Marketers - time for action, not grumbling

22 May 2018  |  Bob Wootton 
Marketers - time for action, not grumbling

Even when presented with hard evidence many marketers still fail to rectify their poor investment decisions, writes Bob Wootton

The Sunday Times reported recently that the average price of a Facebook ad will rise by a quarter this year.

Back in the day, such news would have caused advertiser outrage. Broadcasters’ top brass would be summoned to ISBA and upbraided for rising costs, fuelled by two things:

- booming advertiser demand for airtime (caused by advertisers, duh, not ITV)

- and languishing audiences (especially upmarket and young, which they could have addressed with all the money pouring in).

The broadcasters knew they had simply to endure advertisers’ ire and then bugger off to their daily slap-up at Langan’s.

Meanwhile, their agencies (including mine) offered apparent token sympathy but privately just enjoyed the rising incomes which usually accompanied rising media costs.

What would happen if GooBook et al were hauled in for such a dressing down?

Well, neither revenue nor audience are really in their control for starters. Then they’re truly global and take money - from advertisers - in a highly-competitive market on a scale beyond broadcasters’ wildest dreams. And the agencies will be even less helpful, as they stand to lose income if they redirect budgets offline.

If the old days were pure panto, today would be yet more amusing.

No, as ever, media pricing is something advertisers have to sort for themselves. This resurfaces one of the industry’s biggest and most existential questions. Why do advertisers gleefully continue to spunk so much money online?

It clearly works in parts and therefore merits a place on many comms plans. Yet it’s also roundly discredited - viewability, fraud, brand safety, fake news, tax avoidance...and the leaks in the value chain dwarf misdemeanours in other channels.

Tess Alps, winner of the industry’s most prestigious prize, the Advertising Association’s Mackintosh Award, recently offered some helpful insights.

She suggests - and I concur - that marketers are good at moaning but less good at acting. Their historic stance towards TV and particularly their current lemming-like plunge online despite the near-ubiquity of issues that would deter advertiser spending in any other media channel supports this assertion.

Bog paper or washing detergents etc are not the be all and end all of human endeavour, yet it’s easy to become centred on product when you and colleagues spend all day working on it.

Product-centricity’s uglier big brother in the boardroom is short-termism. A focus on quick returns over the long-term health of brands has fuelled the surge into online, despite accumulating evidence from both the offline media and (whisper it) advertisers themselves that their brands’ health is now suffering.

Nor can marketers who have fought for increased online spend over the years simply now recommend any recalibration in the light of emerging evidence without risking their job.

But who would have thought that brand health would be a casualty of media becoming more “efficient”?

The Ad Contrarian offers his usual wit, arguing that no real brand has been built online. Even online brands turn to offline, especially TV and out-of-home, when their scale (and investor funds) permits. Some, like Twitter, are winning awards for their offline work.

This time each year, industry bigwigs gather to network and discuss the state of their play.

Cannes is still the biggest beanfeast, attendance jealously guarded by senior delegates who show no shame in posting from jolly after jolly with their mates for all their uninvited clients to seethe at.

Plus ça change - apart from Publicis’ boycott which it will doubtless regret as competitors mob its unchaperoned clients.

The World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) has already held its global conference in Tokyo. Having sharpened its teeth recently (ANA transparency report, serial online fails etc), its increasingly-confident leadership is calling for reform of digital ad ecosystem with an eight point “Global Media Charter” :

• Zero tolerance to ad fraud with compensation for any breach
• Strict brand safety protection
• Minimum viewability thresholds
• Transparency throughout the supply-chain
• Third-party verification and measurement as a minimum requirement
• Removal of ‘walled garden’ issues
• Improving standards with data transparency
• Take steps to improve the consumer experience

It’s exactly what the people spending the money should be saying but can they get traction?

No association such as WFA can be seen to be orchestrating collective action which could land it in court, especially when the subjects might be very litigious new economy players.

And keeping many often-competing companies with different priorities and objectives aligned makes herding cats look like child’s play.

No - success depends on individual advertisers, and that’s where I fear for it. Past performance suggests they might grumble but are unlikely act, even in the face of emerging evidence. Nor will their agencies lead them to a better, but also doubtless less remunerative place.

I really hope I’m wrong.

Implementation of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, has finally arrived. Some have suggested that it will seriously limit the activities that online players’, notably Facebook, can monetise. Will this perhaps compound with everything else and dull the shine?

Be careful what you wish for

You’d think they’d be swamped with Brexit, yet our legislators have been busy too.

A welcome and long-overdue constraint on fixed-odds betting terminals is offset by renewed calls for further disproportionate bans on HFSS foods and soft drinks.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has tabled further constraints, including a ban on ‘his’ own TfL estate which will reduce revenues he can recycle into the network.

A 100m exclusion zone around schools already proscribes 14% of out-of-home sites. Expanding to 400m will put most out of reach, distorting that market for the worse.

Bravo Dame Carolyn of ITV who has rightly sprung to challenge. If further broadcast watersheds or out-of-home exclusion zones are imposed, where will the adspend go?

Online, of course, where all such constraints are possible - but for the willing of the media owners.

I wish our regulators the best of luck with that one. Our leaders really should be more careful as to what they wish for...


Bob Wootton is principal of Deconstruction

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