Will media owners and tech vendors be scrutinised by procurement?

25-30 Billion dollars of spend up for pitch. The whole industry is alive with comment on it. What does it mean for the agencies, who is up to lose the most and so on. The reason for it has been unclear, could it be digital capabilities, transparency, a stagnant commercial marketplace meaning advertisers have to extract more from their business, there have been many suggestions. Perhaps it is a simple as no one wanting to miss out.

All that said, the blog is not about that topic per se, more what impact all of this is having on the whole industry. There has not been too much of a knock on effect to the world of technology, technology that is now powering so much of the agency media landscape. Across the whole landscape deals have been done, tech fees agreed and contracts signed. The tech companies and tech/media companies are sitting back and watching this all play out with little impact to them, at least for now. But how long can that continue?

As all these pitches play out one thing is for sure, media fees will have reduced across the board, one way or another. Not to say that with increased billings they can’t find other offerings and models to make it up but at a media level, they will be squeezed. So those fees are reduced but the tech fees remain the same. The managed services and RTB networks and even one could argue Facebook and Google margins remain solid and published. So at what point does the advertiser start to turn their attention to those parties?

If the squeeze continues then how can an advertiser be happy that Criteo and Rocketfuel are taking 50+ of their IO and turning it into revenue for themselves (published numbers). Is the only answer to that ‘they are not an agency of record?’ If you can squeeze a percentage point out of an agency, how about 10 from the people your dollars eventually end up with? The topics of taking it house and aggressive sales tactics direct to advertisers such as Tubemogul and others also means that they are trying to take the role of the agency and so would surely have to make sure that their every transaction, their every margin on data and tech be revealed.

I think we are entering interesting times and auditors and procurement are going to run out of room on the agency approach, something has to give. In my eyes their valuable media dollars being passed to tech and inventory players will have to come under scrutiny a lot more than today, and if you want to be the partner that dis-intermediates the agency then you will have to answer to the same scrutiny an agency does, not just commercial but standards of protection, payment terms and all the other lovely stuff that goes with it. But first lets start with the 50% of the advertisers dollars that don’t make it into media.

Call centre ineptitude from RAC and AA negates good advertising

For many years I have sat opposite brand managers asking us to deliver more sales, conversions and the ‘right kind of customer’. This was often in the face of poor offers in market from those same Brand managers. The privilege of being the client, when asked how competitive a product is for say insurance or mortgages, the answer being, very uncompetitive, but don’t let that stop you. This is daily life for many agency performance planners in the business and is what makes performance remuneration so tricky.

But lets say the offer is good, lets say the creative is great, acquisition is still difficult and customers are hard won. So I want to understand why businesses allow thousands of call centre people to allow potential customers walk with no attempt to keep them or common sense.

I want to talk about my experience with break down cover. Three players in this space. RAC, AA and Green Flag. It is a battle royal and I have worked with two of those three so know how difficult it is to keep up acquisition at a good cost.

So this weekend my son got in my car and turned on the radio and left it like that for 24hours so that the battery became dead, dead, dead. So dead I could not even get under the bonnet to charge the battery(electric switch). So I call the RAC who I have been a customer with for around 7 years. It turns out that my cover did not auto renew because my debit card had changed at the same time I moved home and my address was not updated. This actually is a side issue but they had my number – no text or message to alert me?

Instead the lovely lady on the phone tells me I can renew but I have a surcharge based on my ‘usage’ last year ie called them twice AND a £70 extra charge for sending someone out at the same time. So I said ‘thank you RAC, its been good but you are now losing a customer.’ Again a side issue but there was no attempt to keep me, no discussion, no sweetener, just a ‘OK thanks.’ What a shame. How much media to now replace me?

So I go online to AA and start to book with them, all going well until I click the button ‘are you in a breakdown situation?’ The AA then add £130 pounds to the booking. Angry but in need of support I call the AA to proudly tell them I am leaving the RAC after all these years and I am ready to book for a year upfront for two people, £150 of cover and could they see clear to not adding the charge. No chance. In fact the guy sounded like he enjoyed saying no. And here lies the issue. Their rules suggest that I become a bad customer if I claim the minute I join, but what about if I stay for 7 years, and I would, that’s a minimum 1000 pounds they lost and the opportunity to cross sell, to try and gain £130. It is crazy.

The banks will negotiate overdraft fees, the insurance companies offer discounts but clearly that has not reached the breakdown companies. Worst still is the complete and obvious lack of flexibility, training and initiative that the bosses provide for call centre workers.

Well RAC and AA. I managed to get the bonnet open, and charged the car and now I am going to book with Green Flag and all for £70. Don’t come asking your planner to increase sales when your call centres and commercial practises are so flawed.

Do we do enough to change our advertiser’s business?

