It’s finally happening: dumb data is doomed

It’s finally happening: dumb data is doomed
Outdoor advertising: OOH media owners have entered into joint measurement standards
Opinion: 100% Media 0% Nonsense

Media buyers and advertisers seem more emboldened to finally ask the right questions over data as tech giants struggle and agencies find their voices, writes the editor.


Everyone should have a favourite Peter Drucker quote, just like everyone should have a favourite shirt or music album.

Mine is: “So much of what we call management consists in making it difficult for people to work.”

This comes to mind when media-buying agencies like Interpublic Group decide to merge Mediahub, one of those most interesting network media agencies I’ve come across in the last five years, with IPG Mediabrands, the division that comprises UM and Initiative.

A well-placed source tells me that Mediahub leaders have been pushing for this change for some time. Mediahub has always been a strange being: a quickly growing, innovative gem that was part of ad agency group MullenLowe but is soon to hit a ceiling. It does fine handling challenger brands’ domestic media accounts but, to win international media accounts worth tens of millions of pounds, it needs a larger global footprint and support from Mediabrands’ buying power.

Mean what you say

Mediahub has stood out for saying what few in network agencyland dare to touch. Few agencies, for example, publicly talk about the Google tax and come up with solutions to combat it, as EMEA/APAC CEO Ross Jenkins has done.

Fewer still are building their own proprietary tools to measure and optimise attention data — see my previous column about attention and its implications. I highly recommend reading the agency’s senior VP Erfan Djazmi’s article explaining what early insights his team uncovered last summer.

As part of Mediabrands, it should start to be in the conversation for bigger international accounts and benefit from ‘conflict’ accounts that IPG can’t service within Mediabrands agencies UM and Initiative. The question is whether it can retain its identity as a challenger agency which has served them so well under the pugnacious John Moore.

Moore told The Media Leader that one of this industry’s biggest challenges in 2023 is: “how do agencies differentiate in an environment where the walled garden companies control 74% of all digital revenue? Each of these environments tell you what you can do and what you can’t do. So it’s essentially agency commoditisation… The biggest challenge is not signing cheques over to the big media platforms and letting them automate to their own profit.”

Let’s see whether Moore will continue to be as public with his criticisms of tech giants as a Mediabrands employee. Mat Baxter’s time as Initiative CEO didn’t last long after he publicly advised advertisers to stay off Facebook after one the company’s many, many privacy scandals.

It just so happened that a senior executive from another agency group let me know just last week that its advertiser spend on Facebook* is significantly down so far this year, while spend on TikTok is steadily increasing.

And it wasn’t that long ago that Facebook would be seen to not care. Remember when Mark Zuckerberg’s former right-hand woman Sheryl Sandberg used to boast about how 80% of its revenue came from outside its top 100 advertisers (in other words “don’t bother boycotting us, global media buyers, because you’re just too small”)?,

Now, when Zuckerberg is under pressure to show the market that the company is not taking its eye off the ball when it comes to its core ad-selling business, Facebook salespeople are ready to jump into action when a major ad buyer’s UK agency spend has begun to dwindle. This is a good thing.

The game is up

That colourful language sums up a legacy of monopoly media giants who didn’t need to conform to joint industry standards and third-party measurement as broadcast media has done for years. But it was never going to be a viable long-term strategy unless these companies remained monopolies forever.

What’s different now is that the “two-speed downturn” I wrote about in November appears to be coming to pass. Large advertisers’ above-the-line budgets have generally not shrunk as much as first thought amid recession forecasts this year.

TikTok has also introduced more competitive pressure on online budgets, as has years of preparation for third-party cookies being binned for advertising purposes. Data used to be described as “the new oil” and advertisers gorged on anything and everything that told you something about someone, somewhere. Thankfully, we seem to have reached a stage where they are now asking ‘how much can you trust your data?’ ‘how sustainable are your methods for collecting it?’ and ‘do you have the people and tools to interpret it well’?

This is why it was so significant that the UK’s major out-of-home media owners have entered into what is effectively a joint-industry currency for online and offline outdoor. All their inventory will be tracked and verified via a single system which can, in theory, be used for media modelling purposes.

As media planning consultant Justin Gibbons tells me, “this is exactly the kind of thing that outdoor media has needed to stay in the game. Advertisers and agencies have enough knowledge and expertise now and there is less tolerance for bad-quality data.”

There’s no longer anywhere to hide. Advertisers demand instantaneous feedback on how well their ads are performing on media and expect media owners to organise themselves so inventory is comparable and verifiable. Media needs to compete hard on content, but measurement should be a common endeavour.

That’s why the UK broadcasters have all invested in some form of data clean rooms where advertisers can use their own customer information alongside audiences for ITV, Channel 4 and Sky (all three companies are collaborating on the joint measurement platform C-Flight). Global has pioneered the Digital Audio Exchange (DAX) in audio and now outdoor has the Playout platform which goes live in July. Publishers have just agreed to continue funding Ozone, the joint seller for online advertising across newsbrands and magazine sites.

We need media agencies like Mediahub to keep saying what needs to be said about our industry’s challenges. And media owners need to collaborate on joint standards to make media easier to plan and buy.

In other words, we all need to do the unthinkable: prove Peter Drucker wrong and make some management decisions that make this an easier industry to work in.

* Yes, I know Facebook is called Meta but I’m still having trouble getting used to it.


Omar Oakes is editor of The Media Leader. 100% Media 0% Nonsense is a weekly column about the state of media and advertising. Make sure you sign up to our our daily UK newsletter to get this column in your inbox every Monday.

Adwanted UK is the trusted delivery partner for three essential services which deliver accountability, standardisation, and audience data for the out-of-home industry. Playout is Outsmart’s new system to centralise and standardise playout reporting data across all outdoor media owners in the UK. SPACE is the industry’s comprehensive inventory database delivered through a collaboration between IPAO and Outsmart. The RouteAPI is a SaaS solution which delivers the ooh industry’s audience data quickly and simply into clients’ systems. Contact us for more information on SPACE, J-ET, Audiotrack or our data engines.

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