN boss (maker of the programme) John Hardie last week in which, under pressure from a female journalist, he comprehensively failed to explain why ITN’s gender pay gap was 20%.

Given that this figure will be higher across many parts of adland (media agencies possibly excepted), gender pay consultants will be rejoicing to the sound of ‘Kerching’. Expect a similar gold-rush for lawyers specialising in liability (pay/harassment/bias/diversity) cases.

‘Platinum’ event tickets - In

You’d think, wouldn’t you, that the act of purchasing a ticket to an industry event (AdWeek/Cannes etc) would be sufficient to get you entry to the things you want to go to? Well, no. It doesn’t work like that any more. We’ve all been to, say, AdWeek and queued patiently in a dark and cold corridor to attend that ‘must-see’ event, only to be turned away (“Sold out. Sorry. Next time get here earlier.”).

Instead, and without quite knowing how you go there, you find yourself bored stupid in a session about ‘Next-gen Meta Consumers’ or some such. No more. Buy an Adweek Platinum ticket for a bargain £1,999.00 - a mere £1,150 more than the ‘Super Delegate’ ticket, and £1,500 more than than the ‘Standard’. Now that’s what I call proper inflation. You may still have got into a deadly-dull event, but at least you’re with a better class of delegate.

Full disclosure: 1. I ‘repurposed’ - ok, let’s be honest, nicked - this column idea from Giles Smith in last Saturday’s Times. 2. I have 200 Greggs shares.

Research that goes nowhere

Media-owner research tends to fall into two buckets: the pointlessly self-serving; and that which expands our understanding of media consumption, effectiveness or socio-economic forces affecting either (or both) the former. The second category may also contain elements of ‘they would say that, wouldn’t they?’, but is usually secondary to the bigger picture.

Into the latter bucket we can put anything by Peter Field and Les Binet; stuff from Thinkbox (on ROI); Ebiquity and Game Theory, Magnetic (influencers), Newsworks (ROI and trust), Trinity Mirror (Modal Britain) and, as with last week, the Radiocentre.

If the research raises more questions than it answers, then it’s probably a fail.

And then last week saw the IAB produce some research into online display and video, driven by - as the IAB put it - a desire "to understand, at a very general level, whether digital display (including video) is effective".

I just love that “at a very general level” caveat because, well, that’s what it is if you are being generous.

You can read a short version here.

The results (average uplifts vs controls):

Unaided awareness average uplift of 12%

Brand perception +2%

Education (i.e. better understanding of the brand/product/service) +3%

Sales intent +3%

Whether these results are good is beside the point. What intrigues me is the basis of the research, which the IAB describes as ‘meta’. This is a new term to me, but one dictionary description in this context is research that analyses other research but at a higher level. In this case, it means the IAB took a load of other research projects into digital display and video and analysed those. In other words, second-hand or old research.

Indeed it is, based in this case on previous research by Kantar Millward Brown, On Device Research (that’s the name of a research company) and RAM. Between them, they had studies of 675 campaigns between 2008-2017.

I don’t know about you, but researching online display from 2008 seems pretty pointless. It’s like comparing transport now with the Steam Age.

What’s going on here? It feels like, with mounting concern about the effectiveness of online, IAB members have had a fit of the vapours and demanded an instant defence of their business models.

Desperate to keep them happy, the IAB has gone for a quick-and-dirty solution, dressed up as ‘meta’.

And since it adds nothing to our understanding, it’s pointless. Specifically:

1) Are these solus campaigns? If not, what was the affect of other channel activity?

2) Without budget and/or timescale information, how can anyone make a judgement about relative impact (i.e. what would the money have achieved spent somewhere else?) or even ROI (Note: many of other industry have studies have copious absolute and relative ROI figures)?

3) How is recall tested? Is it immediately after exposure or some time later?

4) What other studies might they have looked at, particularly the possibility of excluding some where the results were weaker?

As one experienced practitioner told Mediatel: “It’s like proclaiming you’re a brilliant athlete without explaining whether it took you 30 minutes or three hours to run that five miles.”

If we are to be generous, let us just say that at least the digital industry is engaging with the issue of brand metrics rather than just wanging on about click-through rates.

P.S. The IAB has responded to some of the questions I asked before the column was published. It says:

1. The research was commissioned in December 2017 with analysis in Q1 2018.

2. It was commissioned to answer a question it hears a lot from the industry - is digital effective?

3. Of the 675 campaigns studied covering the period 2008-2017, 530 were from 2014 onwards.

4. The control Vs exposed methodology that sits behind the headline results of the research accounts for the fact that other channels like TV or radio may have been used. This gives us confidence that the positive uplifts were indeed driven by online advertising.

5. The methodology used here limited our understanding to purchase intent, consideration and footfall uplift (proxy measures for brand building and sales). Our IMPACT research specifically looks at the ROI digital delivers for a smaller sample of FMCG advertisers.

6. Recall testing depended on the methodology from the research provider but was typically tested within 48 hours of campaign exposure.

7. No campaigns were specially selected or omitted. We wanted to understand how a cross section of digital campaigns performed on average over the time period.

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GeorgeHopkinson, Senior Research and Project Manager, IAB UK on 19 Mar 2018
“Thanks very much for taking the time to read the overview of our research. At the IAB, we absolutely see the value in bringing together effectiveness data from different research companies, publishing it for the first ever time and shedding light on the question “is online advertising effective?”. We also feel ‘meta’ describes our approach pretty accurately, as we collated the results from 675 different research studies. That's the only reason we used this word.

If you’d like to discuss further please drop me a note

SteveDoyle, CCO, InSkin Media on 19 Mar 2018
“Hi Dominic,
Inskin Media has over the years attempted repeatedly to push the boundaries on both media owner and trade body research. In a market that is cluttered and advertisers often use lower common denominator metrics like CTR, our agenda is to think about how advertising works and challenge the status quo of agency/client thinking. All very grandiose I'm sure you'll say, but if we don't try then digital advertising will just become a DR ( often poorly executed) hotbed that the naysayers purport that it is.
My question to you is, if both Media Owner research AND Trade Body research is OUT, what do you suggest that companies like ours to make the points we wish to make outside of our commercial messaging, where we are attempting to understand the ecosystem we work in, not just say "our format is better than your formate". Please do have a look at our Insight and let us know what you think. I think it would be a terrific shame to discount both forms and hope someone else makes our point for us. Love your column. SD”
KevinHurdwell, Managing Partner, Acumen Media Partners LLP on 19 Mar 2018
“"meta" - just another of those terms (like "Scientist") applied to propositions in an effort to buy credibility.
Look for where the self interest lies in any proposition, and you will soon work out where the faults lie.”
karenjones, CEO, jones publishing ltd (Citywealth) on 19 Mar 2018
“So does Greggs work for vegans?”