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Will AI Render Media Agencies Obsolete?

11 Sep

artificial_intelligenceArtificial intelligence (AI) is already reshaping how advertising is developed, planned and placed. The marketing applications being envisioned and adopted by agencies, consultancies, publishers and advertisers are nothing short of remarkable.

From the onset of “Big Data” it stood to reason that the concept of predictive analysis, the act of mining diverse sets of data to generate recommendations wouldn’t be far behind. Layer on natural language processing, which converts text into structured data, and it is clear to see that “deep learning” is on the verge of revolutionizing the ad industry. As it stands, algorithms are currently optimizing bids for media buying, utilizing custom and syndicated data to match audience desires (or at least experiences) with available inventory.

Effective, efficient, automated methodologies for sorting through vast volumes of data to evaluate and establish patterns that reflect customer behavior for use in segmenting audiences and customizing message construction and delivery holds obvious promise.

So, what does this mean for media agencies? Will they be at the forefront of automation technology? Or will they be swept away by the consultancies and ad tech providers that are already investing here?

If media agencies desire to remain in control as the industry evolves, there are real challenges that they will have to address to remain viable:

  • Re-establish role as “trusted advisor” with the advertiser community. Recent concerns over transparency, unsavory revenue generation practices and a failure to pro-actively safeguard advertisers’ media investments from fraud and from running in inappropriate environments have created serious client/ agency relationship concerns.
  • Attract, train and retain top-level talent to re-staff media planning and buying departments. The focus will need to be on bridging the gap between developing, and applying automation technology and providing high-level consulting support focused on brand growth to their clients. Presently, media agencies are not effectively competing for talent, whether in the context of compensation and or personal and career development options being offered by their non-traditional competitors.
  • Provide a framework for addressing the compensation conundrum. Whether this is in the form of cost-based or performance-based fees tied to project outcomes, commissions or hybrid remuneration systems, tomorrow’s successful media agencies will need to establish clear, compelling compensation systems. These systems will need to reflect value propositions that will differentiate them from an expanded base of competitors, while offsetting (to some extent) non-transparent sources of revenue that many media shops have come to rely on in recent years.

This will not be an easy path for media agencies, particularly for those that are hampered by legacy systems, processes and management perspectives that may limit their ability to more broadly envision and ultimately, assist client organizations addressing their needs and expectations.

Either way, the race is on, as management consulting firms are acquiring various marketing and digital media specialist firms and as media agencies raid the consultancies for personnel to build out their strategic consulting capabilities. The key question will likely be, “Which business model holds the greatest promise, in the eyes of the Chief Marketing Officer, for improving brand performance?

 

 

 

Economic Growth Projections Raise Concerns for Ad Industry

25 Aug

economyAdvertising agencies are finding that organic growth will be a difficult objective to achieve in the near-term.

One contributing factor comes in the form of marketing spending constraints on the part of advertisers. Why? Organizations are feeling pressure to control costs in the wake of lack luster market conditions that are limiting growth and reducing margins.

The key economic indicator driving advertiser concern is “slow growth” which is impacting many sectors of the economy:

  • GDP growth of 1.2% during the 1st quarter and 2.6% in the 2nd quarter (short of the sustained 3%+ growth rate promised by the White House)
  • U.S. retail sales, excluding auto and gasoline, rose 0.5% in July ’17
  • Fast-Casual restaurant sales fell more than 3% in the first quarter 2017
  • U.S. automotive sales have fallen for seven straight months (Jan. – Jul.)
  • Homebuilder confidence sank, posting HMI’s lowest reading in over 6 mos.

Two CPG giants have announced dramatic moves, which reflect the nature of this challenge. Unilever signaled its intent to reduce the number of agencies on its roster by 50%, while cutting the quantity of ads produced by 30%. Procter & Gamble Co. indicated that it would trim $2 billion in marketing spend over five years as part of an enterprise wide expense reduction initiative.

It is worth noting that there are motivations beyond “cost reduction” driving these decisions by advertisers. Consider fast-food giant McDonald’s, which earlier this year trimmed the number of agencies that it works with from 60 to fewer than a dozen. Their goals included streamlining marketing and improving the consistency of their output… in addition to reducing expenses.

Unfortunately, the impact of slower spending by advertisers is being felt on Wall Street. According to an August, 24 article in the NY Times, WPP which had earlier cut its revenue forecast saw its share price decline by 10.9% in London, with Omnicom Group and Interpublic Group falling 7% and 6.3% respectively in the U.S. and media stocks are generally lower as a sector.

Interestingly, advertisers have made a conscious decision not to fuel marketing spend to counter slowing sales, but to cut spending to protect margins, which is particularly concerning to the ad agency community.

With increased competition from non-traditional players (i.e. management consulting and technology firms) and the continued fall-out from an industry transparency crisis, the lack of confidence on the part of marketers regarding advertising’s ability to drive profitable revenue growth is certainly a worry.

