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Heritage or Baggage. What’s Your Perspective?

2 Apr

ddb-content-logo2-2019-1320x660Two different agency holding companies, with two different perspectives on the value of brand heritage and the role that heritage will play in their respective cultures moving forward.

In late 2018, WPP made the announcement that it was going to merge J. Walter Thompson, the world’s oldest agency brand with Wunderman. The new agency was christened Wunderman Thompson. This came on the heels of WPP’s decision to consolidate digital agency VML with Young & Rubicam renaming the combined entity VMLY&R.

Make no mistake, we are proponents of the holding companies moves to consolidate their brands to streamline operations, improve accountability and to simplify marketer access to agency services. That said, for the nostalgics among us, it was sad to witness the disappearance of two of the industry’s most venerable brands.

Thus, we were pleasantly surprised when Omnicom introduced its new corporate identity for DDB in March. The firm chose to leverage its heritage, adapting its original logo and paying homage to its three founders Ned Doyle, Mac Dane and Bill Bernbach by incorporating the agency’s original name, Doyle Dane Bernbach into its new identity.

A spokesperson for the agency stated, “As other agencies are commoditizing their agency names and turning away from their founding principles and visions, DDB is doubling down on the values that Doyle, Dane and Bernbach founded our agency on – creativity and humanity.”

In the words of Bill Bernbach: “Getting your product known isn’t the answer. Getting it wanted is the answer.”  

U.S. Advertising On the Rise In 2019

5 Mar

dreamstime_xs_29951176Good news for the U.S. advertising industry as revenues are expected  to grow 2% in the first quarter and 7.6% for 2019. This according to Standard Media Index (SMI).

Of note, SMI data is generated from raw invoices — actual dollar amounts spent on each ad buy — from five of the seven media agency holding groups and independent media agencies Read More

 

Lapses of Judgement Are Afflicting the Ad Industry

25 Feb

Hand icon with thumbs downPerusing the advertising industry trade publications over the last few weeks, I couldn’t help but notice a recurring theme… poor judgement. Whether temporary lapses or recurring behavior all parties including marketers, agencies, adtech suppliers and publishers seem to be afflicted by this malady of late.

Examples include, but are not limited to:

  • Client-side procurement personnel waylaying agency reviews by disregarding strategic selection criteria to focus on “cost improvement” as the driver in selecting agency partners.
  • Media agencies recommending unproven media products such as outstream auto-play video. Why? Aside from ads running through completion while out-of-view thus artificially inflating completion rates and skewing ad effectiveness measures, the notion of forcing a video on a user that has not opted-in could negatively impact that user’s experience and their feelings toward the brand.
  • Digital media sellers continuing to use sourced traffic from third parties to increase the number of visitors to their websites to meet audience delivery requirements.
  • YouTube failing, once again, to police its own platform policies and safeguard brand advertisers by allowing users to find and make unsavory comments on videos featuring young children.
  • The feedback from media buyers attending the Digiday Media Buying Summit regarding the aforementioned video publisher, believing that “yes” it is a brand-unsafe environment but it works, giving advertisers the views and conversions.
  • Social media influencers purchasing followers to increase their alleged reach, thus boosting their appeal to brand marketers.

The good news is that there are certainly good actors in the industry that are conducting themselves in an honorable manner, making sound decisions and taking proactive measures to address the aforementioned lapses in judgement. Examples include Unilever’s recent decision to ban the use of influencers who purchase followers and advertisers such as Nestle, McDonalds and Disney pulling their schedules from YouTube. 

That said, the apparent level of apathy toward brand-unsafe media environments, unproven media channels, inorganic followers and site visitors and an unhealthy focus on low price at the expense of quality is quite alarming.

One can only hope that these lapses in good judgement are temporary and that the industry takes heed and puts the appropriate safeguards in place to protect advertisers and their brands moving forward. In the words of Simon Bolivar, the 18th century Venezuelan military and political leader:

Judgement comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgement.

