From Outputs to Outcomes

There are enough trite slogans around the advertising and media world to fuel a month’s worth of ChatGBT generated content. Indeed, many feature both ‘ChatGBT’ and ‘content’, so we’re off to a flyer.

Right up there near the top of the league table of vacuous statements is the mantra that we ‘need to move from outputs to outcomes’. I think I first heard it used (by the client) at a global Coca-Cola meeting in the mid 1990’s; I thought then it was profound.

Now, 30-odd years later I find it less profound and more trite – given that we have made such little progress towards the goal.

Only last week Kelly Abcarian, NBCU’s EVP, Measurement and Impact had this to say: “Advertisers don’t just want to know the audience they have reached. They want to understand the impact of their investment”.

Anything that puts more information in the hands of planners is good, but surely what advertisers really want to understand is the effect of their spend on their business.

This is so obvious, and so often ignored. Probably because it’s too difficult.

Standing back for a moment, it is remarkable that so many advertisers commit such huge sums of money without fully considering the real-world consequences.

Would they commit to a new plant without first considering every angle, every consequence? Of course not. And yet ad spends are signed off on targets related to audience reached, not business gained.

The move to online has only made things worse. Now it’s not audience reached, but metrics bought. The scourge of ad fraud, a topic many seem to not want to talk about, and don’t want to look into too deeply in case someone has to admit some responsibility for wasting money, impacts everything.

Like many who write blogs, or opinion pieces I frequently get told I’m ‘anti-digital’. Apart from this being about as meaningful as saying I’m anti-air, it is clearly rubbish given where you’re reading or accessing this blog.

What I am against is wasting money and attracting budgets via false pretences.

What I’m all for is accountability – not the sort that says ‘here are your campaign metrics as measured by us and verified by no-one’. Nor the sort that says last touch attribution is all that matters; or that believes that clicks are any meaningful measure of anything.

These assumptions, which most in the industry know are based on at best very little, are dangerous. Money gets allocated on the back of them.

And once that happens the conclusion is drawn that advertising doesn’t work as well as it used to or should. Maybe because the purchasing power of bots is, shall we say ‘limited’.

We need to stand back more often, outside of the bubble we’ve created.

There are plenty of clever people around who claim to be able to measure the true business impact of advertising.

How good they are, the pros and cons of the different approaches are topics for another day, but to start with we need to convince our clients to spend a little more on measuring the effect on their  business of their marketing and advertising efforts, and less on worrying over metrics inflated by fraud.

This series of three posts started with a discussion with Bob Hoffman over the changing times we live in.

It’s easy to hark back to a non-existent golden age. As Bob says, most ads back then were rubbish, but occasionally a gem shone through.

What was true back then was a greater focus on and appreciation of creativity. Sometimes this worked its way through into the gems, often it didn’t.

Media was about cost and basic audiences. There were exceptions but looking back there were client-driven examples of taking the thinking on, beyond the basics. P&G as one example had their ‘strategic minima’, levels below which it simply wasn’t worth advertising. Kellogg’s had their global norms; McDonald’s their inter-media comparisons. I never worked on Mars or Unilever but I bet they had their base principles too, created out of real-world experiences of what worked for them.

These people worried about value, of course but it was relevant value.

This is what we need to regain. An understanding of what works, and what doesn’t. An appreciation that when advertisers spend money they expect, quite understandably to sell more beans (as I said in the second in this series).

The clever people and their models need to be celebrated, and their work brought far more front and central.

We all (agencies, consultants, auditors) need to promote a culture amongst our clients that media metrics, be they GRPs, reach, frequency, quality indices, attention scores, whatever are but a means to an end. They’re stepping stones along the path to success.

They’re not the end in themselves.

It’s about time we focussed on measuring ‘the end’.


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