Whether or not this slowdown in organic growth on the part of ad agencies portends a slump, remains to be seen, but at the very least the macro-economic uncertainty will serve to increase industry volatility. Perhaps the industry can find some solace in the words of Yogi Berra the hall of fame catcher and manager of the New York Yankees: “Slump? I ain’t in no slump… I just ain’t hitting.”

 

 

Does Anyone Really Want Advertisers to Solve the Attribution Dilemma?

14 Mar

conspiracyIt has been decades since the concept of Marketing Mix Modeling (MMM), the forerunner to Attribution Modeling, was introduced. The concept was relatively straightforward, marketers would apply statistical analysis to sales and marketing data to quantify the impact that each element of the marketing mix had in driving brand sales and profit. Once the causal relationship had been modeled, marketers would then be able to accurately forecast outcomes and inform resource allocation decisions.

While the concept may have been straightforward, the solution, for most marketers, has been elusive. Why? First and foremost, MMM has some inherent challenges, particularly when it comes to quantifying the impact of longer term brand equity development tactics versus those focused on short-term sales. Secondly, these models have not fared well in accurately assessing the impact of various media types on outcomes to assist in refining allocation decisions.

Fast forward to the late ‘90’s when we experienced an explosion in online media, the birth of e-commerce and the introduction of “Big Data.” The emergence of digital media and the attendant level of data that marketers where now able to gather led to the launch of “Attribution Modeling.” The goal, to assess and quantify what marketing and media touchpoints influenced an advertiser’s target audience, and to what extent, across the purchase funnel in an effort to optimize media spending across the ever expanding gamut of media alternatives.

While there are multiple variations of attribution models to consider, most marketers have relied on single-source attribution models, often using a “last click” approach which assigns responsibility for an outcome to one event. While simple, this flawed approach to attribution modeling gives too much credit to digital media, at the expense of traditional media and other marketing touchpoints.

Sadly, for advertisers that are doing both MMM and Attribution Modeling, it is rare that the feedback from these related, but different approaches synch. Further, there remain audience delivery measurement (i.e. cross-channel measurement), multi-touch attribution challenges that introduce a layer of complexity that drives up the cost of attribution modeling.

That said, since the onset of these two modeling tools being introduced, the industry has dramatically evolved its data gathering capabilities, enhanced CRM and DMP capabilities, conceived of and launched programmatic media buying, where algorithms have replaced media buyers and now we’re seeing the use of artificial intelligence bots, such as Adgorithms’ “Albert” that can plan and place media and create content. Heady stuff to be sure.

This got the cynic in me thinking; “Well if we can master all of this from a technology perspective, surely we should be able to cost efficiently and effectively master attribution modeling.” That led to idle speculation about whether or not the ad industry really wants advertisers to solve the attribution modeling dilemma?

After all, what if John Wanamaker was wrong? What if more than half of his ad spend was wasted? Remember, the marketing and media choices available to him in the 19th century were considerably more limited than those available to advertisers today. Would accurate attribution models eliminate some of the following marketing and media options from consideration?

  • Television
  • Radio
  • Magazine
  • Newspaper
  • OOH
  • Cinema advertising
  • Product placement
  • Direct mail
  • Email
  • Sponsorships
  • Online display
  • Online video
  • Podcasts
  • Paid search
  • Organic search
  • Mobile
  • Social media
  • Native advertising
  • In-store advertising
  • In-store displays
  • On-package advertising
  • Trade promotions
  • Price promotions
  • Couponing
  • Affinity marketing
  • Affiliate marketing
  • Applications
  • Earned media

Crazy. Right? Reminds me of a quote by the American journalist, Gary Weiss:

“One problem with the focus on speculation is that it tends to promote the growth of the great intellectual cancer of our times: conspiracy theories.”

What do you think…

 

Is the Agency Holding Company Model Viable Going Forward?

19 Oct

dreamstime_m_35343815The pursuit of excellence is less profitable than the pursuit of bigness, but it can be more satisfying.” 

 ~ David Ogilvy

It is not our intent to suggest that scale does not have its advantages. There are multiple instances, within the professional services sector in general and specifically within the ad agency community, where size translates into meaningful benefits for clients.

That said, since Papert, Koenig, Lois went public in 1962 and other advertising agencies soon followed suit, the ad industry has undergone dramatic change. Ad agency IPO’s begot an uptick in agencies acquiring other agencies, which Marion Harper, CEO of McCann Erickson pioneered with the formation of The Interpublic Group of Companies in the early ‘60’s. This was then followed by the “unbundling” phenomenon of the late ‘70’s and ‘80’s.