 

 

 

 

Be Big Somewhere… 3 Keys to Media Planning Success

20 Feb

apertureIn the past, there were two overarching concepts that helped to form the basis of an advertiser’s successful media planning efforts.

Be Big Somewhere – Simply stated, this approach held that in order to break through the clutter and gain the attention of an advertiser’s target audience one had to focus their media in places and at times where they could achieve a significant share of voice vis-à-vis the competition.

Aperture – Core to this concept was the belief that each consumer had an ideal time and place when they could be reached by an advertiser’s message. Simultaneously, there were times when the consumer was either prepared to buy or was gathering information regarding a potential future purchase. The intersection of these two points was the “aperture” and was considered to be the ideal point to expose consumers to an advertiser’s message.

Simple proven concepts that had withstood the test of time… up to a point.

At a time marked by the hyper-fragmentation and proliferation of media where consumers have access to a plethora of choices for accessing information and entertainment, it is questionable whether or not these concepts still hold true.

While the dynamic of a rapidly evolving media marketplace creates exciting content access options for consumers, it poses challenges for advertisers and their agency partners. For example, while the average amount of time consumers spend with media is significant, averaging 721 minutes per day (Source: Statista, 2019) determining the right time and place for targeting an advertiser’s message is difficult at best:

Avg. Time Spent with Media by Consumers in Minutes per Day (2017)

  • TV                                            238
  • Mobile (non-voice)               197
  • Online (laptop, desktop)     123
  • Radio                                         86
  • Other Connected Devices      33
  • Print                                          24
  • Other                                         21

         Total Minutes Per Day         721

Further, over the course of a typical day, studies have shown that consumers are exposed to somewhere between 4,000 and 10,000 ad messages. This exposure leads to increased levels of consumer apathy and message burnout. Thus, achieving a meaningful share-of-voice to break through the clutter, and then to effectively reach the target audience and finding the right aperture in this environment, is certainly more complex.

Compounding these environmental factors, at least for advertisers working with multiple media agencies, is the added challenge related to the development of an integrated, holistic planning process to help optimize media allocation decisions across agencies, platforms, publishers, networks, etc.

Moving forward there are three evolving, but yet to be perfected, media planning tools whose furtherance would greatly aid advertisers and their media partners:

  1. Cross-channel, multi-touch attribution models – In order for advertisers to truly optimize their media investments, it is imperative that they be able to assess the role that each consumer touchpoint plays in achieving their goals.
  2. Cross-platform media measurement tools – Simply put, planners need tools (e.g. common metrics) that will allow them to better understand campaign reach by platform and overall, while being able to calibrate total content ratings, regardless of where consumers view the message.
  3. Artificial intelligence platforms – AI has the potential to greatly assist media planners (and buyers) in analyzing multiple data sets to aid in everything from audience segmentation to creating and comparing alternative strategies and leveraging data on a real-time basis to optimize buys while a campaign is underway.

As the industry continues to perfect these tools and agencies master their application, the ability to plan media seamlessly across platforms will be greatly enhanced. In the words of NHL Hall of Famer, Wayne Gretzky:

A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”

 

 

2 “Year-End” Practices That Will Boost Agency Performance

30 Nov

end-of-yearTo be sure, the end of the calendar year is a hectic time for advertisers and agencies. Tasks such as wrapping up ongoing initiatives, closing out jobs, addressing last-minute out-of-scope projects and readying for year-end financial reporting take on a sense of urgency and seem to consume more time than either party has available to invest.

Then, seemingly without warning (but never too soon) the holiday season is upon us and co-workers, suppliers and client-personnel scatter to the wind as companies close down for the holidays and individuals use up remaining comp time. This is followed by a “return to normalcy” the first week in January when we close-out any remaining prior year tasks and turn our attention to implementing the new year’s plans.

Sound familiar? Probably so.

Thus, it comes as no surprise to anyone that certain intended actions fall by the wayside as people adjust schedules for the December/January timeframe in order to balance hectic and often stressful workplace and personal schedules.

