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The bumper media and advertising Christmas wish list

19 Dec 2016  |  Bob Wootton 
The bumper media and advertising Christmas wish list

2016 was a tough year for the industry - Bob Wootton shares his wish list for getting it back on track...

What a year 2016 has been been. There hasn't been much wholesale demolition, but this year has seen a steady crumbling of many industry edifices. For me, the most significant was the loss of confidence in our ability accurately to predict opinion on critical national issues.

But enough. These pages are already crammed with reviews and predictions, so I'm going for a wish list instead. What should Santa should bring us?

I'll start by asking for ITV to resolve to petition for the end of CRR. Now thirteen years into a planned three-year run, it started out serving advertisers well. Over time it ended up being largely (and quite legally) circumvented, and is now made redundant by the sheer diversity of most trades.

Critically, the competition context in which it was forged has changed beyond recognition. This is for ITV to lead but ISBA will have to consider and prepare its position in anticipation.

Please don't bring us merged newspaper sales. True, the very survival of some (at least printed) titles might hinge on the increased leverage such an entity might bring, but it's an anti-competitive solution to a societal problem. Better legislate for a fairer return from the scale plagiarists to originating publishers.

I hope we see driverless cars, partly because it will be a good laugh watching the embarrassment of the passengers as they sit in their hideous Noddy-pods, but mainly because it will give roadside out-of-home viewership a useful boost.

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I love billboards and crave a return to truly talkable creative work on the wonderfully-presented sites we now enjoy. Come on, clients and creative agencies - you're already spending the money (and probably wasting a goodly chunk on you know what), so how about it?

My friend Dominic Mills and I have both commented on the paradox between the burdens of proof and accountability which different media face, notably the low thresholds for "the most accountable of media", online.

We've already got the vehicles in UKOM and JICWEBS, so Santa, please bring us better (funded) online metrics and standards. I also wish BARB success in nailing screen viewing in all its forms. Netflix may be subscription funded, but it worries me that we don't know The Grand Tour's audience.

And while we're all out buying shitloads of tech kit and downloading myriad apps, please pull down the walls of the gardens the big players are trying to force us into. Let's call them for what they are - they're not in advertisers' nor consumers' interests, they're just anti-competitive corporate gamesmanship.

Wouldn't it be great if the five horsemen of the digital apocalypse has become no more than a board game by next Christmas? Slim chance I'm afraid despite good intentions from the World Federation of Advertisers and others. If Santa could bring us something here it would be alignment, without which the adblockers will continue their march.

On the bright side for all 'classic' media, online will continue to be 'found out' and probably found lacking too.

Advertisers need communication channels, but not at any price. They don't owe agencies and the media a living. But I'd like them to recognise that a job well done, one that can sometimes transform their businesses, deserves fair recompense.

Most clients are simply not paying enough for the quality of service and delivery they require. If the leading advertisers' celebrity CMOs start, others will surely follow.

I hope agencies encourage this and help themselves by moving away from suicidal pitch behaviours. Pretty much everybody knows - and most agree - that the business model has become rotten but the powerful high priests of volume trading continue to obfuscate.

So I wish for the end of denial.

And silence. Many media owners obsess about wresting power and influence over their fortunes back from the trading groups. Just as an increasing number have started withholding their content from viewers with ad blockers, so I hope more speak out and follow DMGT and the Guardian in publishing the rebate provisions they make.

The now-famous ANA report was a key milestone. Now the US Department of Justice is investigating agency markups and has subpoenaed the report's inputs. Does anybody still seriously think this is going to go away?

But let's be realistic. Transparency may be right and desirable for many, but it's not necessarily a requisite for all. Some might be happy writing off visibility for price. For an advertiser it's a matter of being in control of your choices - and your significant investments.

I therefore wish for the emergence of more and different models, from tech-driven offerings like Blackwood Seven to management consultancies' and others' acquisitions of creative agencies like Karmarama.

I also wish for more rewarding and interesting work for many, but cautiously as this will come at a steep human cost. Automation should have arrived wholesale by now, but its progress has been surprisingly slow.

No longer. The next two years will see wholesale automation of many processes and significant headcount cuts. Adoption of artificial intelligence - the codifying of human and human-like behaviours for use by more powerful processing machines - will accelerate this yet further.

This could fund a renaissance in creativity and strategic thinking while also rescuing many bottom lines - quite a sea change from a world where thinkers are not valued as they 'cost' money (and are scarce, so expensive) whereas traders are as they 'make' money (and are therefore plentiful).

It feels like many different threads are beginning to converge. Key to successful, sustainable outcomes will be engagement and collaboration. There's a terrific opportunity for some visionary and courageous leadership from our august industry bodies, several of which will promisingly be under new management.

My final wish is for you if you've read this far - have a very happy and safe Christmas and see you again in the New Year.

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Stuart Wilkinson, Industry Relations, comScore on 21 Dec 2016
“A wee fact check, Bob: Grand Tour is an Amazon Prime show. ;)
Happy Christmas to you and keep writing!”

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