Why technology-led optimisation obsession is limiting creativity in media agencies

Bohemia and M&C Saatchi Group head of integrated strategy Sophie Price
By Bohemia and M&C Saatchi Group head of integrated strategy Sophie Price | 15 April 2019
Sophie Price

Driven by their clients desire for greater efficiency, media agencies have become far too focused on technology at the expense of a once great skill in their arsenal – creativity. Bohemia’s Sophie Price makes a case for redressing the balance.

If RFPs are an indicator of what today's clients are looking for in a media agency, then creativity and innovative thinking have clearly been de-prioritised.

Media agency reviews are most commonly driven by the desire to save money and deliver more efficient outcomes. They are led via a procurement process rather than by marketing teams and rarely do they ask for enhanced creativity in media planning or creative media use.

Recently, one of the most highly regarded and innovative brands in-market issued a surprising RFP which asked for maximum reach delivered in the most efficient way.

If that’s all we’re striving for, as an industry, we’re going backwards.

Yes, we should be doing everything in our power to optimise our client's media spend but the reality is, you cannot cut your way to growth nor can you expect a significant impact from the optimisation of a banner ad. It’s only ever going to provide minimal returns.

I believe creativity in media planning is being lost in the race to crack the best science. Marketers and agencies are spending too much time focussing on technologies as marketing solutions at the expense of creative media thinking.

And so, an important weapon in the media planning armoury is in danger of being lost.

What baffles me is that we’ve spent decades proving that magnetic ideas drive exponential growth for businesses and brands. In fact, our modelling shows an increase in creative probability from 6-28% when the brand idea is shaped using media in creative ways.

The reason for this is because we live in an age of distraction. Brands need to earn the right to play, you can’t just pay to play. Simply put, people will avoid you if you’re not earning their attention.

Media efficiencies will continue to be part of the story, but those efficiencies will be even more significant if magnetic media ideas are in play too.

We’ve seen it work to great effect before with Australian examples such as Tontine date stamping its pillows and effectively creating a medium to remind people when to buy a new one.

Then there’s the highly-awarded Pilau pledge that turned people’s passports into a medium to encourage regard for the environment.

And Lego’s campaign to get people to use its product to make a star for their Christmas tree created prime real estate in the run-up to Christmas, encouraging the further purchase of Lego products to put under the tree.

If growth is the holy grail – and it should be – why have media agencies fallen behind in creatively solving business problems? This doesn’t have to be the sole domain of creative agencies.

Media need not be demoted to a delivery only system only when it has the power to be part of a brand’s creative idea or experience.

With the aid of technology, the media industry has turned the consumer buying process into a rational maths exercise. This is despite the fact we know no decision-making process is rational.

This maths equation doesn’t take into consideration the huge value of intangible, emotionally-driven connections ideas, i.e. creative ways in which we can emotionally connect with the audience to make it onto their mental shortlist.

Data is an input, technology is an enabler – but it’s creativity through ideas and experiences that will make someone remember you.

We need both creativity and science and they need to work together because creativity in media makes the science work harder. So instead of putting out an RFP demanding greater efficiencies, clients should be asking for that and the application of creativity in equal measure. It’s the only way they will truly grow their business.

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