Sometimes I think this blog is turning into a veritable grump-fest. Nothing’s as good as it used to be; ads suck; social media is destroying democracy; ad fraud is funding drug cartels; pitches are badly run and anyway are all about saving money. And on.

You’ll be pleased to know that in the doom and gloom context, this week’s post is a positive ray of sunshine (no, not really).

Today’s text is: whatever happened to media agencies as a driver of industry-wide debate?

There are so many things going on that need not a knee-jerk sound-bite but a professional, informed and clear point of view to help advertisers plot their way through the mess.

I never see media agency leaders in the national press, on mainstream TV, even on broad business sites. Maybe I consume the wrong things.

Other disciplines seem to do this rather better – you can’t move for planners, futurologists, trade body leaders, even bloggers and podcasters popping up here and there, but with so many of today’s hot topics being to do with how and where money is spent the absence of our top agencies’ bosses is noticeable.

When the mighty do come down to walk amongst us they rarely stray far from their comfort zone.

Most interviews with media agency CEOs are sycophantic, managed by in-house PRs and don’t deviate from speaking about the general wonderfulness of their agency. Frankly, beyond their own staff it’s hard to know who cares. Still – as long as the agency enters the awards run by the trades, and takes ad space in those year-end ego-massaging lists what’s the harm?

This never used to be the extent of agency comment (here I go again). Maybe today’s cohort are just more fearful of their corporate bosses, or of daring to criticise the massive vendors, in which case that’s rather sad.

What does the media agency community think of what’s happening at Twitter? In this particular case we do sort-of have an idea. AdAge reported that WPP were considering using Twitter again.

10 years ago WPP announced a partnership with Twitter: “A global strategic partnership that will greatly expand collaboration between the two organisations. Covering data and analytics … the agreement spans several WPP units – including GroupM … and … Kantar.”

Surely it would be worth asking GroupM or Kantar Media, with unique access to all that data to comment on the impact the current ownership is having on the platform?

Maybe the ‘global strategic partnership’ was short-lived.

Sometimes agency leaders do break cover to comment on what they see as the issues of the moment.

One senior media agency figure was attracting attention the other day from the smarty-arse brigade (of which I’m a fully paid up member) for boasting on LinkedIn that an ad she had placed had reached “1.3bn impressions today alone. And we’re not done yet…”

As Dr Augustine Fou commented: “How was the 1.3bn impressions achieved in ONE DAY??” I, and I am sure Dr Fou have a pretty good idea.

What good does it do to quote fake numbers to your client, let alone boast about such meaningless dross in public?

If you feel the urge, why not instead comment on the need to clean up the data emerging from behind walled gardens?

Or, if you’re felling strong what about the goings on at Fox News and the implications for advertisers?

Or whether the Lineker affair here has brought the commercialisation of the BBC closer, and if so what are the implications for the current commercial media landscape?

Or should advertisers worry about the context in which their ads appear? Does it matter if they are accused of fuelling hate? Or should advertising and editorial retain their distance, even online?

Or why should advertisers advertise on social media at all? After all, the editorial free-for-all on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, TikTok and the rest are often scary places for a brand to venture. And even when they do go there no-one likes the ads, even if they notice them which often they don’t.

These are nuanced and difficult topics – which is why the opinions of those who are paid to advise their clients on anything and everything to do with the media world are potentially so valuable.

Advertisers are often criticised by their agencies for only caring about the numbers, about procurement, about auditors.

This is inevitable if the agencies don’t give them any other means to judge them.

Media agencies need to regain advertisers’ trust. One way to do that is to be seen to add value – real value – to the business.

Yes, but 1.3bn impressions? *Smirks*. You can’t argue with the numbers.

Even if they’re made-up, unverifiable, full of fraud and nothing to do with business success?

It’s really rather pathetic.

  1. It is isn’t it. Old grumps like me remember when media broke out separately, became the creative part of advertising in they way they bought and advised their clients about the relative merits of comms channels.

  2. Sad. Too scared to speak out in case they upset someone, or some deal somewhere.
    Thanks for the comment Neil.

  3. Having ‘grumped’ for England for decades I can remember a time when there were two indicators to look for when you were looking for reassurance on data. The first (a long, long time ago) was that it was produced by a computer and it was considered impossible to tamper with that! The second was that it was on a chart with a reputable research companies name in the bottom right hand corner.
    Of course that presupposed you understood what ‘reputable’ actually meant. A lot of people just thought it meant ‘famous’ – but famous for what?
    Given that every number now comes from a computer all we know is that the human error associated with working from a calculator has been removed. That human error has now been replaced by the gullibility in the minds of those on the receiving end of the tosh that now passes for exposure data.
    Perhaps every chart should have ‘caveat emptor’ on the bottom?
    Good name for a research agency?

  4. Simpler times old chap, simpler times!

  5. Great and relevant piece of grumpiness, Brian. Many years ago, Nestle used to have a red stamp on all their qualitative research projects. It read something like, “Warning: This is only qualitative information based on a small number of individuals”. Maybe, picking up on Richard’s comment, all exposure data should come with a stamp that says “Warning: beware gullible minds of receiving the tosh that now passes for exposure data”?

  6. Thanks Hilary – and that’s a very good idea!

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