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Since the dawn of advertising and media our business has been evolving and adapting to the changing consumer landscape. Rishad Tobaccowala, our own Chief Strategy Officer described agencies as cockroaches for their ability to survive against the odds. It is not just agencies though, publishers, tech firms, Ad Nets have all pivoted to some extent or another, it is in our DNA.

We have been focused on our own internals and what the consumer has been up to but the advertisers we work with have more or less stayed the same. Yes they have embraced new ways of reaching their target audiences and moved at varying paces to use digital and so on, but give or take they have the same or similar teams, structures and demands.

It strikes me that we as agencies don’t do enough to challenge that, we are happy making sure our own businesses are future proofed but how much time do we spend telling the clients that they need to change fundamentally? Why are we restructuring, creating new businesses, skills sets and yet we don’t spend much time explaining to the client that they should be future proofing. Would we suggest a new structure to their media team, propose that they need new skill sets or a new unit? I am not sure we do and it is not our fault in many cases. Everyone has heard of the jumping flee story, if you keep putting the lid on eventually they stop jumping and I think we are all a little like that at times, we have ambition to change things with our advertisers but often it is rejected as too difficult or their incentives are not aligned.

In this new world of RTB, programmatic buying and data where all our businesses have evolved to a greater or lesser extent, in some cases creating new businesses and structures, what are we telling our clients? Are we suggesting they carry on the same or should we be telling them to think differently? Do they need a centre of excellence in this space, how can we get established and sometimes entrenched brand managers to adopt these new philosophies quicker? 

If we are all future proofing – what are we asking our advertisers to do other than buy media differently? We need to think bigger and challenge our very important customers to do the same.

CES. The death of panel based measurement in TV

CES

Everyone told me that Las Vegas was a crazy city and CES even more so but they did not do it justice. The scale of the city and the event beggars belief. There is a real buzz around the event with every major tech company represented (except Apple of course) and on a scale I have never seen before.

Executives from business, government, entertainment, automotive, consumer electronics and every major industry converged on the 2012 International CES to experience new ways of doing business at the world’s largest consumer technology tradeshow.

The 2012 International CES was the largest in the event’s 44 year history, with a record number of more than 3,100 exhibitors across the largest show floor in CES history – 1.861 million net square feet of exhibit space – and drawing a record of more than 153,000 attendees, including more than 34,000 international attendees. More than 20,000 new products were launched at the 2012 CES, and as we know it has become the second largest event for Agency Groups with Levy, Sorrell, OMG Board and 500+ people turn out from VivaKi amongst others. My boss Curt Hecht comments on this in an article in Adage – read it here.

Although there was an enormous amount covered at the show I wanted today to focus on the converged TV topic and the challenges we all face in this space. Let me start by giving you some of the highlights of the TV space for me and then look at the implications.

The TV is no longer lean back but lean in, it is being designed to draw you in and pull you from your stupor. The TV is being assaulted by set top boxes, App stores, satellite companies, it’s now no longer able to sit quietly in the corner of the room, it has to be your communicator through Skype, your music system, social media entry point, picture frame, cinema etc, it is also on a diet and becoming more colourful! (more on that later). Before looking at specifics, I have to say that above all the point I was left with was that the role of the main broadcasters and channels seems antiquated and slow at this stage and being left behind a very fast moving wave of tech.

The TV manufacturers are all looking for an angle on how to interact with their devices. Microsoft want you to wave at their TVs via Kinect, LG want you to speak to their machines and have created a unique remote control that acts more like a cursor, this worked for me more than waving hands etc. The video below shows the users scrolling around the TV screen between all the apps using the very simple cursor method.

The Rise of Apps: The first thing that strikes you about the LG is that this is now all about the Apps and not about the linear TV stream. These apps remember will hold TV catchup, movie download services, Facebook, Linkedin, games etc, it will be a while before you start turning to your fav TV show at the allotted time, it is this the vast array of other ways of interacting that leaves you with the feeling that the main broadcasters have a big job on their hand. Check out this LG and it’s Apps.

 

In this screen you have not only the Apps but also the advertising slots available on the left under the screen, in this case Toyota, if you click on these Ads you can be taken through to full video or sites or Facebook pages, the opportunities are impressive and again this raises questions of measureability

All the manufacturers have led with the App approach, take a look at the Samsung picture below, an awesome TV with incredible layout and design, again all driven by voice commands. The Samsung TVs really stood out as being very impressive both in terms of design and functionality.  You will notice the social apps in the TVs, previously they have been a little clunky but now they are seamlessly integrated so you can be talking with people, tweeting or on Facebook alongside the TV programming, the second picture below shows an example of that in action. Social TV is going to be huge and will again swing the stats away from dual behaviours / screens whilst watching TV.

