The role of bias and undervaluing magazines

23 May 2018  |  Mike Florence 
The role of bias and undervaluing magazines

Magazines are hugely undervalued by marketers and agency leaders - despite the fact they fully engage their audience’s attention and inspire an unparalleled degree of trust. How do we change this, asks PHD Media's Mike Florence

For a goalkeeper, saving a penalty is a tricky task. You know your job is to prevent the opposing player from smashing the ball into the back on the net from twelve yards away, but what other information do you have?

You might try and look at the opposing striker’s eyes and try and gauge where they will go, or perhaps even wave your arms around in an attempt to distract them - but ultimately the tool you use is your experience of how people expect a goalkeeper to make a save.

People expect a goalkeeper to pick a side and dive courageously in that direction.

But this choice of action doesn’t really measure up to the data. A statistical analysis of where penalty shots go shows us that almost 30% of the time the striker chooses to go down the centre of the goal - but a goalkeeper only stands their ground 6% of the time. When choosing to dive to a side, goalkeepers saved one in six, whereas when they stood their ground they saved one in three.

Richard Shotton explores this situation in his book Choice Factory and discussed it at the PPA festival last week with myself, Morag Blazey and Sue Todd on a panel hosted by Dominic Mills and Magnetic, investigating bias in media.

Richard argued that goalkeepers have an implicit bias towards diving because that is the norm and what people expect a goalkeeper to do. If you dive and don’t make a save it’s seen as bad luck - but if you stand still and don’t make a save you seem incompetent. The effectiveness of their choice is hamstrung by the bias of their expected action.

This makes for a good analogy for some of the challenges we face as media planners and as people in general - once a type of behaviour becomes dominantly fashionable it can be increasingly hard to encourage people to deviate. Recent research from Ebiquity and Radiocentre showed evidence of marketers undervaluing the effectiveness of traditional media and overvaluing the effectiveness of newer channels.

Ebiquity spoke to 116 marketers and agency leaders and asked them to identify 12 key attributes for their media campaigns, they then contrasted these attributes against 75 recent industry studies to assess how different media performed against those criteria.

The study ultimately found that brands are under-investing in traditional media including magazine media because they wrongly perceive that digital media is more effective at brand-building.

Bias is a part of the human experience. Just as you have goalkeepers in football matches making a less effective choice based on the actions of others, the report shows evidence of an equally hampering bias in media planning.

The relentless pace of technology has changed the world quickly, which has led to an increased pressure and demand for quick results, meaning we are more likely to rely on what we perceive as “the norm” and take less risks.

So how do we all tackle this bias?

At PHD, we believe that it has to come through your business’ internal culture. To deliver the best results for our clients, it's imperative that our planners can step back and see the bigger picture - which, of course, includes understanding the benefits of the multitude of different digital channels available to us.

However, the ability to stand back stems from a culture where people are given time to think and a platform to speak.

In a world obsessed with reaching eyeballs, we want to talk to brains.

Part of the trend towards spending on digital media reflects a change in consumer habits, with people spending more and more and time with screens. But as Richard Shotton pointed out on the panel, studies regarding time spent commoditise media in an ineffective way - “I spend 30% of my time sleeping - does that mean I should spend 30% of my life budget on pillow media?”

Magazines were shown to be a channel massively undervalued by marketers and agency leaders. Despite the fact, as Dominic noted last week, that as a medium they fully engage their audience’s attention and inspire an unparalleled degree of trust.

The arrival of PAMCo, the new audience measurement currency, is a huge step forward and will allow the industry to sufficiently arm marketers and planners with the insight needed to properly tackle bias. Not only do we need to challenge the perceptions that came through in the Ebiquity report, but agencies need to create the space and time to shift attitudes. It’s not going to change overnight, but we’re all definitely on the right path



Mike Florence is chief strategy officer, PHD Media

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