buying, planning

The Disintermediation of the Media Agency

Balihoologo_2 whilst it may be premature to suggest the media agency planning and buying model is about to become redundant, a new search engine’s aspiration to become "the Google for media planning" should surely provide food for thought for those of us who spend a few minutes each day meditating on the future of communications planning.

Steve Roest, who blogs at Open House, has pointed me in the direction of Balihoo, an engine who’s spiders have, for the last few years, searched the web and logged online – and offline – media properties available for purchase by either media buyers or clients direct.  Ad Age’s Media Morph describe the model thus:

"A marketer or media planner can enter a category or genre — say, kayaking — and it’ll return all the media properties about kayaking, as well as related media with similar demographic profiles — including ones that might not be included in or subscribe to traditional media-planning tools … While some marketers might do Google searches, Balihoo refines results to include only properties where advertisers can buy media." (see the full article here)

in a world of unprecedented media fragmentation, the proposition of an engine that will return a comprehensive list of all related media spaces to a brand or subject is an attractive one.  but that is to miss the point. there are several central objections to the suggestion that this means the end for agencies…

firstly, if media planning as a discipline was the amalgamation of media opportunities, a search engine could do it; it would indeed aid the disintermediation of the media agency, giving clients and marketers the power to find and buy media space according to their needs.

but not all media opportunities are created equal, and whilst Balihoo may offer a valuable starting point for initial exploration of a brief, what it won’t do is give credible guarantees of the value of one opportunity versus the other.  it is arguably – to quote (the rarely wrong) JRT Smith – a tool for those that understand "the cost of everything and the value of nothing".

secondly but more fundamentally, using a search engine for media planning alone relies on the push model of media planning.  a model which suggests that by reaching as many of the right people most of the time brands can attempt to build or change the set of associations as required by the marketer.

but thats a pretty outdated model.  the role of media planning is not to hit as many people over the head with an advertising message, in as many places, as possible; but rather to make a value judgment so that the places and spaces in which brands are seen are not only relevant, but add implicit value to the advertising message by the very virtue of being seen in those spaces.

and thats not – fortunately – something a search engine can do.  yet.  it’s not even – to give Balihoo’s ambition of creating a scoring system where agencies and clients can rate opportunities – something an online community can yet do.  value judgments always have to be made within the context of the brief and brand in question. the agency model is safe for a while yet, but only – it should be said – for those agencies that do more than list opportunities – it’s one thing to know the cost of media space, quite another to know it’s value to a brand.

advertising, branding, engaging, internet, user-generating

Making Up Your Own Foreign Melodrama

Bb_virgin_subtitle_superstar_2 one of the highlights in what has been a pretty gloomy year for Virgin Media has surely to be their sponsorship of BB, which has consistently outdone the programme it sponsors in terms of entertaining content.

but those clever people at GoodStuff communications haven’t let Virgin stop there.  they’ve persuaded the sponsor (and the creative agency) to let consumers subtitle their own bumpers – the best ones will be played out in the BB final.

to take part you simply go to the Subtitle Superstar website where you can choose a clip and subtitle to your hearts content.

getting consumers to create their content is nothing new, but this has the double winner of 1. demanding creativity within the context of (in BB) a very highly-valued piece of scheduling real-estate, and 2. rewarding the best creations by showing it to an audience of millions during one of the few truly event TV occasions remaining in the TV calendar.

what makes this stand out isn’t that it’s asking consumers to create content; the sorely-missed Tony Hart’s Gallery did that a long time ago, and the age of the internet has made this a staple of the comms planner’s tool-kit.  what makes it stand out is the access it gives consumers to a highly-valued media brand.  like it or loathe it, BB retains a very high stock with 16-34s, and this kind of access isn’t easily come by.  the fact that the access comes courtesy of Virgin Media can only do good stuff for the brand.

as an aside, it’s worth noting that it comes in the wake of a pretty bad week for the BBC, GMTV and their bedfellows who were less than honest with viewings during TV competitions.  failing standards, plummeting levels of trust, a fundamental betrayal (if reports are to be believed) of the nation – and that’s just page 2 of a full-colour supplement on the issue courtesy of the Mail!

…despite the fact that it’s been massively over reported, the fact remains that the TV stations have genuinely been caught with the pants down.  why?  because they were so keen to give viewers the perception that they were involved in the programme, they forgot to make sure they were actually genuinely involved in the programme.  could they really have been surprised when viewers reacted not too happily about it not all being as it seemed.

and herein lies the rub…  the reaction of viewers and the media told us not about the lack of trust between consumers and brands, but about the absolute existence of trust between consumers and brands.  the extent of the reaction bears testimony to the high levels of trust that brands (the BBC it must be said in particular) have engendered.

because engaging with consumers and co-creating content with them has become such a staple of many brands’ activities, consumers are spending more time than ever before engaging with them.  and when any brand asks consumers to engage with them, to spend precious time with them, to commit energy and creativity to them, they can’t be surprised if – when this relationship is undermined – consumers get more pissed off than they would if they didn’t particularly  like a 25×4 colour.

engaging with consumers is two-way relationship.  and if the comms planning and marketing community wants to continue to evolve the nature of brand communications, they better make sure that they live up to their end of the bargain.