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2020 vision

19 Dec 2019  |  Bob Wootton 
2020 vision

Bob Wootton ends the year by collating adland's loose ends in the hope they can find resolution in 2020

I write this the morning after the country voted conclusively for a majority Government and an end to the impasse of the last few years.

Whatever your persuasion or outlook, there’s now at last a reasonable chance we can return to running a country and not just watching our leaders waste time and our taxes squabbling.

For an industry as responsive as ours to the markets, it’s already good news.

However - perhaps as a result of this constipation - we also end the year with more and bigger loose ends than I can recall.  Rather than offer a “please Santa” wish-list, it’s these that I’d like to comment on, particularly as many are informed by the above.

Major companies, whether multinational clients or the dominant tech companies (and the wealthiest individuals) continue to find ways of avoiding tax.  This must be stopped.  France has imposed a 3% tech tax and the UK proposes 2%, though how this relates the ~20% corporation tax I pay escapes me.  A priority for an incoming Government promising serious public expenditure.

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Ad fraud continues, new scams appearing as older ones are fingered and capped.  This will continue until there is concerted strike action by the advertisers whose indifference funds this lucrative arm of global crime.  They have the tools, but not yet the will.

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Established, reputable brands - many fighting for survival in the tech age - are still far from safe online.  Again, this will continue until those very brands adopt a zero tolerance approach towards the entire value chain between them and their audiences.

I often caution how difficult competition law makes concerted action (see below) but believe action in this space might not excite regulatory intervention.

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Despite the sterling efforts led by the IPA and the gradual recognition by at least some in the burgeoning intermediary sector that reverse auctioning is corrosive, skinflinting is still abroad, particularly amongst those who believe they’re big enough to bully, the latest example being ABInbev.  And 150 days’ payment?  F*** off.

Concerted action here would certainly be challenged, so we must hope all the industry’s decent companies (those who do great work and wish to charge properly for it) will demur.

It doesn’t matter how chunky the spend if there’s no margin or satisfaction in it.  Call out the dodgy clients and leave them to dodgy, second-rate ‘partners’ to lose money on.

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There’s been significant activity and progress around accountability and effectiveness, anchored around Peter Field and Les Binet’s work and amplified by representative bodies like Thinkbox, Newsworks et al.

Seems the panacea of online isn’t as shiny as perceived.  Especially for building brands which can sustain margins and avoid commoditisation.  Much more work needed, therefore, to press these messages as further layers emerge.

But even if the argument continues to build overwhelmingly towards an ‘older’ style of advertising and media exposure, it won’t prevail unless the remuneration landscape is levelled.  Tech companies of all stripes make large enough margins (especially if they and their lawyers play fast and loose on societal dimensions like tax, wages, employment) to kick back to unscrupulous advertisers and agencies to buy business.

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Ever since client bodies WFA called for cross-media measurement and ISBA threw its weight in and announced its ‘Origin’ project, the industry has been on notice re metrics. 

But questions:

What exactly is envisaged?  I’ve read all the PR guff but I’m still not clear.  I’d really welcome some real detail.

How practical is it?  Is it just showboating or actually achievable?  Many experts are sceptical it’s even possible.  Mediatel’s well-populated Future TV Conference underlined this - aligning even linear and addressable TV is proving both operationally and politically challenging, so what hope for true cross-media?

And critically, who’s going to pay the likely enormous cost?  DirectLine’s Sam Taylor rightly observes that much is already being spent diversely in the space.  Trouble is, nowhere near enough combined for the industry equivalent of the conversations around the NHS…

Whatever their pronouncements, as long as advertisers see such metrics as a vendor cost of sale, vendors will control them.  Getting them to co-fund something that may bring them bad news will be, shall we say, a struggle.

Having been one the protagonists in my past life, I’m expect the current perps to bury this one quietly when reality bites.

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Alongside AI, blockchain has borne the brunt of industry humour despite promising real solutions to a number of current woes.  There’s no shortage of interest amongst the industry bodies, though they’ve chosen different  partners.  Expect some real progress both with uptake and also consolidation in 2020.

Isn’t it funny how things invert if you wait long enough?  One of my first tasks for ISBA a generation ago was to get more ad minutes on commercial TV.  Vigorously resisted by broadcasters and agencies, advertisers had to wait many years before the non-terrestrials’ audiences and higher minutage and the ‘infinite supply’ of online and VOD helped.

Now, in a desperate gambit to attract more revenue, the same broadcasters are petitioning to be allowed to sell more airtime.  Jeez.  To complete the perverse symmetry, advertisers should oppose this.  Just as we’re learning that channels with limited advertising deliver greater effect is not the right time to be tending towards the unappealing US analogue.

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To all my readers and their dearest, a very good Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

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