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Post-lockdown craft skills

26 May 2020  |  Bob Wootton 
Post-lockdown craft skills

It's time to start again by reclaiming the great things adland has lost, writes Bob Wootton. Plus: an ex-ISBA director's view on the programmatic supply chain report

TV viewing, shared viewing, newspaper readership (albeit largely digital) and radio listening during lockdown are all up.  And there are significant changes in online consumption towards news, retail and entertainments.

A great time, therefore, for Mediatel to be running its excellent digital lockdown events, including this month’s Future of Media Trading (viewable on-demand here now).  The success of the series offers food for thought when it comes to the practicality and nature of future physical events if, as and when lockdown and social distancing requirements relax.

All these vectors augur well for a renaissance for advertising – if the creative is up to it.  Big challenge.

The Golden Age of advertising, which is widely accepted to have started with Doyle Dane Bernbach in the US and Collett Dickenson Pearce in the UK, is still celebrated and rightly so.

The wave included once or still great names like:

Boase Massimi Pollitt (its genes now deep within Adam&Eve DDB, so Omnicom) …

Gold Greenlees Trott (if you don’t read Dave Trott on Campaign or follow him on Twitter, I suggest you do) …

Wight Collins Rutherford Scott (now subsumed into Engine) …

Abbott Mead Vickers (now AMV BBDO, Omnicom again) …

Bartle Bogle Hegarty (semi-autonomous within Publicis) …

…and several more.

These agencies applied a scriptwriter’s attention to broadcast copy and a film director’s eye to visuals.  In print, intelligent (sometimes highbrow) and often long copy, obsessive layout and use of typography.  Always delivered with a tone that embodied humility, patience, good humour…  And clarity and wit - it was a heyday for billboards too.

And hell, at least one agency got away with recording a radio commercial for a tobacco brand in New York “because of the light”.

Apart from this last example of pure, delightful agency mischief of bygone times, all of this gave rise to much advertising that treated its viewer or reader with care and respect.

The lower number of brands able to afford TV meant less clutter and frequencies of exposure that today’s planners can only dream of.

Yes, nostalgia has its part to play in this reverence for older times, as does harking back to a simpler, more fun and sometimes (ok, often) drunker ways.

But these alone aren’t enough.  The real reason these times are remembered so fondly is that the advertising worked and was often loved.

Contrast with today.

If it wasn’t invented in the last six months and by a twentysomething hipster, it doesn’t exist.

Sorry guys, your stuff doesn’t exist any better in real peoples’ minds than the stuff you so assiduously deny.

The only ads that are anticipated now are retailers’ Christmas ads, that category mercifully having been reinvented by Adam&Eve for John Lewis.  Even Apple and Nike have lost their shine.  As for Coke, well…

On the ‘bright’ side, we have the moral, albeit lucrative, filth of wall-to-wall gambling ads after the watershed.

So how about we make it ok to talk about things that are more than six months old?  That aren’t crowdsourced, crowdfunded, hipster…

...or online.

Craft skills.

This applies to media too.  I don’t take a moment’s issue with the eminences Brian Jacobs or @NickManning64, both of whom argue for the re-emergence to sovereignty of media strategy and planning.

Automation and auctioning will close the performance gaps between media buyers and narrower targeting renders commoditised, mass-market price comparisons redundant, re-creating space for more thoughtful comms planning that was ever possible before because the tools are so much better.

Let’s give it a push and re-focus on making advertising people enjoy, want and whose interventions in their desired programme material they are more than prepared to tolerate.

And while we’re at it, let’s repurpose the declining alpha trader breed and set them loose on the procurement people, who frankly really deserve them.  If only it was an equal fight, I’d gladly pay for tickets to watch.


And while we’re at it…

…there are murmurs in the trades of some kind of concerted push back against clients’ excessive, mainly commercial demands - extremely late payment and continuous debate over work in contract scope and ownership of pitch materials being the main ones.

Concerted action in setting (minimum) prices is illegal, but a united front against such misbehaviours may not be.  One for the industry’s lawyers, I hope there is a way.  I’ve witnessed (and was sometimes called to stand up for) too much bad behaviour from clients in my time, exacerbated these days by seizing the “opportunities” afforded by Covid19.  Yuk.