 

Facial recognition and personalisation

Right now if we want to personalise through TV it is down to the very early attempts and basic targeting alla Virgin or Sky, if we want to measure TV viewing in the family we have to press buttons or in some cases in the US people are still filling in diaries that a multi billion pound industry relies on. What about a future when the TV recognises you as you sit down, or whether you are with people, whether you are doing something else as well – are you distracted, advertiser pays less!? All this and more is coming in the new TVs. Facial recognition will be huge, imagine logging in and the TV suggesting the Sopranos episode you missed or show what your friends have been watching or even some Ads based on those you have previously watched all the way through? Facial recognition is going to transform your viewing experience and again will present you with a myriad of entertainment opps before you even get to the first channel you would normally watch!

The battle of the software

So LG and Samsung have built their own platforms for all of this to run on, so has Microsoft and Google of course, Sony was the more open minded of the manufacturers we looked at who were turning to Android to provide their operating system. Apple will have their infrastructure and others will too. So where does that leave us? Well it leaves us with the same argument we have always had – Open vs Closed. In the world of TV that debate favours closed with LG, Samsung, Microsoft, Google and Apple all running their own platforms, this is crazy in reality and a brain fade for advertisers and users. Interestingly this does not stop at the TV. Sony, Samsung and Apple in particular are all trying to wrap up your living room and online experience, trying to get you to link tablets with TV with mobile, thats the big win. What is open is the App and online companies, with all of them working to be available everywhere – email, movies, social etc are common to all, so those companies are having the time of their lives with all this innovation.

Sony went a step further by connecting their PSP to their TVs, tablets and phones, meaning as a user you can get anything everywhere. A gamer who was on the PS at home and had to run could get to the bus and then turn on their PSP and it would remotely fire up their home system and stream all the gaming to their handheld meaning they carried on exactly where they were, its a cool piece of work from Sony and needed. I felt their TV and tablet experience was behind the competition.

Measurement

We have a problem. In one TV set or should we just say large screen we have social media, photography, communication with tools such as Skype and Facetime, we have movies through all the Apps, TV shows through the Apps, the weather, an ecommerce hub and so on and yet somewhere in there people are watching TV in a linear fashion..or are they? Then on top of that we have all this on top of different platforms and players and across thousands of TVs. How as an advertiser can you a) be expected to navigate this and b) measure it in current methods. Lets face it the panels as we know they are over, they are basic and cannot fully give the advertiser a faith that they are paying for the right information. There will be ways of consolidating advertising by companies such as YuMe but on top of that everyone will be selling advertising in their Apps or via video resellers and exchanges and we have to add all this up? We need ASAP a universal tracking initiative such as online adserving etc to at least pick up a big chunk of those metrics, but outside of that the role of the TV panel either needs to reinvent itself and fast or die.

And finally..

Oh my the TVs look amazing, they are getting slimmer and slimmer and brighter and brighter, see some of the images below, they dont do the reality justice but you get the idea. The colourful images are from the 4K. The 4K from Samsung basically means 4 x HD, the pictures were so real you could barely tell and check out the TV as slim as a card! The innovation is incredible and mind boggling, but I am so glad I got to see it first hand, the world of TV is an exciting one!


 

Did someone at the ICO get pissed at lunch? Privacy lunacy

So the story so far..after many years of neglect the governments of US and UK decide we need to manage better the laws around privacy. The US agrees that we don’t need a law but the relevant bodies should show clear guidance and management of the issue, proving that the industry will be responsible. The US have done that, it’s still a little disorganised but it’s getting there.

At the same time in the UK we were doing the same. Everyone working together and moving towards an acceptable solution. It was loosely agreed that cookies required by a company to deliver a service, think about how intuitive Amazon is or how your bank remembers you etc etc. Everyone was happy with that approach. At the same time the advertising and targeting industry was looking, similar to the US at another self regulation approach. There was a number of options but it was going in the right direction.

As I had mentioned before, based on information from Evidon, consumers had shown not a fear of being tracked but rather a desire to be represented appropriately and therefore receive the most relevant advertising and or slick process through ecommerce websites. This to me is crucial, absolutely crucial and the government needs to understand this point further.

So all was going smoothly. Then someone went to lunch and got pissed at the ICO because when they got back they decided to throw all that out and do a number of things:

1. You need agreement from the user to cookie them, before you start to do it
2. They tightened up the rules for advertisers as to what is a crucial cookie and therefore exempt vs one that just makes your life easier.
3. They then left all that hanging with no actual solutions.

It is absolute lunacy, we are left with chaos, are we really suggesting pop up boxes and drop downs and virtual signatures before being able to drop a cookie? Perhaps we should just go the whole hog and ask for permission in writing as one European country is discussing.

This approach is a major departure from where the Government was only weeks ago and has caught everyone off guard, ecommerce is at risk as is most of the digital advertising business and hence why it is lunacy. The point in this blog however is simple, the only reason they could have had this short term turnaround is because they went to lunch and got pissed because frankly there can be no other explanation.

This needs of be sorted out, I am sure it will be and I know everyone is working closely together as agency groups, advertisers and industry bodies, so nobody panic. If all else fails get down the pub with the ICO boys and try and persuade them otherwise.