Fast forward to 2016, where the top five agency holding companies; WPP, Omnicom, Publicis Groupe, Interpublic Group and Dentsu account for over 70% of the world’s estimated 2016 ad spend of $542 Billion (source: eMarketer, April, 2016). Further, each of these holding companies have broadened their acquisition strategies to further penetrate the larger $1.0 Trillion global media and marketing services category.

As a result, the portfolios for the top five agency holding companies contain between dozens and several hundred firms covering a myriad of marketing disciplines including, but not limited to:

  • Creative agencies
  • Media agencies
  • Digital agencies
  • Social Media agencies
  • Brand activation firms
  • PR firms
  • Relationship management firms
  • Programmatic trading desk operations
  • Research and audience measurement firms
  • Media properties

It is clear that the agency holding companies have successfully pursued and achieved “bigness.” The question is; “Has the holding company model achieved “excellence?” The answer may well depend on which stakeholder group one belongs to. Shareowners will likely have one viewpoint, suppliers and employees another and clients perhaps yet another perspective.

In the early days, the primary role of the holding company was to pursue efficiencies across their agency portfolios, while leveraging cross-agency synergies and driving strategy across their portfolio firms. Four decades later, this has evolved into holding company “agency” solutions consisting of cross-firm, multi-disciplinary client service teams served up to the holding companies top global clients.

Yet, the holding companies are struggling to define and evolve cultures, eliminate inefficiencies and break down silos across the numerous agency brands and marketing services firms that they have acquired. All while wrestling with issues and opportunities tied to the rate and rapidity of technological change and its impact on the business of creating and placing ads and not least of all… technology’s impact on consumer media consumption and purchasing behavior.

Today, the agency community is facing challenges related to attracting and retaining talent, evolving remuneration systems and regaining advertiser trust, all while being mired in a very public dispute with advertisers, publishers and ad tech providers regarding the issue of transparency.

Simultaneously, serious competitors have emerged, threatening the ad agencies stranglehold on advertising, media and marketing services. Consulting organizations such as Accenture, IBM Interactive, Deloitte Digital and PwC Digital now offer comprehensive, end-to-end consumer solutions, which include branding, graphic design, creative and media services to complement their analytical, strategy consulting, enterprise digital solutions and customer experience design skills.

This new breed of competition has monolithic brands, established cultures and highly trained, intelligent, flexible global workforces. Also looming on the competitive horizon are firms such as Adobe, Oracle, SalesForce, Facebook and Google that continue to focus on serving up marketing services and support to advertisers on a direct basis.  

Perhaps most importantly, the ad agency holding companies may not control their own destiny. At least not to the extent that they once did, when serving as valued, trusted advisors to their clients providing high-level strategic support and maintaining solid C-suite level relationships. Further, advertisers today have shown an openness to evaluating alternatives to the traditional client/ agency model, which has favored the aforementioned consultancies, technology and media firms along with in-house solutions.

It is certainly too soon to count the holding companies out, as they remain a formidable force in the industry. The question is can holding company leadership successfully chart a new course for leveraging their scale and talents to boost their relevancy in the years to come. What advice might one of the industry’s most iconic leaders offer to his holding company contemporaries?

“Leaders grasp nettles.” ~ David Ogilvy

 

Sourcing Your Programmatic Buying Partner

14 Dec

3 rsWritten by Peter Portanova, Project Analyst for Source One Management Services

The concepts of reach and frequency have long guided the way marketers approach advertising, and when multiplied, they provide the calculation for Gross Rating Points (GRPs) to measure and evaluate the success of your campaigns. However, the rise of programmatic ad buying (automated buying based on real time data analysis of competitive rates) forces marketers to reconsider their historical understanding of success in marketing, and encourages the consideration of new and potentially more effective metrics.

GRPs are hugely important across a variety of marketing channels, exclusive of programmatic buying. The ideology that more GRPs means greater success is severely flawed, and by using such a calculation in a highly targeted and customized solution like programmatic buying, one misrepresents the technology’s true value. However, instead of arguing the utility of GRPs, it is more critical to consider alternative means of success in marketing and how embracing programmatic can revolutionize your approach to online advertising, while driving a variety of critical KPIs.  

Programmatic buying is growing quickly, and is responsible for billions of dollars in digital media placements. Programmatic buying is the intersection where data and advertising truly meet, with engineers, traders, and data-management platforms replace traditional sales planners. Agencies would like you to believe that their programmatic efforts reduce overall costs, but the truth of the situation is that, when viewed holistically, programmatic buying is actually more expensive.

Implementing programmatic buying efforts does have its merits, and agencies are quick to note that initial costs can be negated quickly. However, for programmatic buying to reach its maximum potential, marketers and advertisers must learn to move past the traditional reach and frequency mindset, and consider the long-term advantages of highly targeted placements. In fact, industry experts note that using programmatic buying to place more advertisements decreases transparency, which can lead to fraudulent placements. In using programmatic buying to deliver a highly targeted message to the right individual at the right time, brands are able to increase their visibility to the appropriate segments, increasing potential brand engagement.