In our experience, there are two Client/Agency activities that often fall victim to this re-prioritization:

  1. Undertaking year-end agency financial reconciliations (i.e. time-of-staff, agency fees, expenses); and
  2. Conducting annual 360º agency evaluations.

On one hand, it is easy to understand how and why these activities get moved down the priority list, receive a lower-than-desired level of scrutiny or simply get passed over. On the other hand, these are incredibly valuable practices that yield a wealth of financial, process improvement and relationship management insights and opportunities, well in excess of the time and energy invested in their undertaking.

Sadly, missing these annual end-of-year activities once, significantly increases the odds of annualizing their omission from the standard operating procedures “playbook” moving forward. Further, human nature being what it is, people then begin to rationalize why it is appropriate never to reconcile and review. Perhaps Paul Harvey, the noted broadcaster, got it right when he quipped:

Ever since I made tomorrow my favorite day, Ive been uncomfortable looking back.”

From a practical perspective, our experience would fully support Mr. Harvey’s lack of comfort with “looking back,” particularly when clients and agencies forgo these important annual oversights and relationship management practices. Why? The lack of oversight can beget poor record keeping, which in an estimated billing system carries huge financial risks. Additionally, forgoing a 360º evaluation and the opportunity to discuss how to address open issues, correct performance shortcomings and leverage those things that are working well is not only costly, but can sow the seeds of discontent in the Client/Agency relationship, which is not healthy for either party.

Therefore, we believe that these two “year-end” practices should never be forgone or given short shrift. The most practical approach to prevent this is to create project work plans for these practices, complete with timetables and milestones, the assignment of task level responsibilities to specific individuals and locking-in calendar placeholders for progress updates and report-out meetings.

In the end, everyone benefits from the enhanced levels of transparency, solid two-way communications and ultimately, improved performance.

AARM Formalizes Its Relationship with the ANA

1 Nov

thAARM | Advertising Audit & Risk Management becomes a member of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), joining more that 1,000 leading suppliers, agencies, law firms, media companies and consultants as a Marketing Services Provider (MSP).

 

Advertisers: What Does the Department of Justice Know That You Don’t?

19 Oct

FBI LogoIt has been two years since the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) published its blockbuster study on media transparency in the U.S. marketplace. Among the study’s findings were that the use of media rebates paid by publishers to agencies was “pervasive” and that there was a “fundamental disconnect” regarding client-agency relationships and the agencies assumed fiduciary obligation to act in an advertiser’s best interest.

Later that same year, December of 2016, the Department of Justice (DoJ) announced that it was conducting an investigation into the practice of “bid rigging” by agencies for TV and video production jobs. The bid rigging was allegedly being done to favor the agencies in-house production groups over independent production companies. This was done by urging outside production vendors to artificially inflate their bids, creating a reason and a paper trail for supporting the agency’s decision to award the production job to their in-house studio, which coincidentally bid a lower price for the work. At least four of the major ad agency holding companies were subpoenaed as part of this ongoing investigation.

One year after the release of the ANA media transparency study the ANA conducted research among its members that found:

  • 60% had taken “some” steps to address the study’s findings
  • 40% had not taken steps or weren’t sure if their companies had taken action
  • 50%+ of those that had taken steps indicated that had revised agency contract language
  • 20% of those that had taken steps had conducted audits of their agency partners

Given the $200 billion plus in estimated U.S. media spending (source: MAGNA, 2018) and the $5 billion U.S. commercial production market the aforementioned numbers are stunning in that more advertisers have not taken action to safeguard their advertising investment by implementing controls and oversight actions that mitigate risks and improve transparency.

It would appear as though the Department of Justice is taking these matters more seriously than many advertisers. The reason that the DoJ and FBI have undertaken probes of U.S. media buying and creative production bidding practices is quite simple… fraud, price fixing and bid rigging are prohibited under federal law.

The question is; “Why haven’t more advertisers, whose media and production dollars are at risk, been more proactive in constructively addressing these issues with their agency partners?”

