Impact and effectiveness: be more Ben Stokes
Brands have always grown stronger and faster when scoring in 6s and 4s by using ‘Big Media’ — not worrying about singles.
Those of you with enough miles on the clock will remember Lowe Howard-Spink. They helped make brands like Stella Artois famous by reaching parts of the market others couldn’t.
They invented the “Every Little Helps” line for Tesco that helped that brand an awful lot during its ascent to the top of the supermarket charts.
Lowes made brands (and themselves) famous, and this was a fairly straightforward exercise that took immense effort: big, bold creative work in highly visible places, and it worked in spades.
The arrival of new ads for brands like Stella was anticipated for life, not just for Christmas. They (and Collett Dickenson Pearce) redefined the role of the agency as being important drivers of brand growth.
Lowes even created the sponsorship for the Queen’s tennis tournament on behalf of Stella, and it was known as ‘the Stella’ long after it was sponsored by someone less memorable.
Their approach to media was to get the biggest spots and spaces, with a ‘reassuringly expensive’ approach to paying for fame.
Some might say they made it all about attention.
Same fundamentals, new methods of definition
Back then there wasn’t much discussion about the role of advertising. It was to generate impact and thus be effective, and Lowes were the epitome of how that was done. No-one in the industry at that time doubted what we were there for and we didn’t need to debate it.
We defined effectiveness quite simply: did the activity help the brand-owner or service provider achieve their goals? Usually this was in business terms or in shaping people’s attitudes, and to do this we had to achieve impact. The mechanics were important but secondary.
So it was good to see that last month’s Future of Media conference rekindled the idea of impact and effectiveness as being central to future success. This was a welcome sense of déjà vu.
Several decades on, if the fundamentals haven’t changed, the methods by which we define and measure impact and effectiveness are undergoing a transition.
“Impact” is more nuanced now and can describe more subtle communication effects, such as how brands are handling issues such as sustainability. Softer values are an important aspect.
“Effectiveness” has a harder edge and should be built around business performance, not just proxy measures such as coverage and frequency, which are building blocks, not an end in themselves.
With so much choice in how to go to market, there can surely be no better way than effectiveness measurement to decide what combinations of content, context and channel are the best.
Dubious proxy measures
The job of planning and executing around effectiveness is now harder and requires a high degree of skills and tools. TV audiences in the several millions no longer exist, and in some media audiences have fragmented into universes of one. Every channel is a candidate.
The arrival and gargantuan growth of online media has led to an excess of advertising availability and a new set of measurement metrics that are ostensibly seductive. The claimed promise of data-led audience targeting persuaded brand-owners that a new dawn in effectiveness had arrived.
What we have got, however, is a dubious set of proxy measures such as last-click attribution and a lot of data that purports to prove that personalisation is highly effective. There isn’t a lot of real proof of it.
Some digital media have proved to be very powerful, especially Search, while others have failed to live up to their promise, not least because of the conjoined high transaction costs and exposure failings that can reduce the advertising dollar by as much as two thirds.
The much-vaunted ‘mass personalisation at scale’ has so far proven, perhaps inevitably, to be an unattainable ideal.
The media planning and buying industry has been down its own cul-de-sac, where the cost of media was deemed of paramount importance versus the need for buying salience in an over-supplied market. Cheap impressions are cheap for a reason.
There are lots of indications that matters are improving. Chief among these is the increasing understanding within the business community that brand is a key driver of business growth and the measurement of marketing effectiveness is therefore a necessary discipline.
Last month’s report from the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) demonstrated this and Ian Whittaker, a prime mover in the study, seems to be on a personal mission to encourage our industry to finally move upstream and speak the language of the Boardroom, such as the return on capital employed compared to other corporate investments.
Other positive factors are the movement towards attention measurement and even the growth of Retail Media Networks, which are evidence of our industry’s ability to evolve towards data-led solutions where the conditions are right for the delivery of both effectiveness and its measurement through innovation.
While Retail Media is evidence of the evolution of data-driven marketing, there also seems to be a return to the belief in “big advertising”, as practiced by agencies such as Lowes in the 80s and 90s, but in a present-day context.
Old verities resurfacing
It should also be said, again, that effectiveness measurement has to lead to transparency in media for the models to work. This is the only way it will ever happen.
The IPA seems to agree with this, according to a report last week:
“With a growing abundance of media audience data, advertisers and agencies must not lose sight of the importance of transparency, objectivity, and accountability, according to a new IPA white paper”.
The IPA’s new focus on effectiveness is highly welcome and its support of transparency equally so. Let’s hope it filters down to their members.
As effectiveness rises to the surface, some of the old verities are being talked about again.
Critics of sporting analogies should look away now or rule the next few paragraphs offside (without the need for VAR).
In cricketing parlance, brands have always grown stronger and more quickly when scoring in 6s and 4s. The one-to-one promise of digital media was the equivalent of scoring in singles, or not at all if the supposed audience wasn’t even real. That’s like being caught out.
There is nothing surprising in this and absolute reach has always been the most sure-fire way to build fame for a message (see Byron Sharp), but this message has been lost in the pursuit of individual addressability and personalisation in recent times. “Right audience”, etc.
The renewed focus on effectiveness measurement reminds the industry that “big media”, and “Big TV” in particular, are still the biggest drivers of profitability.
The tireless attempts of Thinkbox to remind the world of this stretch back several years and their more recent work adds more analytical substance regarding the role of creative messaging, among other factors.
While it is easy to dismiss the partisan nature of the Thinkbox research, independent studies also prove time and again that “Big TV” (not just linear) is still the biggest pound-for-pound contributor to profit.
The need for 6s and 4s
In other words, scoring in 6s and 4s beats scoring in singles. Big screen TV, however delivered, has a disproportionately large effect on brand fame and profitability.
When it comes to scoring runs, we should be more Ben Stokes, less Geoffrey Boycott.
There is also little doubt that “Big TV” and the fame it generates act as multipliers of every other channel, especially Search. Other media can work without it, but work much harder when it propels them.
The flywheel of Retail Media will spin even faster when TV and out-of-home (OOH) give it a shove.
While this remains true, we all know that it is harder to do this now, with audiences diffused. So the task for effectiveness measurement is to help us navigate our way through the many inter- and intra-media options to allocate resources to the best combination of brand-building techniques (not just advertising) that recreate the conditions for success in a fragmented world.
“Big Media” will continue to prove profitable and the scarcity of its ability to deliver reach will become increasingly recognised.
To reflect this, effectiveness analytics needs to include qualitative measures that recognise the need for 6s and 4s. Not all GRPs or Impressions are equal; not all TV is equal. “Big TV” has a value over and above.
More choice, more risk
We need the analytical skills to differentiate between channels but crucially also between the crude currencies that are used for media planning and buying. The world is not getting flatter and yet we try to make it look so when we add peaches to lemons.
We should feel optimistic. This renewed focus on impact and effectiveness is a long overdue return to the fundamentals of brand- and business-building that Lowes epitomised but in a contemporary context. Brand owners are spoilt for choice but the risks are high; impact and effectiveness measurement is the way to minimise them.
Everything else is just not cricket.
Nick Manning is the co-founder of Manning Gottlieb Media (now MG OMD) and was CSO at Ebiquity for over a decade. He now owns a mentoring business, Encyclomedia, offering strategic advice to companies in the media and advertising industry, and is non-executive chair of Media Marketing Compliance. He writes for The Media Leader each month.