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TV's civilised punch-up; front-foot Magnetic; tech privacy

11 Feb 2019  |  Dominic Mills 
TV's civilised punch-up; front-foot Magnetic; tech privacy

A debate raging between Thinkbox and Ebiquity has a level of rigour and intellectual honesty that is good for the industry, writes Dominic Mills. Plus: Magnetic comes out guns blazing, and a new wave of tech obfuscation

There’s nothing like a good intra-media punch-up to get the juices flowing — and indeed to get the brain cells working — and I’m thoroughly enjoying the current one between Ebiquity and Thinkbox.

If you’ve missed it, it all kicked off late last month with a provocative piece of analysis from Ebiquity, titled ‘TV at the Tipping Point’. The report suggests that, based on current viewer trends, TV may not give advertisers the same levels of cost-effective reach that it currently does by 2022.

Naturally, this was a red rag to the bull, the bull in this case being Thinkbox, which has responded here with a piece by Matt Hill.

In his own somewhat restrained way, Ebiquity boss Michael Karg chose to up the stakes by making the argument the centre-piece of his presentation to Mediatel’s Future of Brands conference last week (February 7th), an audience well-stocked with big brands — not to mention Thinkbox. What a great way, for the neutrals, to start a conference.

The broad thrust of Ebiquity’s argument is not especially new — essentially that viewing is declining amongst younger audiences — but the new news is that it is now accelerating and also affecting what I would call historic banker audiences such as ABC1 adults and housepersons with children. While TV’s share of these audiences is holding up, absolute numbers are declining.

Of course, says Ebiquity, TV retains its ROI advantage relative to other media for now — but (in what it describes as a worst-case scenario) not by 2022 if current trends continue.

Thinkbox’s response, if I summarise it correctly, is four-fold: one, it is a worst-case scenario; two, it assumes no change in other media; three, it ignores what it calls total broadcaster reach — ie broadcaster VoD; and four, it assumes no change in the current viewing habits of younger audiences. It is as if, says Thinkbox in a phrase I particularly like, someone “had run amok with a ruler a perilous angle” in making their extrapolations.

This time round, though, I think it will be a different kind of debate, and a better one. Thinkbox is well used to fending off arguments from the likes of YouTube and Facebook that they should have a greater share of TV budgets, largely because their claims are intellectually flimsy and clearly based on the grinding of obvious self-interest.

Ebiquity, however, is a different beast altogether. Although it has historically shown itself to be a friend to TV (and other established media), shown here for example in a project for the Radiocentre last year, its reputation depends on impartiality and objectivity. For Thinkbox, that must make the message harder to hear.

But it will sharpen the debate and give it a level of rigour and intellectual honesty that is good for the industry. I note the call from Direct Line’s head of effectiveness, Carl Bratton, for Thinkbox and Ebiquity to go head to head on stage to make their cases, posted in a comment underneath Hill’s response on Mediatel.

I am pretty sure, as punch-ups go, it will be civilised and courteous, fought with brains and objectivity rather than bluster, emotion and fisticuffs. But I for one would pay good money to witness it.

Front-foot Magnetic

It’s good to see, reporting from another front of the intra-media wars, that magazine trade body Magnetic has come out guns blazing in its ‘Pay Attention’ campaign to change hearts and minds. You can’t miss it: Magnetic has blitzed the trades to good effect.

From my perspective, it’s not before time. Magnetic has done some terrific work on carving out a space for magazine media, focusing especially on trust and environment, but this represents a step forward: bolder and louder.

Yes, as several people have commented to me, the campaign itself owes a certain debt to Royal Mail’s Mail Men efforts a few years ago insofar as it uses industry role models as the lead creative element. But, in a way, both media are coming from a similar starting point: they are unfashionable, the narrative is one of declining relevance, and the medium struggles to get noticed amongst the hubbub. In other words, magazines have a perception problem with planners and, to a certain extent, some types of client.

In volume terms alone, this campaign gives magazines a dog in the fight. But it is the message itself that resonates, because it a) plays to the medium’s strengths and b) opens up a debate about an under-valued quality — attention.

The secret, however, is to stick with it. Magnetic, or its stakeholders, can’t falter at the first sign of a problem, a pushback or industry white noise. This has got to run for a couple of years at the minimum — the creative concept does at least allow for plenty of iterations and developments — and crucially, magazine sales teams have to stick to the message.

The danger is that magazines get bored with the message — or want to say something different — at exactly the moment its audiences start listening.

It is no part of Magnetic’s remit, but there is one other thing I think the medium can do to help itself: take a leaf out of news brands and Project Ozone by moving towards some form of consolidated sales proposition. If nothing else, it would force publishers to stick to one sales message.

Tech obfuscation #2

When it comes to measurement reporting and their behaviour as publishers, sorry...platforms...the tech giants are masters at obfuscation. Hat tip to the Financial Times here for a comment piece headlined ‘Tech titans try to dazzle with jargon but just lack substance’, a sentiment many in the ad industry would understand only too well. (Thanks to the FT-reading Gooner for drawing my attention to this).

As the FT notes, the techies are taking a technique honed in the advertising business and applying it to their financial reporting to Wall Street: hence Apple’s decision to cease reporting iPhone sales in favour of ‘periodic’ (i.e. when it’s got something good to say) numbers on overall numbers of devices in use; Twitter’s move away from monthly active users to monetisable daily active users; and Facebook’s decision to report users on a consolidated basis across all its products rather than break them down by individual source.

They may do little to respect our privacy, but they’re certainly doing the best they can for their own.

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11 Dec 2019 

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