Advertisers Doing It For Themselves

There are certain topics that recur in the trade press. There’s ad spend forecasts, awards, people news, new business wins and in-housing. Us bloggers have our favourites: in my case, transparency, planning, and the various evils visited upon us by online platforms. And in-housing. 

Only this week we had the latest from the World Federation of Advertisers (the WFA) claiming that 80% of advertisers use in-house marketing services of one sort or another, and that 75% are only ‘somewhat satisfied’ or less with their current agency roster. 

It would be interesting to see the % who were ‘somewhat satisfied’ – after all that’s still ‘satisfied’ even if less than ideal. 

If 80% of respondents are using in-house expertise it’s hardly surprising that 75% are only ‘somewhat satisfied’ with their agencies. Presumably one follows the other; if you were fully happy with your agencies’ services you would be less likely to invest in in-house resource. 

However august the organization commissioning studies like this, those writing the reports and the press releases don’t it seems have either the time or the inclination to research the background. They’re not old gits like me, in other words. 

But us old gits have our uses. We know for instance that clients have always done some marketing stuff in-house. Typically, this has involved media in some shape or form. 

When it comes to creative work, it’s hard to define neatly and concisely what makes advertising work so that it can be replicated at will. 

Creatively it’s easy to demonstrate that in-housing more often than not doesn’t produce great work.  

But media is different. It’s numbers, so surely the more I get for less, the better? 

Pre-online channels ‘doing’ media in-house wasn’t quite so simple. Take buying TV. You needed BARB, BARB was expensive to buy and analysing it was both expensive and needed some skill and knowledge. 

This has all changed. The likes of FB and Google can give data away to anyone they like. 

Second, FB et al have impressive client-facing teams that disintermediate the agencies. 

It’s up to the in-house team to use the data, but far more importantly it’s also up to them to carry out whatever validation they believe to be necessary. 

And in truth the degree of validation is nil, nada, zilch. ‘Trust me, I’m a platform’ pretty well sums it up. 

And so, we have a situation where a massive % of total adspend goes to media forms whose principles of measurement are untouched by any form of independent evaluation or audit. 

As long as some humungous number is produced, preferably even more humungous than last time everyone’s happy. 

What about bots? What about the lack of correlation between likes and outcomes? What about changes in definitions of what constitutes a viewer leading to apples being compared with oranges? 

These are details, dismissed by the true believers as too technical to worry about. Well, of course they are when the option is to admit that you’ve been wasting money for years chasing rainbows. 

With some in-house media teams not even reporting to the CMO, the lack of real accountability is indeed startling. 

Advertisers have convinced themselves that the numbers given them by those doing the selling are correct and valuable. 

The fact is they’re neither. 

The emperor has no clothes, and nobody is too keen to be the first to point this out. Or rather, there are people pointing it out from stages around the world, but none of the speechifiers are it seems doing much about it if ad revenues on the platforms is any indication. 

Advertisers need in-house experts with the nous to use their agencies to advise them (as Nick Manning’s excellent piece suggests). Agencies have the skills, but what they’re too often missing is the backbone to tell the client that what they’ve been doing is wrong. 

Which is what they would do if they were true advisors or consultants as opposed to reactive executors. 

This whole situation is a mess and is what happens when you have unvalidated data being treated by those non-specialists receiving it as gospel truth. 

The advertisers’ trade body in the UK, ISBA is acting to deliver on the promise of Origin, the cross-media planning initiative by hiring the ex-agency leader, Tom George as CEO. 

This isn’t the non-sequitur it might appear to be. 

Once advertisers are in a position to compare exposure data on a like-for-like basis across channels then life will become simpler. Plans can be constructed on a firmer, more professional footing, and buys can be made that deliver the plans. 

Responsibility and accountability for online spend needs to be with the CMO; and agencies’ honest advice on planning needs to be encouraged. 

Happy days. Easy peasy. 


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