My 20th year in media and advertising is right around the corner, and I'm still learning new things. The fact that media is so fragmented makes it next-to-impossible to know all things about all channels and media vehicles. In the hundreds of meetings I've had with agencies and advertisers over the years, there are some interesting blind spots in the advertising and media landscape that still persist today. Let's dive in.
All TRPs are not equal
In the halls of broadcast buying departments you will still hear conversations about communication goals and weight levels. Fair enough. For a long time, digital was kept separate from broadcast, and raw impression numbers were used to distract marketers from if/how/when they counted toward achieving a TRP count. It was new and not going away, so with or without TRPs, digital had to be on the plan. The reality is all messages that meet a pair of eyeballs achieve a communication goal and count as media weight.
However, is watching an entire 30-second TV spot the same as seeing an online 300x250 banner for 1.5 seconds? Or the same as seeing an outdoor board for 0.5 seconds? No matter the media channel, all of these eyeballs count for something, but they're not all equal. How much variance in worth and weight there is from one media vehicle to another depends on the complexity of your creative message, the environment in which it's being consumed, and the time the consumer will spend viewing it. There is no magic formula, though. This is something you need to work out for your brand instead of relying on benchmarks.
Every media vehicle's effectiveness can be measured against real goals
"I couldn't measure my display down to the sale in the store, so I cancelled it and put the money back in TV." Palm to forehead. While very little media is accurately measurable down to the sale, there are leading indicators for nearly every brand and product that can be monitored to determine how effective each media channel is at driving consumers through the purchase funnel/process toward a sale. Whether it's online surveys, man-on-the-street surveys, or tracking meaningful website activities other than a sale, there are some metrics you can use other than "sales or nothing." Again, this is hard stuff. It takes planning, controls, strategy, and effort. If it was easy, your competitors would already be doing it.
Different channels have different standards?
Just today I had a CEO tell me the company has been frustrated by its inability to attribute sales (many of which are offline) to various digital media. I said, "Digital is measurable, not magical." Being measurable isn't black or white, but that's what so many CEOs think. If it's not measurable, it must be good for branding. If it is measurable, it must drive a sale. Unfortunately, and again, it's not easy thinking in shades of gray, but that's what great marketers do. They understand the degree to which a channel is measurable and make the most of it.
The medium, the message, and...the data?
Marshall McLuhan said, "The medium is the message." Whereas there used to be two considerations when planning advertising, there are now three. Choosing the right media channel and doing great creative now only gets a marketer a "C." Knowing how to harness your own data, upload it, download it, statistically analyze it, and apply it to your campaigns gets you an "A."
The shell game
A friend of mine used to work in the car business and once showed me why he'd stand up and lean over the desk to discuss a certain part of the contract. It was so his tie would cover up a part of the contract he didn't want the customer to read. This behavior was direct and intentional. But is subversive and wily any better?
When your agency promises you they can beat SQAD by 30 percent and no other agency can do that, how do you think that's possible? In Lake Wobegon, every child is above average. How is it large agencies can beat SQAD by 30 percent when they are the ones contributing the numbers to SQAD? Either they're reporting false numbers to SQAD or buying lower quality media to come in at the price level they promised. Or both. Agencies are experts at their business. When marketers make unreasonable demands of their agency threatening "to go elsewhere," it's hard to fault a survivalist mentality. As a marketer, you need to know how to get the best out of your agency, not the numbers that only appear to be the best.
But my kids...
How many media plans have you personally derailed using a one-person focus group with that person being you? You thought about how you consume media, your kids' buying preferences, or what your spouse watches on TV. This focus group of one is a misleading bias that harms nearly every one of us. It's important to remember this and remind your clients of it before presenting the plan. It this cat gets out of the bag, the meeting is gone.
"A" doesn't always equal "A," but "A" often equals "B"
No, you're not reading a Mensa quiz. We're talking about digital inventory equality. Just last week we pulled some fascinating data. We looked at all of the impressions we purchased via RTB on one (non-portal) site but then broke it out by exchange. This site was using more than 10 exchanges to bid on its ads. We found that a) different exchanges sold that site's inventory at dramatically different prices, b) the viewability ranges for this site ranged from 2 percent on one exchange to 45 percent on another, and c) the price paid had no correlation with viewability. "A" should equal "A" here, but it doesn't.
Conversely, you might go to a well-known website and hit refresh a few times. Right there on the homepage you might see a major brand ad that paid a $10 CPM for that spot. Two refreshes later you see an ad for an advertiser you know was bought inexpensively via RTB. Same placement, same user. You only blew through one advertiser's frequency cap hitting refresh but see a two to 10 times price difference. A equals B.
Something is better than nothing, except when it's not
Let's say you're launching your first brand campaign. It was a rush to get it up, but the lack of time to get set up for proper metrics was less important than getting the timing of this campaign right. You're not set up to measure online to offline conversion, your site doesn't have any conversion events (c-store, QSR, etc.), and you haven't set up surveys yet. You've been running for one week. How is the campaign performing?
Ninety percent of marketers will look at CTR in this instance even though they know it's worse than a worthless metric. It's inversely correlated with purchase behavior, yet our desire to measure something, anything, is so strong we'd rather look at a misleading metric than nothing. Know when you have something to measure, and when you don't. And leave it that way.
Automate yourself out of your job
I have around 10 direct reports, and rolling up through them are another 200 people or so. When we discover an inefficiency in our company, we want to stamp it out. The front-line person who jumps in to speed this process and make us more efficient quickly gets noticed by me. I see them as having a broader view and better able to take on larger roles. It's counter-intuitive when you're the front-line worker, though.
I've spoken with a number of traditional media buyers who feel their path to job security is to make their job appear as complicated as possible, so they seem irreplaceable. From me to you, any half-decent CEO will see through that in a heartbeat. Automate yourself out of a job. It's your fastest path to a promotion.
Different channels? No, different behaviors and purposes
What is mobile? Is it your phone? Tablet? Both? Regardless, they shouldn't be treated the same. More importantly, each of these devices represents a different mindset and way of interacting with content, brands, and the shopping process.
There have been a number of studies showing where and on which devices shopping processes begin and end. Know the pathway for your brand and your consumers. Then treat each device appropriately within your media plan to get the most out of it.
Final thought: Getting a "C" is easy
Looking at the content of your creative, by medium, and determining the value of each impression relative to each other is hard. Most brands won't have the time to perform the science to get it perfect. Automating yourself out a job, disciplining your brain to avoid thinking about how you shop or consume media -- all of this is really hard. Even if you're the smartest person alive and this is all natural to you, bringing others along with your vision and actually executing it takes massive coordination, persuasion, and patience. But when you look at companies doing the best work and peek behind their curtains, they're doing the hard things on their own and not looking to the industry to give them benchmarks and tell them how to think.
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