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Why a pan-industry levy for measurement is attracting followers

Why a pan-industry levy for measurement is attracting followers

Bob Wootton looks at the latest developments in the quest for attention measurement and the thorny issue of payment terms

I can’t describe how great it has been to get back out there recently for Mediatel’s Future of Media (the main two-day conference and the fringe Pathfinders event) and Radiocentre’s Tuning In 2021.

All were excellent and made so much the better by being physical once again.  Say what you like, we are social beings and this is a very sociable industry.

Turnouts were good in each case, although there was some sense that not everybody sees the need to come into town and mingle yet.  Fortunately, they were streamed.  This may play havoc with the economics so I hope it’s an interim step back towards a previous normality.

The annual ASI event also took place virtually over several days earlier this month.  It’s been going for years but has recently raised its game and become much more than a talking shop for media researchers who don’t normally venture out quite as much.

(Some of you might also remember the time when their get-togethers used to be called symposiums or colloquiums.  Lah di dah).

Fellow Mediatel News contributors Brian Jacobs and Richard Marks are leading lights and the latter’s reflections on this year’s main themes is a must-read.

Not that it’s plain sailing, though. The chasm between broadcasters and tech platforms over what comprises an impression is as wide as ever (and I’m still firmly on the broadcasters’ side on that one).

Yet cross-media – in truth pan-video, at least for the foreseeable – measurement is still high-profile as it is being bigged-up by the global and local advertiser bodies (WFA & ISBA and to an apparently lesser extent, the US’ ANA).

There was a good measure of vocal, if equally non-specific, advertiser support for it at the Future of Media event.

It’s fraught with complexity and cost and the language surrounding it is still that of frameworks, roadmaps and so on with disappointingly little meat on the table yet, but fingers still crossed…

Overall, we should be very pleased at the level of attention that audience and, yes, attention measurement are receiving.

Also encouraging is that the notion of a pan-industry levy to fund things (most recently resuscitated and championed by Brian Jacobs) is gaining some traction, rather than being kicked into the long grass like it has before.

(I must take my share of blame for that, having allowed the advertiser old guard and procurement constituencies, who regarded audience research purely as a cost of sale for the media owners, to hold sway for too long).

Despite the difficulties that industry self-regulation of ad content has encountered in the online age, the model which funds it (via ASBOF) provides a ready and successful template to build upon.

It will have its detractors. As Richard says (and I have said before too), good audience research costs money and whoever contributes the most – invariably the media owners hitherto – has control.

A levy-based system will give advertisers have much greater say since they’d be funding it directly.

Nevertheless, the stars are aligning and I see a (relatively) easy and quick win on this big one if momentum can be maintained.

Every so often, usually during a periodic ‘mediapalooza’, the issue of delayed payments rears its head again. In this case, it was the recent Coca-Cola global review that triggered it.

The pitch consultants are usually mute on this topic. After all, why bite the hand that feeds?

But this time, the well-regarded IDComms ventured a comment. 

Reassuringly, it was none too sympathetic to the widespread practice amongst major customers of the advertising industry to stipulate dramatically-extended payment terms.

The media require payment around 30 days after appearance. Many big clients seek to bake anything from 60 to 180 into their invitations to tender. Some have even tried to push as far as 270 (yes, nine months!).

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My position on this is well-documented and longstanding: if you want to borrow money, go to a bank. If you want to do media properly….  You get my drift.

My equally blunt view is that it is a cancer on the business which its leaders should stamp out. Current pitch dynamics post-pandemic (staff churn and shortages, agencies declining certain invitations) suggest that now would be a good time to do this.

It would have to come from the top – the big network agency groups that tend to service the big client perpetrators and which still account for over 75% of spends despite the rise and rise of a vibrant independent sector. Smaller players would surely follow with great relief, making for a quick landslide towards a better place.

So why doesn’t it happen?

Well put simply, because the big players might gripe about it at every opportunity but don’t want it to. This is because it’s now well-known that media planning, buying and servicing skills are no longer size-dependent. Especially since the increasing half of the world’s ad expenditure now goes through completely faceless and emotionless auction-based trading platforms.

The networks’ continued advantages are breadth of services across staging posts in all those awkward, distant places where clients sell stuff. To this, they add their willingness to act as a bank for the client by acquiescing to extended payment terms, thereby making the client’s life much easier as he can show his CEO and CFO a direct cashflow benefit….

Ok, all is fair in love, war and free competition, but the industry is in some state of crisis because it continues to struggle to demonstrate commercial value in what it does.

To relegate competitiveness to process and geography broadcasts that the cupboard is bare when it comes to actual product – compelling communications that impel purchase and/or reinforce beliefs that inform subsequent transactions.

Hence my enthusiasm for a moratorium on extended payment terms. Lawyers, management consultants and merchant bankers don’t play this silly game and charge much more.

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BobWootton, Principal, Deconstruction, on 02 Dec 2021
“Touché, Richard. I was actually recalling some delegate comments from some time back. But your point about advertisers engaging and stepping up at last is spot on, and perhaps that has helped the community create a greater sense of forward momentum. I’m certainly impressed that ASI is now one of the key arenas for progressing valuable and long-overdue progress. All best.”
RichardMarks, Research Director, asi, on 30 Nov 2021
“Thanks for your kind comments about my summary of the recent asi conference Bob, but I must take issue with your depiction of the event over the years. You claim that the event has been a ’talking shop for media researchers who don’t normally venture out quite as much’. I’d be interested to know what your source is for this as I don’t think you have actually attended the event yourself in the past? And therein lies the problem. The mission of asi has always been to encourage a dialogue between the producers of media data and those who actually use it: the very opposite of a ’talking shop’.

Far from ’not venturing out’, media researchers at media owners, currencies and research agencies have consistently attended in their hundreds. Nonetheless, despite our best efforts to involve advertisers in the debate, to tell us what they want, what they really, really want, their attendance has, until very recently been minimal. Advertisers themselves have been unwilling to engage, claiming that it was 'down to their media agency’ to sort out measurement issues. Brian Jacobs had repeatedly lamented in his columns over the years that this is precisely the sort of event that advertisers should have been attending!

As you highlight, in the past couple of years has that started to change, with Phil Smith’s launch of Project Origin at our 2019 event a pivotal moment. It really isn't a case of us ‘upping our game’ though. It’s actually the advertisers who have finally upped their game. A perceived crisis in cross-platform measurement has finally prompted them to move from the back of the taxi and actually give directions.

I am tempted to argue that if, over the last couple of decades, advertisers had actually engaged directly and continually with the measurement industry and not seen such discussions as beneath them, then the industry might be in a much healthier position in the first place.

The cynic in me does fear that this increased advertiser engagement with asi has coincided with our enforced detour into online events. Next November we will be back 'in person'. I know that the media researchers will certainly 'venture out’ as they have done consistently, but it will be interesting to whether advertisers' newfound enthusiasm to engage on measurement issues extends beyond switching on their webcams.”

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