Castles in the Air

Last week’s Cog Blog post referred to Newsworks’ upcoming Effectiveness Summit, which has now upped and come. And very good it was too.

Attending these events does though make me feel old, and rather too aware of the futility of unsupported ideas. In his book ‘Walden’ the 19th Century American philosopher Henry David Thoreau wrote: ““If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

Listening to the excellent presentations from those on stage at the Newsworks event those of us of a certain vintage couldn’t help but think: ‘Of course, it’s as I have always thought’

It’s rather like my favourite definition of a great strategic planner – he or she states the bleeding obvious, but (and here’s the reason why (s)he’s doing it and I’m not) I know I would never have come up with the solution.

Take the points made by Mike Follett of Lumen Research, a pioneer of eye tracking research and (here’s a novelty) its practical use in understanding how people consume media. To paraphrase – to say that an ad is viewable is not the same as stating that an ad that has been viewed. A viewable ad is useless unless someone views it. And the degree to which something is viewed varies by vehicle, format and (no doubt) other factors like time-of-day and frequency of past exposures.

A viewed ad might also be worthless of course, but the media people have done their bit in ensuring that at least it was viewed before it was rejected.

Or Newsworks’ CEO, Vanessa Clifford making a plea that we should all stop referring to ‘digital’ as a media form. After all, as she pointed out it makes as much sense to describe ‘paper’ as a media form. Paper is involved in a number of media forms, from ‘The Sun’ to ‘Vanity Fair’ and on to many out-of-home sites. No-one would say they were all the same, so why pretend that digital is digital is digital? Sites vary – of course they do.

And, finally Patrick Smith of British Gas on how his organisation has used a variety of sources, including Lumen to optimise his digital media buy by using those vehicles with long dwell times and (thus) engaging content. That sounded familiar too.

Years back the great Phil Gullen at Carat persuaded a beer client to take one area of the UK and base their TV buys on quality of exposure, not just audience. The result? A successful outcome in terms of brand metrics; fewer ratings and a higher than average cost-per-thousand. The audit results (at the time auditors were all about cost at all cost) helped put an end to that experiment.

Context matters. An ad placed within engaging content, something the targeted consumer wishes to read, always wins over an ad placed somewhere inappropriate. Yes, ‘inappropriate’ covers the obviously unacceptable, but it also covers places where the consumer happens to be because he is busy doing something else (like buying goods on eBay).

This has always been the case. Place an ad in amongst high traffic editorial (high traffic by those you wish to reach), or within engaging TV programming and you’re shortening the odds on your success.

Somewhere along the way those with no idea as to the basic principles of media planning, got side-tracked into believing snake oil salesmen peddling nonsense numbers. Very big nonsense numbers, it should be said.

As the man said, castles in the air are all well and good but to last they need foundations. Good on Newsworks, and their collaborators for doing the laying.

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