Marketers must begin to understand programmatic buying from a holistic perspective. Why is this more expensive? Does it involve fewer people? Most marketers are shocked that programmatic buying proposals suggest fewer advertisements at a greater cost. While inventory is cheaper in programmatic buying compared to manual buying, there are substantial costs of doing business to implement and manage these efforts. In an article on AdAge, a media agency executive said, “Five full time employees are needed to spend $100 million national broadcast budget, while the same number would be needed for a $5 million programmatic buy.”

Understanding the discrepancy in FTEs and costs becomes more complicated when you also factor agency commissions into the equation. The employees required to manage a programmatic buy are in far greater demand, having a unique skillset that commands salaries 50-100% greater than manual buyers. The technology and the platforms do not eliminate the need for human input, and therefore it is critical to entice highly skilled employees for retention. Traditional full-service agencies have seen these employees move quickly to digital agencies that have a greater focus on new technologies, including programmatic buying.

The true cost of programmatic buying becomes noticeable when considering agency commissions that are charged to simply breakeven. The same agency executive interviewed by AdAge stated that, with a budget of $100 million, break-even points begin at 1% with TV, and quickly jump to 10-12% with programmatic. It is also worth noting that the 12% commission is only the break-even, with many agencies charging a rate of around 20%, to turn a meager profit.

There is a substantial cost of placing media through a programmatic partner. AdAge refers to these costs as an “intermediary tax” which accounts for all the transactions that take place to make a programmatic buy occur. With 7% to 20% taken by ad exchanges, another 10% to 20% taken by automated software providers, and then another 15% for the data-management platforms, there is potential that only $.50 of every dollar will reach the publisher. While these rates may seem expensive, there is value in using programmatic buying; however, the marketer should be fully aware of the intended use of programmatic, with no expectation that they are receiving a more targeted solution for a lower price.

While so far we have discussed mostly the potential benefits (and drawbacks) of programmatic buying, there is always a need to manage costs. Consider the following best practices when working with your agency to ensure greater transparency in your agreement.

  • Contract Language
    • When contracting with your programmatic buying partner, ensure that language exists around specific rates. Furthermore, consider a period where you can renegotiate these rates to be more favorable.
  • Redundant Services
    • Prior to considering your programmatic needs, understand the services you require and what you may need outside of traditional manual buying. When working with multiple vendors (which is common with programmatic buying), there is potential to be charged for the same service multiple times.
  • Liberate your Data
    • Unless specifically outlined, your data may not belong to you after working with a particular partner. If you are unable to retrieve your data during any part of the process, the supplier immediately gains tremendous advantage.
  • Understand your Options
    • Do you need managed service, or do you need self-service? In a self-service agreement, the vendor charges for the use of their technology, but does not charge for any resources associated with operating the platform. A managed option typically has charges for not only the technology, but also the management fees associated with run and execute a campaign.
  • Consolidate
    • Find a partner capable of providing you with a variety of services, and consolidate your marketing to that one agency. Using separate agencies to plan and execute your manual and programmatic buys is inefficient, and unless information is shared freely across agencies (it probably will not be), the effectiveness of both operations will be hindered. Consolidation also allows for better reporting and recognition of opportunities across channels.

As for the future of programmatic buying? It’s only anticipated to grow. EMarketer predicts total programmatic buying spend to exceed $20B in 2016. When it comes to digital marketing, there is no “one size fits all.” While programmatic buying is typically more expensive than other traditional tactics, there’s no doubt the method offers significant ROI in the form of operational speed and efficiency and increased scale and targeting. Like any other agency sourcing engagement, do your due diligence when looking for the right partner for your programmatic buying requirements. Beyond assessing agency scale, technology and data analytics, and skillsets, take steps to establish a strategic client-agency relationship. This begins with strong contract language that drives further value from your programmatic efforts and continues with fostering ongoing communication and transparency with your agency.

Peter Portanova is a marketing category enthusiast and Project Analyst for Source One Management Services. He is an expert at developing RFPs and executing strategic sourcing strategies for clients in a wide array of industries, specializing in navigating the complexities of the Marketing spend category. Click to learn more about Source One’s Marketing Category expertise.

Ready to Embrace Full-Service Agencies Once Again?

24 Aug

full service advertising agency“Back in the day” is a catch phrase that many of us who came up in the ad business during the full-service agency, 15% commission era are accustomed to using when discussing the state of affairs within the industry today.

Things were simpler then for both marketers and ad agencies. Agencies were valued strategic partners, with C-Suite access that were tasked with developing brand positioning architectures, target segmentation schema and the creation and stewarding of brand communications across customer touchpoints. Marketers managed one full-service agency to handle all of the “above the line” branding and activation activities and maybe one or two “below the line” shops to handle tasks such as sales promotion and yellow pages advertising.