A view on ISBA's supply chain report

I imagine people would expect me to weigh in on the ISBA’s snappily-named Programmatic Supply Chain Transparency Study, ‘powered’ by PwC.

I’m trying very hard not to say “told you so”, but the wonderful AdContrarian has done that for me.

It’s a duck shoot, but I’ll try to be brief :

- It took a year to set up, another to run and reputedly overran its funding (by 15 leading advertisers) tenfold.  There’s a strong sense in the introduction that this was absorbed by PwC.  We should be thankful even if they are big enough to do so.

- They clearly encountered every kind of deliberate hindrance and obfuscation, the surest telltale of a dodgy market, for example :

- Widespread “chicken and egg permissioning” – the kind of circular relationships that are widespread in bureaucratic states (India, Russia) or corrupt banana republics and dictatorships.

- A complete lack of standards further hindered progress, the first thing that ISBA and its newly-formed task force will seek to address.

- Only 31m of 267m impressions could be matched due to ‘data quality’.  This, in the “most-targetable medium we have ever seen”.  The generous would call this gross negligence; the sane, well...

- On top of all the (known) fees and skims, PwC couldn’t account for 15% of adspend.  In one of the great euphemisms of our day, they call this “the unknown delta”.  This makes it sound so much less harmful than what it is – misappropriation of advertiser funds at scale.

- Some of the “verification fees’ are pretty eye-watering too, dwarfing visible agency fees for example.  What are the “tech verification vendors” actually selling if what they peddle is so “porous”, ie crap?  Fortunately, there are some better actors in this space….

- Less ‘shrinkage” was understandably found in the slightly more orderly video and private marketplaces than in display and open markets.

Anyone who is anyone knows that the issues raised have been known for years. 

This study covers the premium, orderly, part of the market.  The long tail will doubtless be far, far worse.  Nepalese calendars online, anyone?  Nor does it cover ad fraud and fake impressions – THEY’RE ADDITIONAL.

But no-one has done anything about it.

How publishers have allowed their business to go down the Swanee while rubbing along with it could be explained by sheer desperation in the face of a revenue landslide into online.

There’s no apparent GAFA involvement, unless via likely stakes in intermediaries.

Agency participation is limited to several network shops, probably because their major clients were involved and required them to.  Given their centrality to the issue, they and their representatives have been conspicuously silent to date.  As I write, only independent Goodstuff have weighed in with a typically comprehensive and frank commentary and something from the7stars, also independent, is expected imminently.

Contrasted with the wafer-thin margins that media agencies punt in order to win (or keep) business from procurement-led marketers, the 8-odd per cent average fees for each of SSP’S and DSPS raise an eyebrow or three.

Until we remember that many have direct or indirect interests in, or kickback relationships with intermediaries and so can pitch at a loss knowing they will recoup (it emerges handsomely) down the value chain.

The Lumascape may be complicated enough already but to get further we’ll need to know ownerships and interests.  This should be on ISBA’s proposed taskforce’s workplan.

The best the representatives of programmatic could do in last week’s Future of Trading event was to go into a jargon huddle and sidestep the issue.  (At least they were in vision, unlike the dry audio-only ISBA/PwC sesh earlier).

So to advertisers, who (should) have no interest in where their money goes beyond ensuring it is in the best place for the task in hand.  This makes them the only near-objective players in the value chain.  But their near-universal indulgence is far harder to explain.

If they don’t challenge - I’m not talking about another “celebrity” CMO’s trite showboat keynote at ANA or Cannes here, but real interrogations, probably led by CFOs – then nothing will change and this cesspool will continue to swill around until a regulator takes an interest (as the report suggests might happen).

This report is just a belated beginning.  Pursuing it will demand a lot more time and money because many will be doing their level best to ensure its findings simply evaporate.

But the sums at stake for advertisers (and the losses for publishers and to quality journalism) are enormous and it effectively amounts to widespread fraud.  No?  Ok, what would you call it, then?

Publishers and advertisers are the critical parties.  If they link, every overall loss in the value chain can be quantified precisely, if not yet broken down, identified and attributed.

Bravo ISBA for initiating, PwC for facilitating, AOP for participating, giving the study scale at the publisher end.  Advertisers, through ISBA, must now ensure it also has scale at their end.

Put less diplomatically, come on advertisers, wake up and fucking man up (if one is still allowed to say such a thing).

Pip pip!


@bobwootton

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