Better Together

Despite the headline this post has nothing to do with independence for Scotland (in just 13 words I’ve managed to lose half my loyal readership; and confuse the heck out of those reading outside what we can still for a couple of days at least call the UK, let alone those reading this after the referendum results are known on September 19th). Rather it’s about the benefits of collaboration in audience measurement (that’ll get them flooding back…!).

Occasionally the old ideas really are the best. Sometime in the dim and distant past someone had the bright idea that life really was too short for buyers and sellers of space and time to spend time arguing the finer points of detail within audience measurement. That’s not to say these finer points aren’t important, just that it’s better to discuss them and keep refining them within the community of experts, then agree what’s best as an industry. That way everyone buys into the technique agreed and the numbers subsequently produced. Safeguarding the buying and selling currency, if you like.

This is known as the JIC (Joint Industry Committee) approach and although it throws up the odd passionate debate, by and large it continues to serve us well. It’s certainly a lot better than what used to happen in the US (to pick but one example) whereby two competing publishers typically used two different readership measurement techniques, depending on which showed their particular title in the best light. Sales calls thus became less to do with working out together what would work best for the advertiser, and more to do with whose research was best.

The evolution of the media business from content owner push, to consumer pull of course changes many things, but I would argue it doesn’t negate the benefit of advertiser, agency and media owner working together. In fact I would argue just the opposite, it makes working together in all kinds of ways an absolute imperative.

There was a recent tremor in the audience measurement community here when the newspaper marketing body, Newsworks announced it was considering leaving the industry standard print measurement the NRS (National Readership Survey). Their argument runs that ‘newsbrands’ these days are consumed in very different ways from magazines, and that therefore any measurement technique needs to reflect those differences. The one size fits all approach might no longer be appropriate is their point.

The counter argument is that planners still plan campaigns using both newspapers and magazines and that dividing the measurement system won’t aid integrated planning. Hopefully both needs can be accommodated within an over-arching system. I certainly see no reason why not.

The weird disappointment when it comes to collaboration is online advertising. Weird as after all, online is all about two-way conversations isn’t it? The trade body sort-of responsible, the IAB is an odd creature. It’s a franchise, which means it’s hard to impose any but the most basic principles across territories (which in this case basically means globally). Thus it is particularly toothless when it comes to moving towards any sort of consensus beyond the bland.

The online industry has been through a cycle that started with fast growth (‘who needs any form of research when you’re growing at 25% + a year’); progressed through arrogance (‘look, we’re the biggest medium in the universe, we can do anything and if you don’t understand it, more fool you’); stumbled into realisation (‘the display ad dollars aren’t quite what we had hoped; we need to convince advertisers we deliver something’); and eventually arrived at chaos (‘who’s responsible? Who does what? There’s fraud everywhere, nothing’s transparent, and no-one trusts us’).

When chaos reigns there are inevitably multiple opportunities for all sorts of chancers to make money out of the confusion. Hence an online advertising ecosystem has emerged that literally defies description (unless you’re Rob Norman).

The other thing about crazily over-complex ecosystems is that they eventually start to make sense when everyone involved concludes that it would be smart for all parties, from advertisers, to planning agencies, trading desks, adtech specialists and publishers to sit down together and sort out a basic trading currency.

Yes, we’re better together (and that’s both sides in Scotland covered).

1 Comment
  1. Ah the JIC! From the outside, seen as the place where advertisers, agencies and media owners comme together and discuss their needs honestly and openly. The reality is that all player look to game the system so they can gain a competitive advantage from it. I never sat in one as a media owner but I did as an agency. The thinking was not “How can I ensure that the best possible audience measurement sytem be put in place” but rather “how can I ensure that a system be put in place from which I can gain a competitive advantage”. That said, I’ve also operated in two markets where there where two audience systems and if the agency only bought into one, madness ensued… To paraphrase Churchill, JICs are the worst way to implement an audience system except all others that have been tried…

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