Fast forward to the here and now and the concept of “generalist” agencies, as full-service shops are often derogatorily referred to, has given way to specialization. As a result, marketers have seen the depth of their agency rosters swell in number to represent several to several dozen shops, each responsible for some, but not every aspect of a brand’s interaction with some, but not all segments of that brand’s target audience.

In the current “specialization” model, the challenges for marketers, particularly for those with limited staff resources, that don’t employ a full-service agency-of-record, are many. There are critical tasks and hand-offs which need to be addressed within the client organization and across their agency network, such as:

  • Who is responsible for marketing communications strategy development?
  • Who is on point for the integration and coordination of the communications program across touchpoints? Across media? Across target segments? Across geographies?
  • Who owns the agency relationships?

Factor in the challenges caused by evolving dynamics including organizational silos (i.e. digital versus traditional media), cross-channel marketing and attribution, big data and ad technology and the level of complexity, which marketers face grows to an almost dizzying height.

As to “who” is responsible, the obvious answer is that ownership of these tasks clearly resides with the client-side marketing team. This might help to explain why marketers are feeling stressed out, with many actually expressing a lack of confidence in their team’s ability.

Two short years ago Adobe conducted a survey of 1,000 U.S. marketers and found that only 40% of those surveyed felt that their company’s marketing efforts were effective. This same survey indicated that 68% of marketers were feeling “more pressure to show a return on investment on marketing spend” (ROMI). Earlier this year, Workfront surveyed 500 marketers and found that 25% felt “highly stressed” and 80% stated that they felt “overloaded and understaffed.”

It should go without saying that this is not a healthy dynamic for marketers and doesn’t seem to bode well for organizations seeking to optimize their ROMI.

One might realistically ask the question, are such organizational and or workload challenges impacting brand/ customer relationships? Some industry experts, such as Liz Miller, SVP of Marketing at the CMO council have suggested that consumers in fact have a disjointed perspective of certain brands, resulting in part from inconsistent experiences across touchpoints. In a recent interview with Marketing Daily, Ms. Miller suggested that the key issue facing marketers was delivering a “holistic, connected customer experience.”

Thus it would seem that in this era of specialization, deep agency rosters, headcount pressures on both client and agency organizations, rapidly evolving ad technologies and an empowered consumer, with a wide array of choices a return to “simpler” times would be welcome.

In our experience, advertisers that are successfully navigating this complex, rapidly changing market have done three things that are contributing to their success:

  1. Reduced the size of their agency rosters.
  2. Deputized an Agency-of-Record partner to share in the responsibility for developing strategies and orchestrating marketing activities to deliver a holistic brand experience.
  3. Placed a high premium on effective, collaborative communications with their agency partners and internal stakeholders to gain buy-in to the organization’s marketing communications efforts and to provide regular performance updates.

While a return to the “good ole days” may be nothing more than a fanciful wish, the concept of simplification remains a viable means of steadying the ship and allocating both advertiser and agency resources in a more efficient manner.

As American computer scientist Alan Perlis, once said;

Fools ignore complexity. Pragmatists suffer it. Some can avoid it. Geniuses remove it.”

 

Why Contract Definitions and Demonstrations are Important

1 Feb

contract complianceFor as long as there have been advertisers and agencies, there have been Client-Agency agreements. Contractual instruments, which are often referred to as “terms of divorce.” This is likely because one of their primary roles is to spell out the guidelines governing how each party must conduct themselves and identifying their respective obligations in the event a relationship is terminated.

The fact of the matter is, a contract is much more than that. It is a binding agreement between advertisers and their agencies which should identify the terms and conditions that will govern all facets of the relationship, ranging from how an agency is to be compensated to the level of staffing that an agency will deploy on a client’s behalf, to the scope of work to be undertaken by the agency. An effective contract also asserts both parties expectations for how they will conduct themselves while providing a mutual understanding for how the agency will steward a client’s marketing investment from a performance, financial and legal perspective.

Unfortunately, when it comes to contracts, there are too few “industry standards” within the advertising marketplace, varied definitions for descriptive terms and too often a lack of clarity around what is being represented by certain aspects of the agreement language. These gaps create gray areas which are seldom understood, much less agreed to by both parties. Unchecked, these gaps can be costly, particularly to advertisers that aren’t supported by knowledgeable industry experts and attorneys with solid industry experience.

As contract compliance auditors we have reviewed hundreds of Client-Agency agreements and have sat across the table from advertisers and agencies to help mediate gaps in understanding over even the most basic terms or representations. Examples include the definition of “Gross Media,” the assumption that individuals listed in an agency “Staffing Plan” are full-time employees of the agency (rather than contractors or part-timers) and or whether or not the awarding of work to agency affiliates is allowed, let alone how that activity is to be billed.

