buying, debating, phdcast

PHDcast – The Letter D and Number 92 Episode: Departures, Diets and Discounts in Medialand

the PHDcast this week is brought to you by the letter D and the number 92. D stands for Dieting, as Pink Media announces a partnership between Fitness First and Mardi Gras; Departures, as Kyle and Jackie announce their departure from SCA’s airwaves and Discounts, as Adnews reports talk of an unprecedented 92% discount being offered by a media agency.

the discount, alleged to be on TV rates, marks an escalation in a bidding war that is arguably as old as media departments and then agencies themselves. but a perfect storm in recent years has seen a potent mix of procurement driving down client costs, an over-serviced marketplace, and the consolidation of holding groups (which increases buying power placing pressure on media owners).

that potent mix has resulted in run-away discounting and the radical commoditisation of media impacts … and they’re just the direct implications. the indirect implications spin into agency client resourcing, the extent to which media thinking and ideas are valued, media owner revenues (so ultimately impacting quality of broadcast content), and transparency and media neutrality … as agencies are forced to explore other higher margin areas to off-set the margin losses in the core business. I could go on.

so how do we stop the runaway train on which we find ourselves? one of the key problems is that everyone is implicated … everyone has something to gain from the current storm and much to lose by any attempted unravelling.

the money starts with clients. they’ve never had it so good from a CPM perspective … with agencies falling over RFPs to buy media cheaper (and cheaper media). questions of media quality become secondary to cost-saving and value extraction. their walk-away is to pay more for a supplier’s product – which would be brave by anyone’s standards.

from an agency’s perspective, guaranteeing radical discounts rates keeps and gets clients’ billings in the door which maintains the platform for value extraction with media owners on one hand and clients on the other. their walk-away is to explain that a price is as low as they can go and decline the businesses – another brave call given the demands for any major agency and group to demonstrate growth.

the money (in theory) ends up with a media owner … they are the ones at the sharp end of the deal but its a deal in which they’ve had no choice to be complicit. for them to put on the brakes could cost them 20-30% of revenues if a major buying group turns off the taps (a move for which there are precedents in other markets).

it’s stalemate.

of course my question on how we stop the train has an implicit assumption … that everyone wants to. I’m not naive enough to think for a second that everyone is sat bemoaning media buying’s current conundrum. ultimately the only reason the stalemate exists is that enough businesses are making enough money for it to be sustained.

new models already no doubt exist and will emerge. necessity is the mother of invention … in which case I can’t think that the need for inventors has ever been greater.

to be continued …


advertising, buying, planning

Tactical Smactical: Smart Relevant Tactical Planning on Apple’s Big Day … Courtesy of Nokia

Nokia takeover on day of iPhone 4Sgetting tactical – Nokia’s takeovers which appeared across a range of titles today

thanks to Kate M who pointed me in the direction of the above earlier today; a great example of smart, relevant and appropriate tactical planning.  no futurology, no zappy whizz bang interaction or engagement strategies … just a simple straight-forward ad for the Nokia N9 in dominant spaces on the day of Apple’s big (?) announcement.

whether or not Nokia knew the iPhone 5 was going to be an iPhone 4S is irrelevant – even with a more talked about iPhone model the placement was a smart move.  the fact that Apple announced a 4S today makes the planning all the better…

the alignment of The Age’s ‘Spot the Difference’ item alongside the Nokia ad speaks for itself.  future-gazing and predicting and innovating and challenging are important, but I was happy for the reminder that there is – more than ever – a place in our world for smart planners who spot and create credible cut-thru tactical placements for brand communications.

broadcasting, buying, planning, realtiming

Going Live: Observations from the forefront of RealTime planning, via The Olympics, the Superbowl and Harold Macmillan

Seth-wescott-visa-ad Seth Westcott, who performed in RealTime ad placements for Visa

courtesy of WARC, via Andy, comes a great article on the RealTime activation.  whilst there was a fair degree of coverage of the efforts at the time, new commentary seems to show the extent to which the companies involved have deemed the initiatives a success.

commenting on broadcasting a TV spot minutes after one of their athletes – snowboarder Seth Westcott – won his second gold medal, Michael Lynch, Visa's head of global sponsorships, said "Our research has proven out that [these ads] are one of the best connections between Visa and the Olympics we have … We know the opportunity in the moment when we're sharing with Seth his accomplishments is special, and it's worked extremely well for us."

Drew-brees_Dove Drew Brees, Dove Men+Care's Most Valuable Player

a similar approach was adopted by Unilever's Dove Men+Care, who's ad featuring New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees landed on US screens hours after his team won the Super Bowl.  being named MVP didn't do any harm either; "It just ended up perfectly" observed Rob Master, director of media for Unilever's North American operations.

whilst underpinned by technology, and the willingness (and / or necessity) of media companies to accommodate such media buys, the above ad placements mark three interesting observations for those of us negotiating the future of media and communications.

one, that there's an interesting and clear direction of travel emerging, and it's called convergence into RealTime.  so far so whatever – this we know and I've written some thoughts on that before.  but the second observation – the infiltration of RealTime into the broadcast stream – shows just how far the trend is now pushing…

it's not unrealistic to assume that continued fragmentation of channels and viewing will only increase the opportunities to place more customised and relevant content in front of people in RealTime.  and there's a fascinating insight into how this could be deployed in the below video, showing how Slate’s Seth Stevenson bought an ad in a low-rating spot.  via Google.

