What really matters in media today?
There is a lot of discussion about ‘purpose’ in advertising, but less about the purpose of advertising. And that purpose is to be effective.
For this week’s ‘The Future of Media’ conference I was asked to review 10 factors that will (or should) be on the top of everyone’s list of ‘must-dos’, paving the way for a brighter future for the media industry.
The media industry relies upon a healthy advertising ecosystem, especially when so much content is free and ad-supported. My review looks at the extent to which these ten items lead to a strong and growing advertising market.
The purpose of advertising is to be effective
The list ranges across a wide range of themes, including sustainability, talent, media measurement, attention and effectiveness. If nothing else, such a wide range shows the depth and breadth of today’s issues.
Our industry likes to follow what is ‘hot’ and the debate about how ESG-related factors will affect the future of media has dominated platforms and the trade titles for a long while now.
It’s not that these factors are not important, but so much of industry debate these days is internally-focussed and revolves around peripheral matters. What’s ‘hot’ sometimes obscures the more important challenges we must face.
For example, there is a lot of discussion about ‘purpose’ in advertising but less about the purpose of advertising. And that purpose is to be effective.
Everything else is a means to that end, or might be.
If advertising is not effective, what is its point? It’s a huge industry that contributes enormously to our economy and employs many people, so a healthy future is vital. And to be healthy it has to be effective and prove its worth versus alternative ways of marketing brands and services, or even other forms of capital outlay.
Seen through this lens the other nine themes may possibly contribute to effectiveness but there is no causal link.
Talent matters, but it’s a generic word that covers a range of HR tasks such as recruitment, retention and rewards. Does the right talent policy automatically improve effectiveness? Probably, but it’s not guaranteed and is too generic a term.
Does the measurement of attention systematically improve advertising effectiveness? I’d like to think so, but it’s hard to tell even if some of the most gifted people in our industry are attempting to find the connection.
Is trust a factor in effectiveness? Again, it probably is but the connection is a supposition that is hard to prove.
And so on.
In my view, the nine factors that aren’t effectiveness are only important if they contribute to it. They all can, but it’s hard to say definitively that they do.
How to define ‘effectiveness’
Yet the challenge remains to define ‘effectiveness’. It means different things to different organisations. The Government wants to change attitudes and behaviour. Big brands want to drive awareness and gain market share. Online brands often want low-cost acquisition. Everyone will have a version of effectiveness.
So it is important to set out a programme for effectiveness and its measurement in four stages:
- Be crystal clear on what effectiveness means within the organisation and what it leads to.
- Create a framework for the measurement of effectiveness.
- Determine which factors influence it.
- Have a measurement process that measures the things that matter, including attention and other factors that contribute to effectiveness.
If this sounds like common sense, then that’s fine other than the fact that many companies don’t do it. Some confuse efficiency for effectiveness and the advertising industry does not revolve around proof of success. Huge sums are wasted on unproductive advertising as a result.
There has been a general decline in advertising effectiveness in recent years, produced by a combination of factors. This includes the lack of impact in digital channels through low viewability, latency, fraud, poor targeting (ironically), and low attention levels.
Data and money must be tracked accurately
It could be argued that the new media trading models have evolved around the spending of money rather than the objective of delivering success, with opaque practices that siphon off far too much money between the advertiser and the desired audience. Budgets disappear down the ecosystem cracks or mysterious trading deals.
This means that there is one other item that advertisers need to ensure that contributes to effectiveness and its measurement. They have to structure their operations around transparency in all dimensions (not just media trading) so that their budgets are maximised. Data and money must be tracked accurately for true effectiveness measurement to be delivered.
The future of media depends heavily on an advertising industry that is geared towards effectiveness and is structured to achieve it. We are very far from seeing this as things stand, and a new focus on effectiveness would benefit all players in the media industry, rather than the big digital platforms that dominate the advertising market without providing clear evidence of their worth.
There are many other factors that contribute to effectiveness, including the nine other items in the conference list, so by all means let’s work on them but not lose sight of the ultimate objective: good advertising that works.
Nick Manning is the co-founder of Manning Gottlieb 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. He writes for The Media Leader each month.