Media needs technology that underpins thinking, not replaces it

Tom Peacock.

Like many other industries, the digital media market is undergoing massive disruption and technology has enabled huge efficiencies to buy media at scale, but at the expense of both context and premium publishing.

As such, growth continues but, according to the recently published SMI data, all of that growth is going to the platforms; mainly, the industry behemoths Google and Facebook.

As noted by Mark Ritson in a recent AdNews article: “Facebook and Google dominate close to 75% of the digital pie”. It is no exaggeration to say that the diversity of the media landscape is under threat.

The repercussions of programmatic buying have been felt throughout the industry but have been a double-edged sword for most.

For publishers, greater efficiencies in trading have been offset by huge downward pressure on pricing and the loss of revenue to middlemen in a murky supply chain.

Agencies have benefited from the lower prices but, in many instances, have damaged the trust that underwrites their client relationships.

Advertisers have also become hooked on low cost media but have lost control of their brand. Perhaps they are not the only ones. In this new paradigm, audience trumps context. Quantity trumps quality. And price trumps value. We call it efficient, but we mean cheap.

For many it seems the pendulum has swung too far. It’s time for advertisers and publishers alike to regain control of their brands and the enormous inherent value associated with them. In this context, it was enormously refreshing to read Matt Rowley, chief revenue officer of Fairfax recently mention that the former approach amounted “to cheap inventory, sold by the kilogram” of “questionable quality”.

That Fairfax’s new strategy will focus on quality is based on the realisation that “having an algorithm doesn’t make you a publisher, it doesn’t give you that bond with people that builds that trust and that’s really important”. And this, I believe, is where the crux of the matter lies.

If the brands are to build meaningful relationships with consumers then we have to believe in the power of brands and that quality environments are vitally important. These quality environments and the context they provide have inherent value that is worth paying for.

What does this mean for the digital media agency in particular? How do they create more value for clients in a technology driven landscape?

Historically, agencies’ value comes from a number of key areas, each of which is under threat.

First, as a centralised point of transaction. Programmatic technology now lowers the barriers for advertisers to buy their own media and, as a result, many are taking it in-house.

Second, through access to data and proprietary tools that deliver unique insight. Today advertisers have more direct access to data and are able to manage it in-house, a situation only likely to proliferate with the advent of people based marketing.

And third, intellectual capital, that is generating ideas that solve problems for advertisers at a strategic level. To deliver thinking in a low margin, high-speed environment must be incredibly challenging.

The simple answer is that digital media should be used to create a connection between brands and audiences. Certainly at times, that connection will be about driving down funnel and making a purchase. But very often, that connection will be emotional.

To make a brand standout, to connect personally with audiences and to change the way audiences think and feel about a brand. This isn’t effectively accomplished with “cheap” media. To build a brand you need context.

In this environment, quality media environments are recognised and respected in an equitable value exchange. Publishers and agencies collaborate closely to deliver the best outcomes for clients. Data underpins human decision making rather than replaces it, and trust is rebuilt with advertisers through attentive brand stewardship, and greater transparency. We become data informed versus data-driven.

The irony here is that the quality, premium inventory market, which still accounts for the majority of digital media spend globally, is still serviced by the highly manual and inefficient ‘RFP’ process; a major issue for publishers and agencies alike, and a tax on the advertiser.

In the context of a technology-driven media marketplace, it is a curious yet enduring anachronism. And it is high time technology was introduced to address those inefficiencies.

The key benefits for agencies and publishers would be a reduced administrative burden allowing more value to be created, more effective campaigns through real time optimisation and data leverage and, dare I say it, a diverse media landscape which is of vital importance to brand building.

Tom Peacock is the group commercial director of Adslot.

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