it only takes a small leap to imagine how Google data could be combined with this technology to deploy a significant proportion of a schedule in RealTime, based on whatever factors a planner deems appropriate…  run ads when only it's raining, or whenever a sports team wins, or when interest rate decreases are announced.  to name but three – the possibilities become kind of endless…

but the final observation takes a lesson from Politics.  when Harold Macmillan was asked what represented the greatest challenge for a statesman, he replied: "Events, my dear boy, events"  …both the Visa and Dove examples above resonated above and beyond delivering pure awareness because, and only because, of events.

I can't help but suspect that the future of media implementation may have events very much at it's heart.  from mass events like the Olympics or the Superbowl, to macro events like interest rate changes, thru to the micro events of re-targeting someone who visited a website.  politics' greatest challenge may be media implementation's greatest

buying, careholding, planning, responding

When Waitrose dumped Fox: why its right for brands to cede control of their media schedules

Fox's Glenn Beck's controversial comments cost the channel ad revenues

Waitrose has responded to an unreported number of complaints and removed Fox News – which is carried on Sky – from its media schedules.  the move comes in response to comments by the station's Glenn Beck who in July called US President Obama "a racist" with "a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture" after the president said that police had "acted stupidly" in arresting the distinguished professor Henry Louis Gates.

a spokesman commented that:

"We take the placement of our ads in individual programmes very seriously, ensuring the content of these programmes is deemed appropriate for a brand with our values … Since being notified of our presence within the Glenn Beck programme, we have withdrawn all Waitrose advertising from the Fox News channel with immediate effect and for all future TV advertising campaigns."

the removal of the channel won't see Waitrose's media schedule suffer too much as a result of the move; but its a giant leap for transparency and – more crucially – the involvement of customers in a brand's activity…

I've posted thoughts previously about the idea of careholders.  and suggested that brands, as well as being responsible to and addressing the wants and needs of shareholders, should also treat customers as careholders…  as partners with a right to a say in how that brand behaves.  the logical conclusion of this is the crowd-managed brand, but there's a myriad of ways in which brands can each day demonstrate how they're listening, engaging and responding to careholder concerns.

but it doesn't have to be a negative defensive play.  I've thought a few times before when planning comms how much fun could be had in letting the people we're trying to talk to help place our ads…  and there's a lovely positive feedback loop in the form of people looking out for the ad placements they voted for or wanted.

but for the moment a big shout out to Waitrose, who listened and responded.  their media schedule is the better for it.

advertising, broadcasting, buying, content creating, converging, measuring, television, viewing

More questions than answers: fighting for the future of digital broadcast in Mediatel’s playground

Mediatel_playground yesterday Mediatel held their annual Media Playground and Mediation popped along for the afternoon seminar discussing Digital Broadcast.  it's a broad topic area, covering emerging technologies, content, changing consumer behaviours and rapidly evolving business models.  one thing is clear – we have a lot more questions than we have answers.

it was apparent that we're entering an age of complexity in how content is created, deployed and consumed.  no one solution will predominate.  Bruce Daisley – Agency Leader at YouTube – observed that it's less about the platform, and referred to a 'long tail' of competitors.  that content rules, was echoed by the panel…

Rhys McLachlan – head of implementational TV at MediaCom – noted that this is, ultimately, what consumers will resolutely follow.  this was echoed by Jon Mitchell of Spotify who suggested that Hulu – recently down 3% – is plateauing.  they have (as opposed to Spotify) a limited amount of content, to thrive in a digital content economy you need ubiquity of supply.

and where eyeballs go commercial impacts follow right?  not necessarily.  McLachlan, in one of several soap-box moments, commented that "clients are increasingly risk adverse" and that "it's hard to invest in channels that are unproven.  there's an absence of valid metrics out there … we are retreating to rather than flighting to quality.  people who want a share of my broadcast budget aren't making a strong enough case for their platforms"

McLachlan went on to comment that "we're complicit in perpetuating a trading model that was created in the 1950s … we need to move on from this legacy model, a model that's been broken for some time".

it occurred to me that it's not the only model that's broken.  what so often get's lost in the maelstrom of how to aggregate and commercialise impacts in the new world of digital broadcast are the opportunities to engage audiences beyond the spot.  the spot is important and will not vanish into history anytime soon, indeed Daisley noted that YouTube's best performing ad (Gorilla of course) out-viewed their best performing piece of longer-form content (Wallace and Gromit if you're interested) by a ratio of forty toone "YouTube", he said, "is empirical evidence that great ads work".

but the spot ad no longer sits alone in the communications toolbox, and to approach commercialising long-form on-demand content by interrupting with ads really does defy belief.  interruption in a on-demand world is at best a contradiction in terms and at worst a failure to grasp the brilliant opportunities that on-demand offers the brands (and for that matter agencies) willing to embrace it…

because if anything is true as we negotiate the future of media and communications it is this; that brands and brand communications have – like everything else – to be in demand.

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.