Let’s examine the financial impact of one of these items. Hypothetically, an advertiser with a $100 million media budget engages a media buying agency. The agreement indicates that media is to be placed on a net basis and that the agency will be paid a commission of 2% on that activity. This appears to be a relatively straightforward description. So the question is; “How much commission should the agency earn?”

  1. $2,000,000
  2. $2,040,000
  3. $2,353,000

It would not be unusual for a lay legal or procurement advisor assisting an advertiser in drafting or reviewing contract language to assume that the answer was 1) $2,000,000. Their assumption in this instance is that the agency’s commission would be calculated by multiplying the net media spend by the agreed upon commission rate.

On the other hand, a seasoned agency finance executive would advocate that the correct answer is 3) $2,353,000. How did they arrive at this figure, which is $353,000 higher than the prior scenario? By “grossing up” the net media spend by 17.65% and then multiplying that total by the agreed upon commission rate. Why would they do this? The answer would likely be; “that is the standard methodology used in the industry.”

This view has its roots in the golden days of advertising, when agencies delivered “full-service” and earned a 15% commission on their clients’ gross advertising investment. In that era, a biller would have to mark-up a net expenditure by 17.65 % in order to account for the 15% commission rate:

  • 15% divided by (100% – 15%) or 85% = .1765
  • If the net expenditure was $85, the total cost would be calculated by multiplying or “grossing up” the net amount by 1.1765 to arrive at a total cost to the advertiser of $100.
  • On the $100 gross expenditure the agency would earn $15 or 15%.

One might legitimately question why an agency would gross up a net expense by 17.65%? After all, it has been many years since full-service agencies were compensated at that rate. Should not the mark-up amount be specific to the negotiated commission rate? Using this approach for the 2% commission example could suggest that the correct answer to the aforementioned question would be 2) $2,040,000:

  • 2% divided by (100% – 2%) or 98% = .0204
  • $100,000,000 net media “grossed up” would be calculated by multiplying the net amount by 1.0204 to arrive at a gross amount of $102,040,000.
  • The agency’s commission on the grossed up media total would be $2,040,000

So which methodology represents the proper approach for calculating an agency’s commission in this example? Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer. This is a classic case where had a term such as “Commission” or “Gross Amount” included an example of how such formulas were to be applied, it would have clarified the intended agency remuneration, staving off a potentially difficult conversation between client and agency long after the ink on the agreement had dried. We can all learn from the words of the 18th century Scottish philosopher, Thomas Reid:

There is no greater impediment to the advancement of knowledge than the ambiguity of words.

 Interested in a securing a second-opinion regarding the clarity and soundness of your organization’s agency agreements? Contact Cliff Campeau, Principal of AARM at ccampeau@aarmusa.com.

The Ad Viewability Debate Rages On

5 Jan

ad viewabilityThere has been much discussion in the wake of the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s (IAB) mid-December release of their proposed “standard” for the measurement of digital media delivery in 2015. 

Advertisers, agencies and publishers should celebrate the progress being made and the healthy nature of the dialog now occurring between each of the participating stakeholders in this important sector of the global advertising marketplace. Having said that, the pace of change and the level of investment being made by the three major industry associations whose members have the most at stake has been disappointingly slow. 

By way of background the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), American Association of Advertising Agencies (4As) and the IAB formed the Measurement Makes Sense (3MS) task force in 2011 with the goal of “fixing digital measurement.” According to the IAB, the three industry groups have spent $6 million collectively in pursuit of this goal.  

Not to diminish either the effort or the investment, during this same time frame digital spending has increased from $86.6 billion in 2011 to an estimated $142.0 billion in 2014, up 17.2% year-over-year, is forecast to represent 30% of global ad expenditures in 2015 and will likely eclipse TV spending by 2017. Which in this author’s humble opinion supports the observation that the industry has simply not done enough to remedy the limitations that exist when it comes to validating digital media delivery. 

On the surface, many were surprised at the progressive stance taken by the IAB in suggesting that the industry adapt a “70% viewability threshold” for measured impressions in 2015. The question others are asking is, “Progressive relative to what?” The IAB suggested that up until its proposed 2015 transitional guidelines that the “industry standard” was a definition of viewablility issued by the Media Ratings Council (MRC). The MRC’s definition considered a desktop display ad to be viewable if 50% of the ad’s pixels were in view for at least one second and two seconds for desktop video ads.  

It should be noted that the MRC’s definition, which was introduced in the spring of 2014, was never adopted by the advertising industry as a standard to guide publisher/ advertiser negotiations. Thus, it was no surprise when the 4A’s immediately issued an opinion to its membership to reject the IAB’s online viewability guidelines. According to one industry executive, Todd Gordon, EVP of Magna Global, a leading media planning and buying agency, “Running a campaign and paying for 30% of the ads not being viewable isn’t acceptable to us or our clients.” 

