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We should be sceptical about the amount of money being ploughed online

03 May 2016  |  Bob Wootton 
We should be sceptical about the amount of money being ploughed online

Too much of what happens in the digital world defies gravity, writes Bob Wootton - it's time we scrutinised it much more closely

Hello from the other side - independent self-employment, that is. Day two and thus far it's been setting up bank accounts and IT for my own new business, Deconstruction. Now I'm gagging to do an early bit of real work.

Things I don't understand right now...

Top of my list are two things financial - negative interest rates and Yahoo CEO Marisa Meyer.

If negative interest rates prevail, you have to pay to deposit funds with a bank, but you get paid if you borrow.

Under such a regime one would surely withdraw all funds from the bank and either buy more CGT-exempt toys or just stash it under the floorboards.

Then you'd toddle down to a 'favourite' high street bank and get paid to borrow as much money as possible and watch the cash roll in. Which you'd withdraw and put under the same floorboards. You'd need a decent sized house...

Yet this is child's play compared to the truly fabulous remuneration of Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer.

Since joining from Google's elite cadre, she's presided over a pretty serious erosion in corporate value, which now rests largely on a stake in the more successful Alibaba whose stock is now also wavering.

Last week, the Guardian helpfully told us that she could trouser as much as $137m for her time there. A recent flush of interest from Daily Mail & General Trust threatened to bring early closure but this has now been denied.

My last column concluded that Sir Martin Sorrell deserved big, if admittedly rather better scrutinised, pay going forwards. The Yahoo situation is another reminder of new economy's gravity-defying workings.

Talking of which, Group M has just issued its Interaction 2016 report, highlighting the continuing pitfalls of online.

Like my Stateside mentor and friend, The Ad Contrarian, I'm sceptical about the amount of money being ploughed online.

The report makes me wonder what Group M's position is. On the one hand, agencies are widely understood to make better margins in online than in legacy channels, which his why clients often report their keenness to push online. And Group M's trading volume also makes it a market maker.

Yet on the other, there's a sense of fatalism about adblocking and fraud (you could add brand safety and the scandal of viewability). If the mighty Group M can't bring order to the chaos, what hope for us other mere mortals?

Meanwhile, Thinkbox enters what could be a lengthy war of attrition over Google's autumn 2015 call for 24% of all TV budgets to be spent with YouTube...

On the bright side, most of the sessions on adblocking at Ad Week (including mine) saw the industry reaching a turning point. I sense most leaders now agree on what to do to slow its march, so it's time for iteration and promulgation amongst the workforce.

Where are all the planners?

There's a 'tug of love' going on within media agencies. At a recent Mediatel event and at Ad Week, conversation turned to the plight - or dearth - of planners. Fellow columnist Dominic Mills has picked up on this too.

Several media agency heads have recently bemoaned the difficulty of upselling their added-value services. It's a good thought but it's not going to get far while the prevailing view is that trading drives planning.

Once the tail, it's become the dog and the 'trusted advisor' status agencies crave slips from their grasp. Yet it's the key to upselling and planners are key to it.

So is the big idea, but Aegis' Tracy de Groose has just declared that dead. I strongly disagree. Decades of IPA effectiveness awards show that a good, strategically sound, big idea can really help get a brand ahead. It also protects against the rampaging short-termism and tactical mindset which online emphasises.

However, I agree with Goodstuff's Andrew Stephens that achieving better integration by recreating full-service is probably not the answer. Advertisers who focus on the creation and management of collaborative team drawn from whoever is best-in-class will win.

And back to the runaway trading dynamic, it's refreshing that Campaign's 2016 Media Agency of the Year showed strong growth and has a clear declared stance on transparency. Step forward The Seven Stars.

So how was Ad Week Europe 2016 for you?

Further to my open letter to the organisers in this column last May, I'll close on Ad Week Europe 2016.

The new PictureHouse venue worked better than BAFTA. But many were once again thwarted by logistics and couldn't get into sessions they'd booked for and wanted to see.

There were still queues everywhere, which may appeal to those not long out of university - but the rest of us aren't up for a rerun of freshers' week.

Amidst the fairground chaos, the Google Red Lounge was an invitation-only oasis, as was the best thing (and the one populated by the most senior people I saw in one place) - Clear Channel's rolling party on the roof terrace.

I glimpsed a couple of advertisers, but I mostly concluded that Ad Week is still mainly about the industry talking amongst itself. God knows how they swing it, but many people I know write the whole week off for it.

Obvs I got into the sessions I was speaking at - and it was a pleasure to rejoin the industry band I founded way back, The Breaks, to play a kicking set at the 'The Big Mistake' wrap party, supporting Chris Maples and other luminaries trying their hand at stand-up. Sometimes successfully...

To the sizeable organising committee - it's an amazing event and is clearly here to stay - but it could still run a lot more smoothly and effectively, and attract a lot more of the money than it does. Here's to next year.


Bob Wootton was director of media and advertising at ISBA 1996-2016 and now trades as Deconstruction (Twitter: @D3construction)

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