The fact that the federal government has determined that it was necessary to launch two separate investigations into U.S. advertising industry practices is a clear signal that marketers should reinvigorate their oversight and compliance efforts. The stakes are high and the risks have not abated since the aforementioned practices first came to light.

If federal investigations into ad agency practices in these areas isn’t enough to spur advertisers to action, perhaps the words of Jon Mandel, former CEO of Mediacom in an interview with Mumbrella following his whistleblowing presentation regarding media agency “kickbacks” at an ANA conference in 2015 will provide the necessary incentive;

Clients need to stop suspending disbelief. The agency is supposed to be a professional providing you with proper advice not tarnished by their own profit. Marketers need to know the limits of that.

 

 

Exchanges Seek Outside Support to Reform

18 Oct

Tag LogoMuch needed reforms could be coming to the programmatic digital media marketplace. Earlier this week it was reported that several of the top exchanges had reached out to the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) for help in cleaning up some of the non-toward practices that have plagued advertisers.

Of note, these exchanges have agreed to not to charge hidden fees or give rebates to unduly influence agency holding companies. Further, they pledge to notify buyers in advance if they change auction dynamics, to clearly mark first-price and second-price auctions and not to bid cache without notice.  

Translation, the exchanges been employing these practices all along to the detriment of advertisers as a means of shoring up their bottom lines. Step in the right direction or affirmation of the ongoing murkiness associated with programmatic digital? Advertisers will have to decideRead More

Never a Wrong Time to Do the Right Thing

27 Sep

DoTheRightThingDoing right by others is certainly a core value and one that many of us subscribe to. For me personally, as a former ad agency account director, I have always been fond of the quote by Victor Hugo, the nineteenth-century French author: “Initiative is doing the right thing, without being told.

In the professional services business sector this credo was once considered “cost of entry.” Today, however, having one’s advertising agency and or intermediaries “do the right thing” isn’t a given and, in the current environment, very likely will come at a cost.

As an example, Forrester recently interviewed thirty-four media agency clients and found that “transparency” was a key priority for marketers. However, many of the media agencies that they spoke with indicated that they “are only transparent if clients require it in their contracts.” Nice to know.

Perhaps you’ve been following the trend among influencer marketing agencies and their vendors who are now charging clients incremental fees for conducting content reviews or brand-safety checks to safeguard advertisers’ placements. For years, influencers have been paid largely based upon the number of followers that they had. Sadly, many influencers had engaged in buying followers to boost their appeal to advertisers and, in turn, their revenue. Now that advertisers are savvy to this practice and are looking for assurances on the influencers utilized and the nature of their followers, influencer agencies want to incorporate an upcharge to advertisers.

What about those instances where trading desks and DSPs are now charging premiums to access content from exchanges that will ensure proper placement, safeguarding brands and minimizing the incidence of media fraud? Whoever said that it was okay to purchase high-risk, low return inventory to begin with?

Maybe you’ve experienced abnormal delays with regard to your ad agency partners closing and reconciling projects to actual costs or in receiving post-campaign media performance recaps. Or perhaps you were expecting your agency to competitively bid your production work, only to find out that they were relying on the same vendor(s) that they’ve always used (maybe even an agency affiliate). Or, you were of the belief that your media campaigns were being monitored and that audience delivery guarantees were being negotiated in-flight, only to find out that there was no such stewardship of your media investment.

What is going on? What happened to doing the right thing? When you query your agency partners they suggest that the Scope of Work (SOW) didn’t specifically call for those activities nor did the agency Staffing Plan allow for providing that support at the frequency or within the time frame that you had come to expect. This obviously begs the question, “When did the agency stop providing the level of service and oversight support that it once did?”

The message is clear, advertisers can take nothing for granted and certainly cannot assume that their agency, adtech, production and media vendors have their back. Simply stated, we are operating in an era when advertisers must incorporate legal terms and conditions, which provide the requisite safeguards and controls that govern the behavior and service levels that they expect, into their agency agreements in order to have each vendor in the advertising supply-chain do the right thing.

