In Confusion

Irwin Gotlieb, ex-boss of GroupM used to say (and I paraphrase): ‘In confusion lies margin.’ However much you may admire Irwin, a man who achieved a huge amount in the industry and did more than most to change it you must admit this is the view of a cynic. 

The media side of the ad industry has always been good at talking to itself (the same applies to planners, creatives, and account men but they can speak for, as well as to themselves). 

Not only do we talk to ourselves at conferences, within social media and especially in blog posts but we do so in a language all our own. 

You could argue this is the same the world over. Try buying a car, employing builders, changing your mobile phone – all these are activities plagued by the over-use of terms and words that mean little to those outside the magic circle. 

But the fact that others do it is no excuse. 

One of the major shifts over the last ten years or so is the growing involvement of advertisers in media decision making. 

There are loads of reasons for this, ranging from: ‘they should always have paid more attention to how such huge amounts of money were being spent anyway,’ right through to direct selling by the giant platforms that disintermediate (sorry) the agencies. 

Those of us involved within the media business have long wanted increased engagement from our clients. We used to talk about being excluded from the top table, and how our skills and thus contribution to the whole ad process were ignored.  

Indeed, this sense of grievance was one large factor in media agencies emerging in the first place. 

Now we have what we wanted. Clients are tuned in and are paying attention – or certainly a lot more attention than they used to. This has though coincided with life becoming a lot more complicated. 

No-one doubts the power and influence of the likes of Google and Facebook, but the downside of the emergence of such channels is a lack of perspective. 

The media world used to run on verifiable data and numbers. Whatever your criticisms of BARB, TGI and the rest the data per se was checked and verified to within an inch of its life. 

The gap between a number of ratings and the number actually seeing an ad was comparatively narrow. 

Now, with no clarity over what is a viewer, or an impression, with online bots and ad fraud everywhere you look, that gap has widened. 

In other words, where there was some clarity now there’s confusion. 

Meanwhile the experts (in agencies specifically) speak of concepts they most likely picked up at a conference or trade show without spending the time fully understanding the background.  

Politicians call this TLDNR – too long, did not read. 

Twitter (SETR) becomes the font of all knowledge and wisdom, to be endlessly quoted, filleted, recycled. As the Publicis strategist Keerti Nair put it so well on Twitter: 

To help clients make money we need to enter their world, speak their language, and ensure we are understood. 

It may have been the case that confusion increased margin; but we need to get real and recognise that to help business we must communicate better and banish confusion. In truth it was ever thus; it was just that our own self-importance and faux cleverness got in the way. 

Help people make money, and we will make money. 

Take the time to write a shorter letter, as someone (not Irwin) once said. 


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