Who Cares? We’re about to find out…

Who Cares? We’re about to find out…

The Who Cares? movement is as terrific as it is long overdue, but the stakes are high. Without advertiser support, will there be lasting change?

Industry luminaries (and fellow The Media Leader columnists) Brian Jacobs and Nick Manning have sought to determine the appetite for change in this industry under the working title “Who Cares?”.

In addition to their own views (and mine), they reference the considerable work and commentary from the likes of Dr Augustine Fou, Krzysztof Franaszek of Adalytics and the evergreen Bob Hoffman, whose latest compendium sums things up.

Their mission seems to come under two broad headings, the likely reasons for which intertwine.

Nick Manning: Who cares wins – the antidote to ‘badvertising’

Crisis in creativity

This is driven by the need for much more “content” across many more outlets and a marked failure to persuade advertisers of the value of creativity, despite bodies of powerful evidence being built.

Scopes of work have mushroomed, while preparedness to pay for it has shrunk.

The industry’s public standing (and self-esteem) has declined, as has the amount that advertising is liked. Or trusted (although latest research suggests this is recovering, albeit slowly).  Can we really lay legacy popularity on there being only one ad channel and little choice but to watch it?

Retargeting and failure to cap ad frequency also claim a fat slice of blame here.

“Conscious recoupling” of creative and media is on the agenda — one motivation perhaps being to stem this terrible tide.

The (false) promise of tech

The ad industry has become enthralled to (ad)tech — itself not looking too pretty. Having beguiled with promises of absolute targetability and zero waste, online advertising has emerged as chaotic and often unaccountable. It’s also infested with more kinds of fraud than space here permits.

Moreover, the online value chain has ballooned and become so complicated that few understand the contributions — let alone the value add — of the thousands of players involved.

Study after study has shown that billions of advertisers’ investments are (at best) being misdirected. Yet advertisers continue to migrate headlong towards online, which now takes about two-thirds of global adspend.

Advertisers’ quest for value — usually price — has been a key driver from “slow” brand marketing towards “faster” performance-led approaches that further favour online.

Quit talking about price and start talking about value

Generations of senior advertiser management now seem to take online media presence as a matter of faith. Marketers who might be more alert to this backwash of evidence consistently report great difficulty persuading colleagues otherwise. Their tenures already being tenuous (sorry), most clearly feel life is too short to pick that fight.

It’s here that I must mention the major ad holding companies, competition between which is intense. No surprise, then, that as their clients have turned the screws, they have sought alternative income streams. Adtech and what is now called principal-based media have plugged the gaps.

Moving things forward

What a pickle.

Jacobs and Manning recently canvassed their extensive industry contacts to gauge feeling. This quickly generated many shares and a strong response — interest, offers of help and input, including from people at holding companies who have understandably requested anonymity.

(It also surfaced a parallel groundswell in the US. Careful, though — the first studies into non-transparency emerged there but were soon buried by powerful vested interests.)

They now plan an event at London’s Royal Society of Arts on 12 September to move things forward.

Jacobs and Manning are upfront that this cannot be a collective whinge or a gathering of fossils harking back to “good old days”.

Advertiser buy-in

However it might unfold, what preoccupies me is the importance of engaging the advertisers. Velocity might be achievable without them, but not the sustained momentum needed.

This “movement” will have to appeal far beyond a few venerable semi-retired marketers. Similarly, beyond the small posse of “celebrity” chief marketing officers who frequent the international events circuit.

No, this must engage current budget holders, people rising within their ranks seeking to make differences to their employers’ businesses.

But however much they can be shown is being lost or wasted, have they got the bandwidth or interest?

The excellent work done by Thinkbox et al is powerful; some things coming out of the audience research bodies are interesting too. But will this be enough to overcome astonishing levels of indifference and inertia?

Déjà vu

Consider the example of the contract rights renewal price control on ITV1 airtime.

Regarded in competition circles as one of the most powerful interventions ever imposed, it saved advertisers billions in its first decade, but was overtaken by channel and platform proliferation, major competition issues and budgets migrating online.

I co-created the concept with Ofcom in 2003 and remain proud of it, but have long argued that it’s way past its useful currency.

Insiders agree that many large advertisers misguidedly continue to cleave to it, convinced of its suitability by the major media buyers, which have long found ways of living with, and profiting from, it.

It’s a telling glimpse into major advertisers’ insight and, frankly, grasp.

High stakes

The support of advertiser associations is therefore critical, notably the World Federation of Advertisers and its two key constituents, the US Association of National Advertisers and the UK’s Isba — bodies that other territories watch closely and whose successes they will implement.

Having seen a great industry that has given me so much deteriorate into something less, I think Who Cares? is as terrific as it is long overdue. But the stakes are high. Some of the likely targets are among the wealthiest companies — funded by advertising. Without a serious weight of advertisers, will there be lasting traction?

To close, a bit of blue-sky thinking around the things it will be useful to hear them say publicly:

“We’re going to revert to demanding complete visibility and will pay directly for it. We won’t tolerate any invisible/non-transparent trade on our account and will investigate, prosecute and terminate accordingly.” (See Nick Manning’s post on LinkedIn)

“We recognise the power of creativity, the competitive advantage it can confer and therefore its value to our business, and will configure our pitching and agency relationships accordingly.” (In light of agencies reporting patchy adherence to the Pitch Positive Pledge)

So. Walk, not talk?

Bob Wootton spent 40 years working in advertising, first as a media buyer at some of the UK’s leading agencies before joining the trade body ISBA in 1996, where he was advertising and media director for 20 years. He is also the founder of Deconstruction, a media and tech consulting business, and presents The Guitar Show on YouTube.

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