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Advertising's standing is being diminished

02 Jun 2015  |  Bob Wootton 
Advertising's standing is being diminished

From thoughtless and hectoring advertising on TV to the negative impact of an overly heavy ad load on the online experience, it's time the industry got its house in order, writes ISBA's Bob Wootton.

BBC radio started to report a fatal speedboat accident in Brixham harbour on May bank holiday Sunday morning, almost exactly two years after Sky executive Nick Milligan and his family were involved in a similar occurrence in Cornwall which had tragic consequences.

I have a close friend with a house and a speedboat there so I put in an urgent call and was fortunately quickly reassured. I also tried to find out more about the accident and where better than local newsbrand the Western Daily Press' website.

Information was still coming in, but the functionality of the site was not at all good. This was because the page I was looking for was stuffed full of ads, some static and clearly targeted programmatically and in real time to me, many rich media and autoplay video.

Even on my fast broadband connection these really interfered with page loading and navigation. Had I been on my mobile, it would have been quite exasperating.

It was what people call a seriously shit experience at a point when I wanted information simply and very quickly. And it really caused me to reflect on the industry we represent and how it behaves these days.

At the Advertising Association's Lead conference earlier in the year, we heard that popular favour towards advertising which had been pretty solid and static for many years is now in decline.

During the recent and long recession, I found myself noticing more and more ads resembling brochure copy, too often shouting product features with insufficient regard for viewers' interests or sentiments. I rationalised this as the consequence of an economic environment in which agencies felt forced to accede to their clients' demands for such inclusions.

We know that advertising's strongest effects can also be quite long-term and that viewers en masse are fairly inert and tolerant unless provoked, so none of this has very much effect in isolation, but when everyone's at it over sufficiently long period of time, it starts to show.

For my money, advertising's reported demise is down to two main things - too much poor, thoughtless, hectoring advertising on TV and the negative impact of an overly heavy ad load on the online experience. Especially in mobile, where usage is rising steeply.

Both have connections to a rise in supply of inventory. Granted, publishers can't get upwards of £20k for a page so easily any more - it's a couple of quid cpm instead these days. That's certainly a reason to as much of the stuff as they can, but is it a good reason?

Judging by the froth around it, everybody's obsessing with programmatic even when it's neither relevant nor applicable. But who is stepping back to really think about what they're doing, why and most importantly how it will be noticed and better-received.

Industry luminary Richard Eyre made some related observations at the same event which I bridled at in my role as one of the industry's leading advocates, but the more I reflect, the more I find myself agreeing with much of what he said.

Events haven't helped. Just recently, the mainstream press has covered:

- a major travel company's serious public relations hash of a serious compensation issue

- overly-aggressive charity marketing blamed for the demise of a civically-minded pensioner

- brand safety and ad fraud crossing into the public's awareness

- a respected US investment analyst downgrading his buy recommendations for the ad holding groups on the basis of transparency concerns

This has got to change and it's down to all of us to play our part.

Agility

I get quite a few calls from advertisers concerned about missing their TV audience targets as cost inflation returns, some of it down to declining audiences but most to resurgent advertiser demand.

It's a double-edged sword and slightly perverse - the sensitive bellwether of adspend is confirming that the economy is coming back strongly which is broadly good for business and the consumer economy, yet some people within it are missing their narrower KPIs as a result.

Meanwhile, all these calls confirm that the industry's ability to predict the market remains quite poor. A while back I raised the idea of remunerating media agencies in part on the accuracy of their forecasts and I've suggested this to a number of advertisers already.

I also commented on the annualised trading mechanism that has evolved through industry consolidation (which continues with Sky now handling Five's airtime sales for Viacom). Perhaps it's become rather too ossified, in that it robs many budgets of their agility in the marketplace.

I'm quite surprised that no-one has weighed in yet. So come on folks, how about it?

Vlogging

I've been involved in quite a few conversations around vlogging recently.

ISBA met with Marcus Butler, the UK's #3 vlogger, recently and he impressed us - a really sorted and charming guy. We couldn't believe how much he achieves by himself - he obviously works very hard at what he loves doing.

The hot topic for vloggers and advertisers alike is how to get involved with each other. Many advertisers are dead keen to use the channel and the vloggers smell serious money. It's tough for both sides to strike what is a very delicate balance, though in my view it's even tougher for the vloggers - one step too far and they're damaged goods in the eyes of a fickle audience.

The ASA was pricked into action last year by a vlog which didn't declare Oreos' commercial interest and therefore drew some complaints. New rules were written and some guidelines issued. But now other advertisers, even those who are declaring their interest in vlogs or even launching whole branded YouTube channels, seem to be getting caught by some quite inconsistent interpretation by the ASA Council.

It's not the first time advertisers have been caught by the industry's self-regulator learning to cope with new environments on the job, and the ASA isn't in a popularity contest, but its credibility will be challenged if it doesn't get its story straight.

Corruption

The dawn raids on senior FIFA personnel represent a new and graver chapter of a saga that has been rumbling with increasing vigour for some time.

Readers and friends (you know who you are, let's meet in the phone box on the corner of Trafalgar Square later) will know that I have a near-total sport bypass so I hesitate to weigh in. But the relevance, adjacency to our industry and number of players common to both require that I do.

The major global brand sponsors are absolutely right to resurface and escalate the concerns they have been expressing for some time. Even if they stop short of pulling out for now and settle for words like reassess, review, reconsider and perhaps even suspend, protraction can't be good for them and their brands' reputations. Withdrawal would be a very public way of (re)asserting their own probity.

bobs

Courtesy The Times, 29-5-15

Broadcasters will be even more torn over potentially severing links with the ultimate prime content asset.

But am I alone in seeing parallels we would be wise to pay some attention to? I've written before and will doubtless do so again on advertiser concerns around transparency. Like the FIFA issue, there's blanket denial from the perpetrators and tracing transgressions is fraught.

Any conversation on said topic usually quickly moves to how lucky we are that our game is so clean in this market. We often flatter ourselves, though there's little doubt that it's far worse in many other markets and the US are now finally cottoning on to just how flawed their market is too.

But many of the issues - undisclosed rebates and kickbacks, beautiful Kentish kitchens etc - are similar. Just saying.

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Tim Greatrex, Founder, Rezonence on 3 Jun 2015
“Bob I am not qualified any more to debate rebates or agency remuneration packages but I can agree that the web advertising experience is poor and needs an overhaul. Not just for the reader but also for the publisher, journalists and advertisers alike. Publishers need to earn more for premium content (£2cpm is a race to the bottom), journalists and editors want/need to be noticed and advertisers need to increase effectiveness. Imagine seeing one powerful ad a month that generates double the ad-recall engaging with it for 2-3 seconds and then having pure editorial! Yes engagement based advertising can deliver a micro-payment mechanism that will deliver publisher big and I mean big increases in revenue. Oh and the editors and journo's could bet a bigger uncluttered canvas to play with... Have a look at Rezonence FreeWall (shameless plug I know!) Cheers Tim”

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