In order to accurately project the way in which media agencies will operate in the future, the average scenario planner would have to project the future of technology. Had I been capable of doing that, I would have started a company and named it after my favourite fruit.
If you had told me when I was still a little spotty Herbert that my own music consumption would evolve from transistor radios and seven-inch singles, through cassettes, eight-tracks, CDs and DVDs and that all things would end up in a box in my cellar, because the cloud would be streaming music to my mobile phone through something called Spotify, I would have said you were daft. I mean… a mobile phone as in ‘beam me up, Scotty’? Get real!
That’s not to say I’m incapable of making accurate predictions. Over 20 years ago I predicted that the emergence of independent media agencies was a fantastic development for advertising people who harboured a secret desire to work in the bank. And I was right.
Despite protestations to the contrary, media agencies have, to a large degree, defaulted to what they know and do best. They do target market assessments and analyse competitive ad spend. They calculate reach, frequency and gross rating points (more often than not on creative campaigns that were conceived elsewhere). Increasingly, they complete interminable spreadsheet reports for nameless global bean counters.
But media agencies also negotiate fantastic discounts. Buying more exposure for less is almost certainly the best way to land media business. But once you’ve landed it, the entire focus shifts invariably towards making the agency key performance indicator buying targets (see ‘more for less’ above), even if that doesn’t really contribute to the ultimate objective of in-market return on media investment.
They churn numbers. Media agencies love big numbers and big campaigns. The bigger the numbers, the bigger the budget… and the bigger the budget, the bigger the revenue!
Of course media agencies are allowed to play in the ‘big ideas’ arena occasionally and even Cannes Lions, once the exclusive domain of the creative agency, now finds that media is one of the most keenly contested sectors at the awards. David Ogilvy, who many refer to as the father of advertising, would probably pull the eye patch off the Hathaway man (said to be the most famous print ad of all time) in frustration at the knowledge that these days we even have campaign effectiveness awards at Cannes. In South Africa, the Roger Garlick Awards have elicited some excellent work over the years, but these campaigns are the exception and most certainly not the rule.
So in the future, will media agencies still churn big numbers for big campaigns? Yes, they will. The real questions are: what numbers and who will churn them?
When it comes to numbers, over the past five decades South Africa has justifiably established itself as the leading advertising market in Africa and the pan-African benchmark for excellence in media decision-making. The catalyst for this competitive positioning is not superior intellect or work ethic but, quite simply, data. It is access to data that differentiates and elevates South Africa to its position as the most sophisticated media market in Africa. And it is access to independent, reliable and credible data that will define the future of media agencies in Mzansi.
Right now the impasse between media owners – who are determined to create big audience data that best suits their narrow world view – and the marketing industry, whose clients hold out for a centralised co-operative approach, is threatening the very existence of media agencies in this country. And ironically, it threatens the existence of the media owners who are so committed to a universal declaration of independence.
Today we like to call big numbers ‘big data’. Media owners in South Africa are so enthralled by the concept of big data that, under the universal battle cry “Amps under-reads my medium”, they have convinced themselves the only way to halt the digital blitzkrieg is to create more data and bigger audiences, so that they can once again entice media agencies into big campaigns with big budgets.
But, as James Deaker, vice president of advertising and data solutions at Yahoo, notes: big data is more about the “3Vs” than it is about big campaigns. These are:
- volume of data that exceeds traditional processing methodologies;
- variety of data types and sources; and
- velocity of data flowing in and out of the systems.
In the global media industry, big data is certainly a hot topic because each of these 3Vs needs to be addressed effectively. This is needed to improve the consumer and advertiser experience through better personalisation and targeting of digital communication. In fact the inverse rule of big data application is that it produces small campaigns. So small, in fact, that they create a target market of one: the personalised advertising message directed at me, the digital user.
In a June 2014 study conducted for Yahoo by Ipsos, 78% of consumers in the USA indicated they are open to some form of personalised content. But the study also found a high degree of acceptance as long as personalised content is relevant and delivers efficiency for the user.
Lauren Weinberg, Yahoo’s vice president of global research and insight, noted that it’s about striking the right balance between “giving consumers what they want but not narrowing their world so that they start to miss out on things that are important to them”. Yahoo’s three golden rules for achieving best practice in personalisation are:
know me (content that targets ‘what I like’ and ‘who I am’);
speak my language (make ads that sound like a trusted brand); and
value my time (people want better ads with more useful information).
The real purpose of big data is to create big insights.
But in emerging markets, it is also necessary to understand all of a user’s interactions, not only with web pages, apps and social media but across every media channel consumer’s use to access advertisers’ content. That includes radio, out of home, print and conventional television. If media agencies and the media industry in Mzansi are to survive, there needs to be a significant shift in their thinking. Big data doesn’t mean investing millions in large sample research that will produce bigger audiences. It means investing in smaller and more targeted audiences and bigger and better insights. They need bigger insights about individual consumers, not aggregated audiences, based on large sample research.
So, who will churn these big data in the future? Will it be a trained media strategist with a degree in marketing and communication, or perhaps psychology and consumer behaviour? Or will it be an algorithm that just creates an infinite series of real-time connections between a series of seemingly unrelated bits of data?
In the digital world there is very little discussion on this point. The sheer volume, variety and velocity of data delivery determine that, ultimately, programmatic planning will prevail. The concept of training individuals to sit at a desk, with a rate card and use the powers of human observation to connect a disconnected set of numbers is obsolete. Start training wannabe media buyers now about algorithms and programmatic planning or close down.
But what happens when it comes to the creative response to these insights?
Sure, media measurement tools will have to improve dramatically, but ultimately it’s the creative response to big insights that will make the difference. Whether we are talking about viewable ad impressions (VAI), radio listenership or TV viewership, it’s not about buying more for less. In fact, it never has been. One of the biggest mindset shifts we need to inculcate is the need to move beyond measuring campaign gross rating points, which is increasingly the currency of procurement. We need to move to analysing and understanding consumer’s media consumption profiles and even user generated content (UGC) and creating an immediate and personalised response to that consumer.
The media agency of the future will not be required to measure the number of consumers who access a campaign, but rather the number of consumers who are reaching out to the campaign.
This story was first published in the September 2014 issue of The Media magazine