As importantly, having solid contract language and tightly written scopes of work in and of themselves does not guarantee that agents and intermediaries will fall in line and comply with advertiser expectations. Experience suggests that adherence will typically only be achieved through performance and accountability monitoring. As the old adage goes; “What is inspected is respected.”

Please note, that we are not suggesting that an advertisers shouldn’t pay for the level of coverage and service that they expect to receive. That said, advertisers can no longer take it for granted that certain service standards, which historically have been part and parcel of agency standard operating procedures and hadn’t been necessary to be called out in an agreement or an SOW, are still being followed. If a service provider drops or alters the nature of a service being provided, it should be incumbent to at least communicate those decisions to the advertiser and engage in discussions to ascertain if the changes are acceptable or negotiate additional fees to cover the desired level of support.

In the end, successfully aligning advertiser expectations and supply-chain member service delivery standards comes down to all parties committing to a policy of open, honest, two-way dialog to ensure that there are no surprises and to incent an environment of initiative taking.

 

 

Will Programmatic Ever Address Advertiser Transparency Concerns?

20 Aug

dreamstime_m_35343815It has been two years since the Association of National Advertisers released its study on media transparency issues impacting advertisers within the U.S. media marketplace.

While much has changed, there remain reasons for concern. Most perplexing is the fact that with all of the intermediaries in place between advertiser and publisher, few seem to be looking out for the advertisers’ best interests.

The reasons for this lack of an advertiser-centric perspective are many and include greed, a lack of knowledge, insufficient oversight processes and often times indifference up and down the programmatic digital media supply chain.

Thus, it was with great interest that I read a recent article on Adexchanger.com entitled; “Index Exchange Called Out for Tweaking Its Auction.” In short, the article dealt with the fact that Index Exchange had altered its auction processes, without notifying advertisers, ad agencies or DSPs. Ostensibly, the exchange’s motivations for this move was to boost its market share, although in fairness, they claimed that they believed their approach reflected “industry practice.”

Of note, Index Exchange made the aforementioned change more than one year ago, employing a technique referred to as bid caching. In short, bid caching is where the exchange retains losing bids in an effort to run advertiser content on subsequent content viewed by the consumer. From an advertiser perspective there are a number of issues with this practice, as detailed by author Sarah Sluis of the aforementioned article on Adexchanger:

  1. Buyers will bid higher prices for the first page in a user session. Thus, if the losing bid is retained and the ad is served deeper into a user session, the buyer will have overpaid for that inventory.
  2. Any delay between the initial bid and the ad actually being served, using a bid caching methodology, increases the chance that the DSP will have found the user elsewhere, resulting in the campaign exceeding the pre-determined frequency caps.
  3. Brand safety definitely comes into play, because even though the ad is served on the same domain, it is on a different page than what was intended.

What is truly remarkable about this scenario is that buyers just learned of this practice and, according to Adexchanger, “not from Index Exchange.”

How many advertisers were negatively impacted by Index Exchange’s unannounced move? What were their agency and adtech partners doing in the placement and stewardship of their buys that an exchange’s shift in auction approaches went undetected for more than one year? Unsettling to be sure.

Ironically, this exchange had implemented a similar move previously, adopting a first-price auction approach, which was known to publishers but not announced to buyers.

Advertisers would be right to raise questions about the current state of programmatic affairs; exchanges not notifying the public of shifts in auction methodology, agency buyers and DSPs unable to detect these shifts to adjust their bid strategies, ad tech firms not catching the shift to safeguard brand ad placements, and publishers that were aware, but settled for the higher CPMs resulting from the shift, rather than informing the buy-side.

This is disheartening news, particularly when one considers the percentage of an advertiser’s dollar that goes to fund each of their intermediaries (at the expense of working media). Yet, advertiser fueled growth in programmatic digital media continues unabated.

Clearly a case of buyer beware. Advertisers that have not already reviewed their supplier contracts or enacted the “right to audit” clauses of their agency and adtech supplier agreements may want to make plans to do so as they begin finalize their 2019 digital media budgets. As the old saying goes:

The buyer needs a hundred eyes, the seller but one.”

 

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