Radio: fashion, cash and rationality; and new-model P&G

12 Mar 2018  |  Dominic Mills 
Radio: fashion, cash and rationality; and new-model P&G

Dominic Mills looks at the striking mismatch between industry perceptions of media effectiveness and what the evidence actually says. Plus: How Marc Pritchard is taking P&G back to the future

Let’s hear a cheer for radio. Despite its size and relative lack of profile, it is behaving like a proper grown-up medium.

First, last week it announced record revenues of £680m, up 5.2% - better than overall market growth of 4.7% and thus representing an increase in share, albeit small.

It clearly has a dedicated fan club since, according to the Radiocentre, 12 of its 20 largest advertisers spend more than 20% of their budgets on the medium, of whom half increased their spend by 40% or more. That latter category includes the likes of Amazon (mostly for Alexa; voice + audio = a no-brainer obviously), up 118%; Sky, up 50%-plus; Tesco; and McDonalds.

Clearly, therefore, radio is doing something right.

But, in a second development last week, we can see radio clearly has a perception problem, as do virtually all legacy media. This has been covered here by Mediatel and given the usual sharp and straight-from-the-barrel-of-a-gun comment by Mark Ritson. But let me add my twopenny-worth.

The trigger is a survey conducted by Ebiquity comparing media agency and advertiser perceptions of the different strengths of ten different media channels versus evidence of their actual performances. In other words, comparing subjective perceptions with objective, evidence-based studies.

You can get the full survey here.

Thus agencies and marketers were asked to judge different media across a range of criteria they considered most important: for example, targeting, ROI, triggering an emotional response, reach maximisation, and brand salience.

And guess what? Perception and reality don’t match. Since the survey was commissioned by the Radiocentre, we’ll use radio as the test dummy. Here are a few examples.

Targeting: radio came 9th= on perception, but 1st on the evidence.

Campaign ROI: radio 2nd on perception, and 2nd= equal on reality. Woo-hoo. Result.

Brand salience: radio 7th on perception, but 2nd= on evidence.

Overall on all criteria: radio 6th= on perception, 2nd on evidence (behind TV).

Looking at the study as a whole, and I’m generalising here, online media did well on perception, but far less well on the evidence than legacy media.

Here’s one laugh-out-loud example. On transparent third-party audience measurement (which, somewhat bizarrely, ranked 11 out of 12 on important criteria to marketers) online video and display ranked 1st and 2nd by perception (i.e. the most transparently measurable media), but 10th and 7th, respectively, looking at the evidence. On the evidence, the winners are five legacy channels (newspapers, magazines, TV, radio and OOH - all 1st=).

Insane, isn’t it? In this case, the evidence is staring people in the face, and yet they choose to ignore or disbelieve it.

So why the significant discrepancies between perception and evidence? I can think of two reasons: fashion and cold cash.

First, both at agencies and clients, it’s deeply unfashionable to subject online media to any rigorous scrutiny. To do so is, at an individual level, to open yourself up to ridicule. By implication, if you highlight the relative merits of, say, direct mail or OOH, you risk portraying yourself as a dinosaur.

The second reason, I believe, is money. As we all know, agencies can make more money - and for less work - pumping budget into online than they do offline. Ergo, they ignore the evidence or bend it to fit their perceptions.

But how might this change? I can think of two ways. One is that clients hire chief media officers (or equivalents) who a) have the courage to challenge or change perceptions among their agencies and their own marketing staff, and b) move towards media agency contracts that are based on aligning client and agency outcomes.

There’s evidence the latter is beginning to happen - driven by ISBA’s work on media agency contracts.

Indeed, at the ISBA conference last week (more below) I was struck by a comment from Barclays, which recently moved its media to Omnicom. “The only money the agency should make is from our fees.” Quite so.

Finally, let me just tip my hat to the Radiocentre, which was ballsy enough to commission a piece of work that a) is useful across the entire industry (including to potential channel competitors), and b) from which there was no guarantee that it itself would come out smelling of roses.

I was at the presentation, and there was no hint of a “Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they” among the audience. Instead, the overwhelming reactions were a) good for them and b) wow, this is really useful.

Marc Pritchard: taking P&G back to the future

Hat tip to ISBA for getting P&G chief brand officer Marc Pritchard to speak at its annual conference last week. Looking at the wider picture, it is clear his agenda - cleaning up media, changing agency behaviour - fits very much with ISBA’s.
You can read a report of his speech here. Having taken a pot shot at media and media agencies last year, he is now focusing on creative agencies.

What struck me most about Pritchard is that, while he clearly wants his agencies to be fit for the future, he is also in many ways calling for a return to the past.

#1. He wants to reunite creative and media. Just like the old days.

#2. His creative mantra - as he described it as “Not less is more, but less doing more” (my emphasis) is about reducing low-impact (and irritating to consumers) clutter, multiple iterations based on constantly changing data signals, and focusing more on single big-idea campaigns and then letting them run for longer, backed up by low-cost tactical work.

Blimey, it’s also a bit like the old days. Then, the lead agency would produce a single big idea with a life of several months. Around it - it was called ‘integration’ - subsidiary agencies would do all the tactical work like shelf-wobblers, direct mail, on-pack promos and so on, aligning everything with the core message of the big idea.

#3. He wants creative agencies to put the focus back on creativity - specifically to devote 75% of their resources to this. Hallelujah. In many ways, this is also how it used to be.

There’s agency comment here, and a perceptive view from US-based British creative Mark Wnek here.

Somehow, over the years - and Pritchard acknowledges clients’ culpability in this matter - it’s all got distorted, and creative agencies staffed up with all kinds of non-core functions and superfluous layers of management, doubled up with ‘man marking’ of increasingly complex client structures. The result: creative sclerosis, or as Pritchard says, “we have dimmed and ultimately extinguished creativity”.

How did creative agencies get themselves into this pickle? Clearly, as the media canvas on which creatives could paint their pictures expanded, so did creative agencies. But I think they also lost sight of their core purpose. Faced with criticism that they needed to be more ‘business-like’ - which I well remember from the early 90s - they focused instead on erecting structural and organisational scaffolding that mimicked the client’s. This gave the appearance of being more business-like but in truth only served to get in the way of producing great creative.

Of course, the ‘good old days’ contained more than their fair share of bad, and Pritchard is not advocating a return to those. But if there was a phrase to describe how he wants his creative agencies to be, I’d say it was classic with a modern twist.

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18 Jun 2018 

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