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Old Problems Anew

As the pandemic settles, the biggest trend media planners need to contend with is the same as it was in 2019, 2015 or even 2010, writes Zenith's chief strategy officer

By Rich Kirk

In early February The IPA unveiled the latest update to its series of papers “Making Sense of the Commercial Media Landscape”. These papers dive into the latest IPA Touchpoints data and tell us how the UK’s media diet is changing over time.

It should go without saying that these reports are a must read for any media planner or advertiser.

But at the very top level, what we can now see is that Covid has not permanently disrupted the long-established patterns of media consumption across AV, Audio, OOH and text.

The big trend media planners need to contend with is the same as it was in 2019, 2015 or even 2010: the ongoing fragmentation of media consumption within each of these areas.

As the report states, looking at 16-34s vs 55+ audiences, there is an “82 per cent dissimilarity between the two audience’s time spent with media properties… [the] hope of one-size-fits-all media plans in reality would be more aligned to one-size-fits-none.” This dissimilarity was just 42 per cent in 2015.

Touchpoints confirms opportunities to generate truly mass reach continue to decline (only OOH can now reliably deliver 90 per cent+ reach), whilst the “digital” share of consumption within any area of media continues to rise for all age groups.

It is within these digital areas that fragmentation is happening most rapidly and most acutely.

The obvious answer for many planners will be to diversify investment and build reach across multiple channels in combination. However, this is overly simplistic.

Three major problems confront a media planner trying to pursue this approach:

  1. The “digital divide” – yes, digital alternatives now exist to linear TV, paper & paste OOH, and linear radio or press. But their CPMs are often much, much higher. For example, it’s not uncommon to pay 7x the price of a linear radio 20’ spot for a digital one; and that’s before adding in targeting costs. This pricing multiple is a massive barrier to maintaining effectiveness if you are going to use more digital channels to complement traditional ones.

  2. The cost of targeting – with reach hard to come by and digital environs usually more expensive than their traditional equivalents, tighter targeting makes sense; focus on building reach amongst a 10m strong target audience vs all adults. But with the demise of digital tracking infrastructure, plus increasingly inefficient identity graphs, is that targeting genuinely worth the CPM premium.

  3. Calculating cross-channel reach – the big one. The more diverse your media buy, the harder it is to be confident true, unduplicated reach. Forget the claims of The WFA or media owners who are ‘collaborating’ – this problem will continue to be a thorn in the side of advertisers and planners. Unfortunately, solutions unveiled in the next 24 months are likely to be a hodge-podge of poor compromises between broadcasters and tech giants, and even then, they will also be unable to keep pace with the ongoing fragmentation of our time spent with “digital” media

These aren’t new problems for media planners. If anything, they are the oldest problems the discipline has grappled with.

But the established tools of the trade in media planning are struggling to cope with the degree of fragmentation and the speed it occurs at. Gaining an advantage for advertisers using these tools is becoming ever more difficult.

The upheaval of the pandemic made us revisit the base assumptions we’d held for years; where can reach be built most effectively? How do we cope with volatile pricing? What are people doing with their day?

As we emerge from Covid, lets remember that addressing those basic, fundamental challenges remains vital to campaign success, even if they’re tougher to answer.

Now is not the time to spend another decade chasing fads and shiny stuff like we did in the 2010s.

For anyone with a stake in planning better advertising in 2022, the takeaway from “Making Sense” ought to be that we need to focus on new ways of tackling the oldest problems to deliver commercial advantage for advertisers.

Rich Kirk is CSO at Zenith

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