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Why brand builders shouldn’t ignore digital

Why brand builders shouldn’t ignore digital
Opinion: Strategy Leaders

Our industry has been distracted by measuring  things in media that don’t actually matter, writes VCCP Media’s head of digital.

Recently, there have been some interesting exchanges of opinion regarding the efficacy or otherwise of digital media. Nick Manning described digital media as ‘wasteful’, ‘overblown’, ‘plagued’ and ‘riddled’. Tim Elkington at the IAB shot back with a piece focused on all the good work that the industry is doing to combat bad practice. I agree with elements of both opinion pieces.

Digital advertising spend has accelerated at a rapid pace for the last 20 years and the Covid-19 pandemic only further accelerated that growth. The pace of this growth has allowed some very questionable actors and practices to thrive; especially when advertisers are blissfully chasing metrics such as clicks.

But digital in general — and programmatic in particular — really has cleaned up its act; and, as Elkington says, much has been done to address early concerns and bring transparency to the way data, tech and pricing works across the programmatic stack.

What both pieces miss, is that ‘digital’ is a broad term covering several distinct channels and different approaches within them. I believe digital is an effective and efficient channel, if used properly.

Listen to Grace

At Cannes Lions, Dr Grace Kite’s talk on “The Third Age of Effectiveness” made the point that as an industry we are only now starting to understand how to use digital advertising ‘well’, i.e. to drive advertising effectiveness.

Her fascinating talk reflected how advertisers jumped feet first into digital advertising in the early 2000’s, chasing short-term metrics and often abandoning the advertising principles (such as optimising to reach at an agreed mid-to-high frequency) that drove results for them in more traditional media channels. This subsequently led to disillusionment that digital didn’t work or wasn’t as effective as other channels.

But we’re now starting to remember that focusing on quality messaging, creativity, and environments is of paramount importance to drive effectiveness (for example, look at all the recent work on attention measurement).

Kite’s work shows that online advertising does drive advertising effectiveness, as long as brands are not chasing short term goals and are looking to longer-term sales growth via brand building. This is especially true for categories where the target audience spends time online researching (financial services, durables & entertainment) with a return of more than £8 for every £1 spent.

Reactions matter

So why do so many advertisers ignore digital as a brand-building opportunity? Partly because they are only just learning how it really works, and partly because we’ve been distracted by an understandable (but ultimately unhelpful) obsession with the measurement of things like click-through rates that don’t actually matter.

Digital screens offer advertisers the opportunity to build and utilise beautiful high-impact digital creative in an intimate manner. The ad can be playful and interactive with messaging tailored to the individual’s online behaviour and preferences, meaning you can measure the attention levels, dwell time, and engagement that your ad receives.

Our agency’s planning ethos is ‘Planning for Impact’. This is simply recognising that in media, you need a reaction as well as reach. Digital, therefore, isn’t just about the lowest possible price for the highest possible number of forensically targeted impressions. Rather, it’s about behaving like a market leader, like a superbrand, in the context of your target audience.

This means using data and technology to identify target audiences and understand the specific media and channels they consume by the time of day, day of week and other seasonal factors. It means only working with quality media titles and selecting advertising formats that will cut through and grab attention. It means ensuring the campaign is delivered from medium to high monthly frequency versus the target audience to ensure recall and awareness of messaging with greater certainty. Finally, it means validating the impact of the campaign with research and proving success against business outcomes in conjunction with clients.

We need more work like Kite’s analysis of the Advertising Research (ARC) databank, looking at channels and how they contribute to effectiveness; how they drive business effects.

We’re seeing evidence that digital is a channel that brand builders shouldn’t ignore. But, to drive the effects, we need to think about how we ‘do’ digital very differently.

Neil McMonagle is head of digital at media agency VCCP Media

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Nick Manning, Founder, Encyclomedia, on 19 Jul 2023
“Good piece, Neil. The kind of brand-building you describe is superbly delivered by Scoota. Yes, I have a vested interest but I'm involved because Scoota delivers the kind of online experiences that deliver " the opportunity to build and utilise beautiful high-impact digital creative in an intimate manner", among other things. Most online advertising doesn't do this, as amply evidenced elsewhere, so if " digital in general — and programmatic in particular — really has cleaned up its act", I would suggest that a low bar has been set. Or the studies by ISBA/PwC and the ANA and the recent Analytics report do not reflect the reality of the market.”

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