In the press release announcing their proposed 2015 guidelines, the IAB trumpeted the “shift from a served impression to a viewable impression” as “yet another step to greater accountability in digital media.” So it was something of a surprise and contradiction to learn that the first of their seven proposed “2015 Transaction Principles” suggested that “all billing continue to be based on the number of served impressions during a campaign.” Additionally, the proposed guidelines segregate served impressions into two categories, measured and non-measured, with the 70% viewability guideline applying only to measured impressions. Understandably, advertisers might view this as something of a disconnect as it relates to the transition to a viewable impression standard. 

We understand that digital campaign viewability measurement is a challenging proposition due to variances in the types of ad units being utilized and the different audience delivery measurement methodologies in use today. However, the IAB’s proposed guidelines continue to place the lion’s share of the financial burden for these shortcomings square on the backs of the advertiser community. Given that the composition of the IAB’s membership is largely made up of publishers, which have benefitted tremendously from the dramatic growth in digital media revenues, we believe that the 4As was right to reject the IAB’s proposed guidelines, with the goal of pushing for a more balanced standard, with more aggressive viewable impression delivery guarantees. 

And while continued dialog between the ANA, 4As and IAB on this topic is encouraging, we know from experience how long and arduous a journey toward an industry “standard” can be. It is for this reason, that we applaud the efforts of those advertisers and their agencies that have taken matters into their own hands and begun to eschew digital ad inventory of questionable value or with limited delivery guarantees. It has been reported that advertisers such as Kraft, for example, have “rejected up to 85%” of the digital ad inventory offered to them.  

Historically, we know that when advertisers self-police their ad investments, audit contract compliance and supplier performance and withhold ad dollars where appropriate, agencies and publishers will begin to take the notion of transformative change as it relates to digital media much more seriously. As Kevin Scholl, Digital Marketing Director at Red Roof Inn aptly stated in a recent Adweek interview on the viewability issue, “If we were buying in spaces with lame guarantees, we had to question continue buying there – or evolve how were buying.” 

Let us know your thoughts on this important issue by emailing Cliff Campeau, Principal at Advertising Audit & Risk Management at ccampeau@aarmusa.com.

 

 

Are Advertisers Willing to Forgo Effectiveness for Efficiency?

25 Jun

digital marketing spendIt was with great interest that I read Advertising Age’s article on 2013’s record setting ad spending levels for the “Top 100” advertisers.

Ironically, it wasn’t the total spending level of $108.6 billion, the 4.6% ad spend growth projection for 2014 or the fact that Ad Age’s leading national advertisers “accounted for about two-fifths (42.2%) of all U.S. measured-media spending in 2013” that intrigued me.  What caught my attention was the commentary from senior ad agency executives to various Wall Street analysts about the reasons behind their company’s higher share of spending in the digital media space.

The article quoted a handful of CEOs and CFOs touting their firm’s move to lessen their reliance on traditional media by increasing ad spending on digital media with the goal of realizing greater efficiencies.  Interestingly, there was no reference to improving the effectiveness of their advertising investment.  To be fair, perhaps they believe that spending more of their ad budget dollars in this low-growth environment (ad spending growth is outpacing company revenue growth) on digital will be more effective.

It makes you wonder about the extent to which the leading national advertisers have refined their attribution modeling to reflect the impact of an exposure to their messaging on a cross-platform basis.  Have they solved for the question on everyone’s mind regarding how various delivery channels such as television, print, OOH, online display and particularly owned media, impact consumer awareness, intent and purchasing behavior?  You would think so.  How else, could advertisers justify upping the share of spend on digital to nearly 25% in aggregate on an industry-wide basis?

In the proverbial “good ol’ days” budget allocation decisions were based largely on results attained as opposed to such a heavy emphasis on “what” something cost.  One had to balance effectiveness and efficiency if an advertiser was going to maximize their return-on-marketing-investment (ROMI).

No one argues the inherent benefits associated with digital media today when it comes to dynamic messaging, behavioral targeting and selecting relevant media inventory that is aligned with audience media consumption actions on a real-time basis.  Additionally, most industry participants realize that digital will become a much more viable media forum from an advertising perspective as time goes by.

The challenge with digital media for advertisers is primarily one of confidence.  Confidence in knowing that a high percentage of a dollar directed to a publisher website actually makes it to that site, that its messages have an opportunity to be seen and that the responses being generated to its ads are from target audience members and not bots and that participants in the social sphere are receptive to advertiser interaction.  Absent solid cross-platform audience measurement tools, transparency into the various links in the digital media chain and the ability to accurately gauge response, it may be a risky proposition to spend two out of every five budgeted ad dollars on digital media.

That said, it is clear that the digital “train” has left the proverbial station.  The good news is that advertisers, agencies and publishers are working with their respective industry associations to address some of the issues which need to be dealt with in the context of digital media.  However, history would suggest that an industry wide mandate or set of solutions could be some time coming.

