No serious advertiser ever runs a campaign on a single communications channel. This is as true today as it ever was – every campaign uses a combination, for very good reason.

The channels concerned may not all be paid advertising per se, although of course many are. We can all quote examples of a base TV campaign using OOH or radio to extend activity over time; of video extending onto social; of print newspaper or magazine activity being supported by branded content in the form of advertorials or something similar.

Not all combinations involve paid for ads. Remember those ‘as seen on TV’ starbursts? Or the shop window displays riffing off of a TV execution. Or a TV ad music track morphing into a song released as a single and acting as a reminder every time it’s played. Or the PR story woven using the thread created by an online sensation.

Combinations work best, they always have and always will.

As media people we over-obsess about reach, but the more compelling reason for combinations has always been about appealing to different criteria, the rational working alongside the emotional, the engaged with the fleeting.

We all know that media audience measurement is paid for in the main by the vendors, the channels. The vendors couldn’t care less about combinations; the agencies and the advertisers care – but not enough to initiate, at least not until recently.

Although they appear to care, media agencies’ true love has from their inception been buying. Buying’s fun, it’s negotiation, it’s alpha, it’s about power (and vendor funded trips).

To trade both sides need a currency.

Agencies may talk a good game when it comes to planning but they need their clients to push them towards any form of truly cross-media initiative.

The agency community (and I wouldn’t limit this to media agencies) has failed to convince their advertisers of the true value they bring to the business.

So, given that identifying and delivering real business value is tough, easier by far to stick to deals. Easily measured, easily demonstrated, easy to justify and so often entirely irrelevant to the true task in hand.

Buying remains important but my sense is it is recognised by more advertisers as an executional centre-of-excellence, not as the be-all-and-end-all.

One reason is the (lack of) transparency. It would be wrong to presume that this debate ended with the Jon Mandel case. Ad tech has introduced a whole new realm of jargon, complexity and deal opportunities.

To paraphrase the great Irwin Gotlieb: where there’s confusion there’s margin.

However – it’s not all doom and gloom, deals and hidden revenues.

The other week the UK’s largest independent media agency the7stars hosted an interesting debate on ‘The New Effectiveness Normal’. It was subtitled ‘Making the business case for advertising…’

Two things struck me. First, the place was packed – with clients and I guess vendors. Second the audience asked great questions, they were engaged and keen to learn from the presenters.

This for an event featuring market modelling and economic forecasting.

I’m sure the7stars aren’t the only agency doing things like this, although they’re the only ones to have been kind enough to invite me. Plus, for their whole existence they have stood up for true transparency over any form of money-making deals with vendors.  Providing thinking and services around ‘making the business case’ fits well within their offering.

Not so with every other agency.

I do think the plates are shifting; and in such circumstances the audience measurement world needs to take stock.

This shift is happening for multiple reasons – the growth of the giant platforms, the focus on safe content, the ability to understand factors like attention paid, the failure to fit everything into a joint industry structure, the rise of ad fraud, the loss of trust in agencies.

Whatever the reason the net is the growing significance of and involvement from advertisers in media affairs, including audience measurement.

ISBA is more of a force and a positive influence (on many levels, not just this one) than I can remember in 50+ years in the business. More and more advertisers are hiring media (and related) specialists in-house. There’s more of a focus on true accountability.

If we’re serious about accountability we need a framework to assess combinations. And audience measurement plays a fundamental role in this.

Rethinking doesn’t mean dumping what we have; rather it means broadening the discussion, being more open-minded as to the options.

That’s the big picture behind ISBA’s Origin initiative, the wide acceptance of a measurement funding levy, and a boom in market modelling. There’s a desire from advertisers to learn more in order to help get the balance right, a realisation that what’s needed is a means to provide assistance to plan across all channels.

Those channels and vendors who believe in sticking with a buying and selling model will do what they feel most comfortable doing.

What they do will always have its place, but they’ll be playing in an ever-shrinking market as the phrase ‘integrated communications’ moves beyond a catchphrase in agency pitch decks to a principle driving budget allocation.


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