Paradoxical planning in the digital age
Contradictions in media planning often see agencies caught between two schools of thought. They're not binary choices though, as Mediacom UK's head of planning James Parnum explains
The best media planning sees the bigger picture.
This means taking a step back and looking at all elements of the plan - be that creative and media, traditional and digital channels, short and long-term objectives, cultural and individual moments, effectiveness and efficiency, paid and non-paid channels, the flare and craft of execution.
However, as an industry, we are often guilty of not taking in the full view. A case in point is the current crisis in effectiveness, which has been posited by ladders, lemons and leaders – all by and large from a creative perspective.
Through a bigger picture lens we can see that this crisis in effectiveness is as much a media one.
Indeed, media planning in the digital age has thrown up a number of planning paradoxes that are paralysing our thinking. This is because the digital age has transformed everything about how we plan, implement, and activate, but also nothing at the same time.
As a result, we are often caught between conflicting schools of thoughts.
Let’s define a few of the key ones now.
Brands have never been stronger or more vulnerable
Brands have never been as valuable, but equally as fragile in the digital age that they now operate within.
On the one hand, the strongest brands continue to deliver the greatest shareholder return - 17% higher, while on the other every market is vulnerable to digital upstarts, monopolies and behaviours – with every category under threat.
The opportunity and risk posed by the digital age is very real. Thus, while brands will continue to grow, this growth is never far from being redirected requiring a simultaneous media strategy of both attack and defend.
Growth requires consistency and disposability
Brands have always accrued power through consistency. However, in a world of fragmented, distracted audiences you also need to plan for disposability. This is because the “half-life” of content now can vary from only a matter of minutes on Twitter, hours on Facebook, weeks on YouTube and even years on blog posts.
This poses an interesting conundrum for media planning of how to embrace a strategy that dually needs to balance the immediate and disposable, with the long-term and consistent.
But, as Tom Roach has reminded us all, brands need to continuously refresh mental availability, and disposable assets (if played to their strengths) will help here and complement the need for consistency.
Today’s culture means we need to be ‘consistently adaptable’
Culture has always built brands, and brands have built culture. However, the internet and algorithms have accelerated the fragmentation of both mainstream and sub-cultures making it harder than ever before to get a single message across to a large number of people quickly.
Therefore, how can brands create universal cultural recognition in an increasingly atomised world?
One answer is to loosen control and let plans be malleable, as brands that plan for adaptation have more chance to spread across digital platforms.
The recent launch of eBay’s ‘Small Businesses United’ is an exemplary case in point. It is not only a perfect cultural partnership with over 140 small businesses supporting over 140 small clubs, but the activation has been firmly handed over to real fans whose grassroots businesses will replace mainstream sponsors. A crowdsourcing platform has also been built with Ralloo to enable more fans to get involved and more clubs to receive micro-sponsorships. A win-win as they say.
Culture now travels faster so brands will need to build communication systems that are less rigid and precious, and more agile and adaptable by anyone and everyone.
Use less data in the era of data
In the pre-digital age, context was media planning 101. TV had the power of peak and position in break, printed titles aligned brands to editorial and passion points, and outdoor was all location, location, location. The space you occupied really mattered.
But somewhere along the road we lost sight of the power of context in the rush to buy billions of data-led digital impressions. The who mattered more than the where.
Yet, in the future post-cookie world, context will matter more than ever (even if more by stick than by carrot) with Apple’s battle with privacy and Google’s (eventual) third-party cookie changes.
The smartest clients are already gaining a competitive advantage via context, such as Lloyds Banks’ ‘Crossword Clues’ which challenged the intellects of older, wealthier customers amongst the crossword pages, Tesco’s ‘No Naughty List’ landmark as live Christmas partnership with I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, or Eve Sleep mattress’ ‘Switch Off’ which made the most of Sunday evenings being the worse day of the week for sleep.
The balance for power between context and data will continue to ebb and flow over the coming years, but regardless of how things pan out (the tables will turn again no doubt) the art of the possible should never obscure the message, medium or context.
The digital age is full of these planning paradoxes. The trick is to identify them, but crucially resist the temptation to pick a side. They are not binary choices.
Great media planning, like most things in life, is neither black or white, and should embrace the shades of grey.
Only bigger picture thinking will help you here.