So, what can an individual advertiser do to enhance their control over the digital portion of their ad spend in the near-term?

Perhaps the best place to start is to engage their agency partners in candid conversations to map out the risks and uncertainties in and around digital delivery with the goal of identifying various means to mitigate those risks.  Tighter controls, improved performance monitoring, more timely and thorough campaign post-buy analysis and more rigorous financial stewardship processes between advertisers and their agencies and third-party vendors can certainly play a role in this area.

Industry practitioners certainly understand the role of experimentation and the need to stay abreast of change within the media landscape.  As such, the potential benefits of digital media in all of its forms, merits attention.  However, when a media channel accounts for 40%+ of industry ad spend it is clear that we’ve moved beyond the “experimentation” stage.

It is right to applaud the pioneering spirit which advertisers have exhibited in so rapidly evolving their media mix to integrate digital into the fold.  Given that total digital media spending was $19.9 billion in 2009 (source: Jupiter Research) and in five short years later eMarketer is forecasting that 2014 global digital media spending will eclipse $137.5 billion, it is clear that advertisers are blazing new trails.

Merriam-Webster defines the term pioneer as; “a person who helps create or develop new ideas, methods, etc.”  The marketing definition of pioneer, however, has often been described as: “a person with an arrow in their back.”  The moral of the story?  Proceed with caution and a complete understanding of the risks/rewards inherent with aggressively moving into what is still an emerging media… at least from a performance validation perspective.

Interested in learning more about safeguarding your digital media investment?  Contact Cliff Campeau, Principal at Advertising Audit & Risk Management, LLC at ccampeau@aarmusa.com for a complimentary consultation on the topic.

 

Is the Tide Turning on Trolls?

30 Dec

patent trollsWhat is a “troll?”  Simply stated, a troll is an entity that purchases a patent and or copyright, often from a bankrupt firm, and then enforces their rights against those who infringe upon their  rights… even though they have no intent to produce or license content, no software development capabilities, no manufacturing capabilities and no intent to use their patents.  A troll’s sole reason for being is to assert infringement claims against industries and or individuals to collect fees.

For unwitting defendants the costs can be staggering, while the legal expenses of the trolls (often groups of attorneys) are relatively small.  Couple this with the fact that the trolls typically sue to enforce their rights in “plaintiff-friendly” forums such as certain districts in the state of Texas, defendants are often forced to seek resolution by settling cases without the benefit of due process.

Needless to say, the omnipresent threat of these trolls and the potential costs associated with litigation have had a stifling effect on business innovation, particularly in the marketing area where the use of third party content, software applications, widgets and links have exploded in the era of digital media.

Consider the perspective of White Castle’s Jamie Richardson, Vice President of Government and Shareholder Relations who testified before the House Energy and Commerce sub-committee in November, 2013 on behalf of the National Restaurant Association.  During his testimony, Mr. Richardson indicated that his organization had faced patent infringement claims for the use of tools ranging from online store locator applications to the company’s use of QR codes on packaging during promotional events and its use of hyperlinks in social media.  According to Richardson, “These examples have major implications for the future of our promotional and loyalty programs, development of our website, and the enhancement of our mobile smartphone app.”

Well, perhaps the tide is finally turning against the trolls.  In a recent court ruling in the East St. Louis district of Illinois, a Federal judge ruled against a group of attorneys accused of being “copyright trolls.”  In the case in question, the attorneys obtained copyrights to adult movies and then brought suit against individuals and entities that downloaded those movies.  In issuing his ruling, U.S. District Judge G. Patrick Murphy called the actions of the plaintiffs (three lawyers) “abusive litigation” and ordered them to pay the defendants $265,000 to cover their court fees and legal costs.

This action, while small in the scheme of the National blight which trolls have inflicted on the U.S. economy, it is a moral victory which is significant in light of the trend of courts and judges around the country becoming more critical and more outspoken on this topic.  Perhaps most enlightening was the language used by U.S. District Judge Otis Wright II in California, who when issuing a recent order in a copyright’s infringement case stated, “So now, copyright laws originally designed to compensate starving artists allow starving attorneys in this electronic-media era to plunder the citizenry.”

The aforementioned East St. Louis district ruling provides evidence that the executive actions and legislative recommendations issued in June of this year by the Obama Administration may in fact have teeth, contrary to the prevailing sentiment at the time.  It should be noted that one of the legislative changes recommended to Congress was to allow Federal Judges to force abusive trolls that lose in court to pay the expensive legal fees of those that they sue.

While the war against infringement rights “piracy” is far from over, the tide just may be turning against non-operating entities seeking to exploit their patent and copyright ownership interests.

If you are interested in learning how your exposure to “Trolls” can be managed in the context of your agency agreement, contact Cliff Campeau, Principal of Advertising Audit & Risk Management at ccampeau@aarmusa.com.

 

 

 

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